Social Enterprise

Case Study: Cariboo Chilcotin Partners for Literacy – The Winding Road to Building a Social Enterprise

June 22, 2023

Woman tutoring a young boy in a classroom

Credit: Cariboo Chilcotin Partners for Literacy

When Carla Bullinger first applied for a social enterprise Innoweave grant, her proposal was declined. Compared to other applications that Innoweave had received, the tutoring service program they were hoping to develop with the help of Innoweave coaching was not yet developed enough. Some key elements were already there: No other tutoring services existed in the Cariboo-Chilcotin region in rural central B.C., though the need for one had been apparent for many years. On top of that, the impacts of COVID-19 meant that some children had faced interruptions to their learning. It was clear that tutoring would be useful to support students and their caregivers in their literacy journeys. But as Carla reflected back to Innoweave later on: “We’re thankful that you declined at that time, because we were not ready”.

From an Innoweave declination to a learning opportunity

Though the development of a full-scale business plan was still premature, Cariboo Chilcotin Partners for Literacy (CCPL) had a number of key elements with which to work to test their initial ideas. As an organization focused on lifelong learning, they took Innoweave’s declination as a sign that they needed to gather more information to become coaching ready, and have a project that would show stronger potential for success. And so they did.

Over several months, CCPL compiled a feasibility snapshot, with the help of the coaching team they would later collaborate with on a business plan. Having worked with learners, volunteers and community partners for more than 26 years, CCPL had strong relationships in the community and were able to gauge interest in participating in a tutoring service for school-aged children (grades 1 to 12). They spoke with businesses who might become financial partners, Indigenous organizations who could collaborate on subsidizing fees, families to determine needs, and most importantly potential tutors to test engagement and availability. All these conversations led to the same conclusion: there is a strong need and a strong potential for a tutoring service. It was a good time to dive into the details of what the tutoring service social enterprise might look like.

A second application nine months later

Innoweave was happy to receive a second application from CCPL nine months after their first was rejected. Their proposal illustrated all the steps that had been taken to strengthen their path to a successful social enterprise. Lee Herrin and Sarah Adams were confirmed as the coaches who would continue the work that they had started with the feasibility snapshot.

Woman tutoring young girl in a classroom setting

Credit: Cariboo Chilcotin Partners for Literacy

Live testing through a pilot project

Upon completion of a draft business plan, Carla and her team began the process of rolling out what would become a very educational pilot project. They were able to live test some of their assumptions about the conditions for success, namely how to include families in the process and how to adapt their program to best suit the needs of families and tutors. At the same time, the team was working hard to secure funds to launch the full scope of their project. Building the business plan and then bringing it to life with the funding support that was needed to deliver high quality and community adapted tutoring services took longer than initially planned. But CCPL felt that it was a blessing in disguise as they were able to take the time to learn and build strong foundations, including through the inclusion and expertise of an advisory committee who shared some very thoughtful and valuable advice.

A long path to success with the help of their coaches

We know that the road to implementing a successful social enterprise is long, and as Carla said: “If we weren’t so determined to make this happen, I could easily see business plans landing on a shelf and gathering dust.” As for their coaches’ contribution, “the in-depth financial and business knowledge the coach shared with us would have taken a lot of time and energy for us to pull together on our own,” she admitted. Having solidified the grounds upon which to build a significant contribution to literacy for children and youth in the Cariboo-Chilcotin area, Innoweave couldn’t be happier to see this project succeed with proper funding, support from stakeholders and guidance from coaches.  After all, and to use CCPL’s words: “Literacy is a basic tool for living: it is essential to daily life, employment, citizenship, personal employment, health and wellbeing.”

Who wouldn’t want more of that!

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