Home delivery and post office boxes have been the staples of the postal business for a long time. Digital media have disrupted the letter mail industry like all industries, and postal servers have tried to adapt to stay alive.
Canada Post has developed online services, improved its parcel delivery system and all but eliminated door to door delivery, placing community post boxes throughout the country.
I like gettting the mail at home. I resent the off-loading of the cost of delivery to me. I have to go to a “community post box” to get my mail. At my expense in transportation and time.
Those costs used to be what the postage on a letter paid for. A single stamp costs almost nothing but it adds up when there are millions of pieces of mail being handled every day.
We’ve been told it’s not affordable anymore. Even though stamps have more than doubled in price. They are so expensive now, the post office is afraid to put a price on them. The prices change and nobody knows until you have to buy a stamp.
Anyway, picking up the mail the other day, I wondered what it would cost to hire a mailman to deliver the mail in my neighbourhood. I’d definitely pay something for that service, a dollar a day for example.
How many households would you need to cover salary and expenses? 100? 300?
If they have to drive, which they would in this neck of the woods, 150-200 households, so let’s be optimistic and say 200 is not unreasonable for a 7.5 hour day with the usual breaks. Allow gas and vehicle expense of .50/km on a 30 km route, that’s $15. If each household is contributing $1/day, that leaves $185 for wages and benefits. That’s about $24/hr.
For creating employment and a better quality of life in our neighbourhood, not bad at all.
Of course, somebody would have to set it up. And everybody would have to opt in to make it work. Management costs and the politics could make it impossible.
So, in the end, that’s why such things as postal service were not private businesses. It falls to government to do things that benefit everyone pretty much equally. They have the capacity to organize it and implement it universally.
Still, when the logic of “public service” no longer makes sense for many people, in the face of the kind of technological challenges we’re facing now, then maybe it is time for social innovators to intercede, create a new model to achieve the same end.
P.S. – I’m not totally against post boxes. Co-working spaces, for example, could use proper postal service and many currently do not provide it. Another social enterprise idea would be to create private P.O. box services for these public/private hybrid spaces.
In this third review of books about social enterprise, we’re going to look at a book called Be a Changemaker. This is a young adult book (hence the YA in the library call number) meaning it is written for young people, but I found it so interesting that I would recommend it for anyone who wants to know what a social enterprise is and is wondering about how to start one.
The author, Laurie Ann Thomson, has written an informative and inspiring book encouraging young people to not wait, but to do things right now, today, that they see needing to be done.
The basic impulse or motivation to start a social enterprise isn’t that different than from other businesses. Someone sees a need that is not being filled and then fills it.
The major difference between a social enterprise and a normal business, the reason we call them social enterprises, is that they often start with an observation of a social problem or injustice and a thought for making the world a better place, fixing something: “Someone should do that!”
Social enterprises often tackle gnarly problems where the solution isn’t necessarily going to make a lot of money, or even any. Still, there’s a need, something has to be done!
Social enterprises look for creative solutions to often long-standing problems. It is about more than just throwing money at a problem. Social enterprises strive to find solutions that are sustainable, where doing things pays for itself and can grow.
Thomson gives plenty of examples of remarkable projects started by people as young as 11, most under 18 and still in high school. Jessica Markowitz learned from human rights activist Richard Kananga that many children in Kenya were orphaned and could not attend school. She wanted to help, so started out by telling her Grade 6 class about the problem. Working together they came up with a plan to raise money to send to Kenya to help girls pay for school. They didn’t stop there. When Jessica and her friends graduated and went off to other schools, they started doing the same thing there, recruiting other students to help. They called the project “Richard’s Rwanda” after the person who inspired Jessica.
It grew to encompass high schools across the country and hundreds of students. After graduating from high school, they started a non-profit organization that continues to encourage students in schools across the U.S. help girls in Rwanda attend school.
Or a social enterprise can come about because you have something that you really love to do and do it very well. As a high school student, Christopher Trina used his love for ultimate frisbee, his expertise in the sport, and what he learned about hard work from being part of a frisbee team to start a project raising funds so he and his teammates could travel to Cambodia to teach the sport he loved and life skills he felt he learned from it.
Sometimes it’s more a matter of finding a way to finance something you really believe in. Selling a popular product can be a good way to raise money for a good cause. Many commercial products commit a percentage of sales revenue to a good cause. And people working in good causes often use commercial products like bracelets or coffee mugs as a way to raise money to help them with their work. Think Girl Guide cookies! It’s that time of year again.
Entrepreneurs and social entrepreneurs aren’t so different from each other. They both want to do things; they are driven by a desire to achieve, but where the entrepreneur might be motivated to help themselves, the social entrepreneur tends to be the type of person who wants to help others. But as we discussed last time, every kind of entrepreneur has to be energetic, organized and able to get others to work for them and with them.
Next time, I’ll look at two how-to books, The Startup Checklist, and The $100 Startup, and maybe we’ll learn how hard, or easy, it is to start your very own social enterprise. In the meantime, if you have an idea for a social enterprise, I’d like to hear about it. Sometimes the first step is to tell someone your idea.
The book discussed in this article can be found at at the Library at: YA 361.2 THO
The focus of our work in Toronto is on supporting purpose-driven businesses and organizations through legal support, business planning and grant writing. Through our partners, we also support website, communications design and marketing.
We continue to provide legal services to our individual, professional and corporate clients in Toronto, Winnipeg and in northwestern Ontario through Beamish & Associates. Legal services include corporate governance, contracting, incorporation and corporate maintenance, franchising, leasing and real estate, business purchase and sale, succession planning, copyright and intellectual property matters.
“In the age of the Internet, people are questioning why they, the consumers of legal product, should be forced to go to expensive lawyers working in expensive office buildings located in expensive urban centres.”
At Social Enterprise Advocates, we are facing these challenges in some practical and unexpected ways.
The Virtual Office
We joined the Centre for Social Innovation community in Toronto in the fall of 2014 in part to address accessibilty. By paring infrastructure to a minimum, thanks to shared amenities, we kept fees below the national average – with further discounts for CSI community members and friends – while serving a community of people whose work we support and encourage at every level.
Our presence is now largely “virtual.” We do not maintain a regular office but rely instead on a combination of shared “hot” desks, borrowed offices and meeting rooms that can be booked. We use a cellphone rather than landline. We share office supplies, and faxng and copying costs. Volunteers (DECAs) provide reception services and sort mail. Two listservs are essential tools in engaging the community both socially and professionally.
In 2015, we focussed on serving the CSI communities in the areas of start-ups, estates and wills, and non-profits. This arrangement worked very well; by mid-year however, our outlook expanded beyond the bounds of the social innovator context.
We had been developing ties outside of Toronto that held promise, and over the summer of 2015, we took our law practice on the road, logging some 14,000 kms in travel to and from Toronto and Northwestern Ontario. By September, an opportunity came up to associate with a small law fim, Beamish & Associates, located in Sioux Lookout. The firm serves a very wide catchment area that includes over twenty First Nations communities, as well as the towns of Kenora, Dryden, Red Lake, Ear Falls and Pickle Lake. This is in the district of Kenora, which is the largest, yet least populated electoral district in Canada.
This development is changing the nature of our practice is some important ways. In Northwestern Ontaro, we now do family law and civil litigation in response to the need for this type of service. In Toronto, we continue to focus on “startup law” and wills & estates.
In Northwestern Ontario we are also working more with First Nations people, who make up about 35% of the population. In Toronto, an opportunity arose to participate in a sensitivity-training workshop offered by Bear Standing Tall, with whom I share office space at the Regent Park CSI. That helped me gain confidence in working with First Nations people, while also tieing my northern experience back to my urban law practice.
A year ago, I would not have imagined that it might be possible to stretch a law practice to reach over 1500 kms.
I am hoping that the CSI community will embrace this new reality and continue to use our services.
Our Toronto clients support a more equitable distribution of services insofar as we are working for more diverse and dispersed communities. We also provide services across a broader economic spectrum than many law firms, from aspiring entrepreneurs in Sault Ste. Marie to people on fixed incomes living in downtown Toronto. This is not merely “pro bono” work, it is an integral part of what we do, providing quality services based on need not means.
The noun “avocat” is, en français, the word for lawyer. In English the meaning of “advocate” has been broadened to something more general and active like “standing up for.” In all our work, we “stand up for” our clients in many ways, but we also believe in “standing for” certain things – advocating values and ways of doing things.
Our approach to legal practice values accessibility and client relations. We are open and transparent about what the law can and cannot do for you. We will discuss how the law works and why, so that you are as well informed as possible. Our northern experience is helping us learn new ways to talk about and explain the law.
Lawyers today have an awesome array of tools that promote better quality work, greater efficientcy and effectiveness. Text messaging, email, Skype, all make it possible to work “without borders” but also with a degree of responsiveness that is unprecedented. In the north, tools like video conferencing have become essential in the delivery of medicical and legal services. Necessity is promoting innovation. Which perhaps, leaves us with this maxim, a thought for the New Year:
Innovation does not always lead from the centre, but from where the need is greatest, which may well be on the periphery or margin.