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First graduate

Co-housing leader among Canada’s inaugural class of MBA-SEE

special feature: Class of 2020

Part of a special feature celebrating and recognizing the Class of 2020 at Memorial.

By Susan White

A personal quest for a village has one Memorial graduate starting at the “ground level” of an innovative program and working her way towards the summit of academia.

Wendy Reid Fairhurst sits on a concrete staircase while clasping her hands and smiling.
Wendy Reid Fairhurst is among the first graduates of Memorial’s MBA in social enterprise and entrepreneurship (MBA-SEE).
Photo: Rich Blenkinsopp

Wendy Reid Fairhurst is among the first graduating class of the master of business administration in social enterprise and entrepreneurship degree (MBA-SEE). The program is the first MBA of its kind in Canada. Now, she is working on her doctoral degree.

“It was intense. It was a lot of information, it was super relevant [and] I think it’s cutting edge,” said Ms. Reid Fairhurst, who will officially graduate during Memorial’s in absentia convocation on Oct. 22. “It’s all new, but I think this is the way that business is going, and I’m really happy that I got to be at the ground level.”

Struggle leads to inspiration

Ms. Reid Fairhurst, who was born in Gander, N.L., but has lived all over Canada, began the MBA-SEE after spending five years toiling to build a co-housing group in Portugal Cove-St. Philip’s.

She started the project to help address the challenges of raising two young children in a new place with a husband who works on rotation in Labrador.

“I was finding it really a struggle not having a community around me,” she said.

“I decided to . . . do the MBA-SEE and learn innovative business models and try to work towards an affordable co-housing model.” –Wendy Reid Fairhurst

With an undergraduate degree in environmental design from OCAD University in Toronto and entrepreneurship experience leading her own interior design firm, she says she was intrigued by the idea of sharing resources to meet the needs of a wider group of people while also focusing on environmental friendliness and community support.

“[Co-housing] is basically giving the power of design decisions and priorities to the people who are going to live in the community, as opposed to the developer-led model,” she said. “It’s that village model of raising your kids and aging. We were up to about 30 members, but we ran into a few big snags.”

Turns out the idea wasn’t so affordable after all. Ms. Reid Fairhurst says it can cost around $350,000 to be part of such a group in Canada.

“I decided to put the group on hiatus for a year and do the MBA-SEE and learn innovative business models and try to work towards an affordable co-housing model.”

‘I could just do it forever’

She says she was able to incorporate her co-housing project as part of some of her studies. She also earned funding from Mitacs Canada to complete her mandatory program internship by working on the venture.

And she’s still going.

“I was loving what I was researching and wanted to keep doing it more.” — Wendy Reid Fairhurst

Ms. Reid Fairhurst won more funding from a social innovation hub and, in September, started an interdisciplinary PhD at Memorial to continue her research into affordable housing models with a focus on co-housing in particular.

“Every time I started researching the co-housing and affordable housing pieces, I could just do it forever. I was loving what I was researching and wanted to keep doing it more,” she said.

Currently, only about 10 per cent of co-housing groups in Canada reach the end goal of a shared community. Ms. Reid Fairhurst hopes to one day start a social enterprise that will offer a variety of services, ranging from architecture and design to project management and even funding to “really up those numbers.”

Her own co-housing project is progressing: they are currently looking for land on which to develop the property.

“My goal is to document the experience of building this community so we create a social enterprise around how do we help all these other community groups that are trying to do the same thing.”

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