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ATN: Our Journey of Social Enterprise

The Journey of Social Enterprise

Making a social enterprise happen is more than having guts. In social enterprise, you dare to think beyond what your eyes can see, to the point where no one really understands what the hell you are doing. At least that is how we felt when we started.

ATN Access Inc. (ATN) supports people with barriers to find meaningful careers. So, it made sense for ATN to dig its heels into social enterprise as it gave us another set of tools through which to help individuals facing barriers.

In the beginning stage, when we began to envision ATN’s social enterprise, it is quite accurate to say that we had more questions than answers. The team typed up pages and pages of questions that seemed to question just about everything. The only thing we knew for certain is we wanted to start a community grocery store. Beyond that, all we had was our idea, the idea that maybe, just maybe, a grocer can do something positive for our clients and the local community.

It is one thing to dream about social enterprise. But, it is another adventure altogether to leap in.

The team working on this initiative was quite eclectic. The business guy was a Dutchman, who flew over here because he closed his eyes, pointed to a map and landed on Canada. Surprisingly enough, the Researcher on this project, grew up in EoA (East of Adeleide) in London and was fresh out of graduate school ready to make a mark in the community. The Executive Director and overseer of the operation was both a sh*t-disturber and a lover of people that built ATN from absolutely nothing to the community-driven non-profit organization it has become. Onward the team pushed, challenged by Board members, advisors and funders into this unknown territory. Armed with an idea that a food desert could be transformed, while training individuals with barriers to work in the food industry, all while generating a profit, we continued on our journey.

First on the checklist, research, research and even more research. From statistics to a massive literature review of the community, industry and consulting with folks who knew what they were talking about, the team began to understand that we really did not know as much as we thought we did. Any researcher knows, there really is not a finishing line in collecting information, but eventually, you need to say STOP, and start moving on. This idea challenged us -but we persevered.

The team thought the research was hard. Oftentimes, we took a step back as a team and just listened. Listened to the community, experts, people who knew the food business, and we just gulped their wellspring of knowledge. You could say we were in over our heads, but it was the most beautiful feeling of drowning in the uncharted waters of social enterprise.

In August, we turned a corner, literally. The team walked together around the Somerville Building on 630 Dundas Street in London, Ontario– the location of the future grocer. We were struck with a mass of supporters chatting, smiling, all standing with us. Following this tour, however, the questions did not stop and frankly, they probably will not stop and this is good. 

Your mission and vision are the driving force behind all you do: remember them. As we to researched, read, analyzed and consulted, through pages of research, floorplans, community meetings and partnerships, funding applications and grilling, we always remembered our mission, and used it as our compass, even during the dark days.

Your mission and vision are the driving force behind all you do: remember them

Ready to launch in 2016 with David Cook, ATN is happy to present the Old East Village Grocer, a community grocery store in East London that will provide more than just food. It will provide supports and needed training for individuals facing barriers in our community. For some, this will be the first opportunity they get at accessing full time work to get a full-time job to support their family. For many it will be training they cannot access anywhere else. Clients will experience a new beginning, and learn the skills to take control of their lives. This was our journey, and our story. We had to create our own path based on the story we wanted to build. In your social enterprise story, what will your path be?

By Bethany Innes-Mejia, Community Researcher, ATN Access, Inc.
ATN provides opportunities for individuals with injuries or physical, sensory and learning disabilities to gain access to employment or reach their learning goals through a variety of assessment, skills upgrading and personal development services.  ATN is led by Executive Director, Vicki Mayer ( Feel free to reach out. 

ATN Access,Inc.