[box] Author bio:
My name is Alexandra Daignault. I’m currently enrolled in my final year of studies at Mount Royal University, where I’m a Bachelor of Arts student. I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to work with the Trico Foundation over the summer, assisting them with their A.S.E.S.S. program while working on my own venture! [/box]
In her teenage years, my mum was a punk rocker. She had green hair, fishnet stockings, and wore a combination of plaid and black. Often, bands like Social Distortion and The Sex Pistols could be heard sing-screaming from her bedroom. Sometimes she could be found participating in random acts of activism around the city, protesting and decrying the system.
By the time my sister and I were born, my mum had mellowed considerably, trading in her plaid miniskirt for a pair of blue overalls, and her green bangs for a loose bun held together with chopsticks. She was finishing her university degree, graduating and becoming a teacher. Yet still, her passion for social issues was woven into our life through the art she made, the books she read, and where she gave her time.
I remember at maybe eight or nine, donating all my allowance to sponsor a wolf. Every once in awhile, I would receive an email informing me that my wolf had been poached. Those were hard days for my little, emotional self. I always wondered why, when I was giving all my allowance every month to keep them safe, were the wolves still dying? This was my first experience of an inadequate solution.
Now, at 24, I’m in the process of becoming a social entrepreneur. To me, that means learning to use business as a force for good to tackle some of the more complicated problems I see around me. My current venture, Solidariteas, focuses on supporting organizations that empower marginalized women who have experienced domestic violence. It was that same deep dissatisfaction of an inadequate solution that led to the creation of this venture. For a time, I thought that if only we, my communities, marched longer, and protested louder we could create change. However, as Micah White writes in his book “The End of Protest,” the way we protest is broken and we are in dire need of innovative activism.
I agree with Micah White, that we need to innovate our acts of protest to face an ever-evolving and complex system. In many ways, social enterprise provides fertile ground for new and creative acts of activism. Yet, for so long the world has seemed to view the worlds of activism and enterprise as mutually exclusive spheres. We must overcome this thinking, in order to maximize the true potential of social enterprise as a tool. We must make way for community led and driven innovation. Right from the very first “Blender Canvas”, the A.S.E.S.S. process made simple the seemingly intimidating “hard questions” of business.
The soul of my venture will always be a social protester, disrupting the systems that continue to create imbalances of power. However, I have come to know that the bones, the flesh, and muscle of my venture must be made of something else. The trick then, is to encapsulate the soul, building a body around it. I chose to use the vehicle of entrepreneurship.
There is an art to this “body building” that I have spent the summer learning. It brings together business and the intentionality of a social movement. In the first few worksheets of A.S.E.S.S., I spent time delving into the root cause of the problems I was trying to solve, crafting all aspects of my solutions to fit just right. As mentioned in a previous blogpost, I spent a long time working with coaches and mentors to make sure I was seeing the problem in a plethora of ways. In the later worksheets, I began to explore the numbers, Frankenstein’s lightning so to speak. These numbers would be the muscle and cartilage that would support the spirit of Solidariteas as it grew, morphed and stepped out into the world.
To really craft my A.S.E.S.S. worksheets well, I had to make connections and do a lot of research. The worksheets challenged me to take a high-level, far-out view of my venture, imagining what the impacts and costs of Solidariteas could be five years out. I was encouraged to examine my local and international competitors, to see what I could learn from their business models, as well as engage with any opposition I might face from other organizations. The worksheets asked questions about my key allies, and stakeholders, encouraging me to build bridges and foster connections I wouldn’t have otherwise explored.
Perhaps the hardest question I have faced, and am still grappling with, is this: If there is another organization that has a more impactful, or more viable solution to the problem I am trying to solve, do I even want to compete with them? Creating a venture, regardless of the mission, is a lot of work. I know many, many entrepreneurs who pour their time, resources, and in many cases health, into building their business. However, if the social mission is our main goal, what happens when we are outpaced? Recognizing that we live in a world with limited time and resources, is it not better to collaborate and co-create rather than compete? Again, these are questions that have and will continue to play upon my mind.
So, what have I learned through all of this? I have learned that social passion is not enough to change the world. We can raise our voices, we can march in the streets, but really what does this change? Why are wolves being poached to the point of extinction? Why are women still victimized and marginalized? Why are we still dumping tons of plastic into our environment? Are we as a generation and collective not raising our voices? Are we not demanding justice from our governments and institutions? Do we even know what the solutions are to these problems, or the cost thereof? Prior to starting the A.S.E.S.S. process, I often felt like I didn’t even have the language to ask or identify the best questions.
Thank you to the Trico Foundation team for an incredible, thought provoking summer. I am leaving with better skills to further navigate systems, myself, and enterprise. Everyday, hundreds of businesses are born and die. As a hopeful social entrepreneur, I recognize the reality of my situation. Yet, as I continue to move through this strange intersection of social activism and business, I am leaving the foundation feeling better prepared to ask and identify strong questions; to challenge my own assumptions; and to provide supports to my communities in what I hope will be lasting and intentional ways.