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Posted on Sep 19, 2013

Women nonviolence organization leads Canada’s first shipping container housing project

Women nonviolence organization leads Canada’s first shipping container housing project

By Patricia Marcoccia, Axiom News

This story originally appeared on ENP Canada’s website.

ENP Canada has partnered with Axiom News to explore the Canadian social enterprise movement one story at a time. Each story will provide snapshots and profiles of local social enterprises and the emerging, supportive environment. This story is one of hundreds we will be publishing. Check in every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday for the latest news.

Axiom News is also a SEWF 2013 media partner. 

Janice Abbott, CEO, Atira Women’s Resource Society, will be speaking at the SEWF sessions “Culture Shock: Engaging Others in Your Success” and “Be Inspired: Social Enterprise Practitioner Panel (English & French)”. 

Readers that enjoyed this article may wish to check out the 2013 SEWF program stream "Collaboration". 

The feature picture is courtesy of Compfight / A Flickr Search Tool.    

Atira Women’s Resource Society – a not-for-profit organization committed to ending violence against women – stumbled into the property management business a decade ago; today, Atira Property Management Inc. is partnering to lead a cutting edge housing project for Canada –

the nation’s first recycled shipping container social housing project.

shippingcontainer1Twelve shipping containers have been repurposed into 320 sq. ft. self-contained residential units for women in the Vancouver Downtown Eastside. 

The project launched last week, after two years of development inspired by BC Hydro’s “House of the Future” – a recycled-shipping-container home that was demonstrated on BC Hydro’s front lawn during the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics. BC Hydro donated the House of the Future to Atira in the summer of 2010.

Janice Abbott 3“For me [the shipping container housing development] is a really good example of what you can achieve when you’re willing to take some risks and you’ve got folks who are willing to take risks with you,” says Atira CEO Janice Abbott.

The evolution for the not-for-profit organization to include its subsidiary social business occurred both intentionally and fortuitously. 

Janice began attending social enterprise workshops in 1998, when the idea started to become a conversation in the non-profit world – though her interest in using the social enterprise approach to sustainably fund the organization came years before.

“One of the things I learned from a speaker in the States is to stick to something you know – look at your core services and that’s the business you should go into,” she says. “We’re a women nonviolence organization. That’s our expertise. It was a bit offensive to think about how to make money off it. That was challenging.”

Since Atira provides housing, advocacy and support to any woman who identifies as someone who meets their organizational mandate, the organization consequently owns buildings and manages properties. They began doing this without specialized skills in property management, but they developed this skillset as it became central to their core mandate of providing safe environments for women. The social enterprise in property management launched in 2002 with the sole purpose of making money to donate back to the women’s society.

“At the end of the day, a non-profit is a business; it’s just a business that’s designed to break even,” Janice says. “It’s not that non-profits don’t know how to run businesses.”

A few years after their incorporation, Atira developed a mandate to provide meaningful work for women facing barriers to employment. 

Today this encompasses 93 per cent of Atira’s employees – about 280 individuals between the ages of 19 – 67, together speaking over 24 languages.

Janice was named one of BC’s most influential people in residential construction by BC Homes magazine in 2011 and was the recipient of the Ernst & Young 2010 Social Entrepreneur of the Year award. She will be speaking on two panels at the Social Enterprise World Forum in Calgary in early October, Be Inspired: Social Enterprise Practitioner and Culture Shock: Engaging Others in Your Success. The global forum is convening more than a thousand delegates from around the world to explore the future of social enterprise.

More about Axiom News:

Axiom NewsWe believe there is great power in storytelling. It’s an enabler of strengths, a catalyst for change and a means to propel people and organizations to an inclusive, harmonious and prosperous future, a place where they have their greatest impact.

While storytelling is our skill and occupation, it’s driven by our hopes and aspirations for a better world.

With each organization we serve we take a step towards a better world, a thriving world. It’s our collective efforts to serve a purpose greater than ourselves that will affect The World We Want to See.

Together, we can change the paradigm of what is possible. We can demonstrate through an abundance of personal, practical stories a better way, a strengths-based way to a brighter future.

More about Enterprising Non-Profits, enp:

enpEnp supports the development and growth of social enterprises.  Enp provides resources, technical assistance, workshops, grants and is collaborating on creating an enabling environment for social enterprise across Canada. 

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