IHO Site: Embers
Overview: Embers was established as a non-profit organization in 2001 as a response to announcements from the City and other stakeholders to revitalize Vancouver’s inner city. To create an economically sustainable environment for inner-city residents and the larger community of Vancouver, the organization offers training programs for budding entrepreneurs, employment services and green building solutions.
IHO Site Supervisor: Marcia Nozick, Founder and CEO
Q: What is your background?
A: “I have a Master’s in urban planning specializing in community economic development and a partial PhD from Simon Fraser University (SFU) focusing on community economic development. I worked in community development for a number of years in Winnipeg, and then I taught at SFU for a while in the field of community economic development. I founded Embers in 2001 – a grassroots community economic development initiative – and I’ve been running and building it ever since.”
Q: What is your mandate at Embers?
A: “The mandate is to create economic and employment opportunities for disadvantaged people so that they can become economically self-sufficient.”
Q: Describe your typical day at Embers.
A: “I oversee and develop our three programs. One is called Embers Staffing Solutions and it’s a temporary employment agency that provides companies with reliable, hard-working employees and provides candidate workers with support to improve their skills and advance their careers. All profits go towards investing in the workers. That enterprise started in 2008. Our second program is called Embers Ventures, and it offers business training and support services to low-income entrepreneurs. We also, more recently, founded a third social enterprise called Embers Green Renovations, and it’s a renovation company that offers both energy efficiency upgrades and general contracting services. In a typical day I’m running the operations; organizational development, doing high-level marketing and business development, developing budgets, looking for and writing grants, representing Embers at community meetings, and meeting with partners like construction companies that can provide us with more employment opportunities. We’re very small so I wear many hats.”
Q: What are some challenges that you face at Embers?
A: “The largest challenge is that we’re trying to do an awful lot of work on a very lean budget. We’re running businesses under a charity model, so we don’t have the same resources for marketing and operations as the established commercial companies that we’re competing against. Human resources and business development is always challenge.”
Q: What are some challenges that the local community faces?
A: “There are social and economic challenges that we are trying to address through our programs. There’s very high unemployment; there are people that can work that are underemployed or not employed. We also work with a lot of people coming from addiction recovery or corrections who want to change their lives. That’s what we’re really about; second chances for people.”
Q: What successes have you had in addressing challenges at Embers and in the local community?
A: “We’ve had a tremendous social impact. We’ve employed more than 850 people in the last four and a half years. More than 50 percent we’ve connected to full time work. In our business training and support course we’ve assisted more than 550 people to start up businesses. That is creating, through entrepreneurship, self-employment. Funding is a challenge, and one of our successes is that every year we have a charity golf tournament fundraiser that raises around $30,000 for us and creates strong partnerships with existing and potential clients. We showcase some of our successful stories of the people that have come through our programs and gotten back on their feet. Also, I think the way we’ve been able to utilize volunteers has really helped us in being able to extend our resources.”
Q: What has been your experience working with VCN?
A: “It’s been great. We’ve been working with VCN for three years and the interns have been very helpful.”
Q: How can a VCN intern help to address challenges at Embers and in the local community?
A: “The first intern that we had here was instrumental in building our website, which is quite beautiful. The second intern we had worked in communications and they were excellent in helping us to write grants and other marketing presentations. This year we’ve been working with getting some help on the administrative end. Our intern is working as an administrative assistant, which has really helped us with our bottom line.”
Q: What advice would you give to a VCN intern beginning work at Embers?
A: “It’s a pretty fast-paced environment; there’s a lot going on. You want to be able to wear different hats, think on your feet, and be able to work without a lot of supervision. We’ve got a great team here but you’ve got to jump in with two feet.”
Q: What do you believe a VCN intern could take away from working at Embers?
A: “I think it’s a huge opportunity to do many different things because there’s so much work to be done and there are so many opportunities, from helping people on computers to doing research to writing stories and newsletters to organizing projects. And there’s a personal takeaway that comes through being able to meet so many different types of people; the development of maturity and being able to handle a lot of different situations.”
Q: What has been one of your most memorable experiences working at Embers?
“This past year we won the Social Enterprise Dragons Den. We were the winners out of all of British Columbia and did a presentation here at W2 for an audience of 350 people. That was really a highlight for us.”
Q: What is one little-known fact about Embers?
A: “The name stands for Eastside Movement for Business and Economic Renewal Society.”
Q: What can someone who is interested in getting involved at Embers do to help?
A: “On our website there’s a place where you can sign up to volunteer. And you can always phone us.”