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Behind the Scenes at EcoEquitable

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EcoEquitable’s Profile

Every non-profit organization is unique. From its work around specific causes to the dedicated employees who go out of their way to serve clients, non-profit organizations go to great lengths to add immense value to their communities.

EcoEquitable (EE) fits this description perfectly and offers further proof of its unique character by bringing together new Canadians, marginalized women as well as mainstream Canadians, all with a firm concern for the environment. Nowhere do we find these distinct populations and causes meshing seamlessly with each other to add richness to their community.

EcoEquitable (EE) started out humbly with a donated sewing machine and a group of motivated woman, led by EE founder, Lucile Champagne. The organization evolved quickly from a small group of women creating costumes to a social enterprise that taught women sewing skills and offered sewing services to the community. Used vinyl banners, broken umbrella cloth and other unwanted fabrics were converted into fashionable products. In time, EE opened a boutique to sell recycled fabric, began assisting women to develop sewing skills; and saving sewing and fashion enthusiasts hundreds of dollars!

How does EE do it?

The execution of EcoEquitable’s activities is worth a special mention. EE has a welcoming atmosphere reminiscent of the past when sewing was a social activity. The community room at EcoEquitable is a haven where women share their passions and lives. It is an ideal place to build lasting friendships while developing important skills.

The strength of EE is its people – the staff, seamstresses, and volunteers. EE was quick to capitalize on it. If a volunteer enquires about any activities to contribute to, the typical response is to ask them what they are good at and then encourage him/her to apply their expertise, rather than working within a confined list of ‘to-dos’. This show of trust has almost always led to excellent results, with dedicated volunteers who wish to stay on alongside a constant stream of new volunteers. Every staff person at EcoEquitable has personally lived the immigrant experience. This deep understanding of the immigrant struggle is an inherent part of being an EE staff member. A strong part of EE’s success is attributable to the dedication, hard work and commitment of EE’s multicultural staff members.

Activities at EE

The popular ‘Sowing for Jobs’ program was developed to help new Canadians hone their sewing skills while gaining confidence to navigate the Canadian workplace. The graduates from this program have the option to seek employment for established organizations – such as with Stitch It, a local alterations service with locations throughout the city, or they can work for themselves in home-based businesses. They have the entrepreneurial skills and training to launch their own product lines, offer training, or start their own boutiques!

One such success story is Hilola Ahmedinova who is launching a sewing training program for children and young adults across the city. Another graduate, Mahalia Majdoub, launched an innovative product line called, very aptly, ‘bumbrella’. It is a bicycle seat cover made of used umbrella fabric. This ensures that when the unpredictable rain strikes in Ottawa, one can still ride in style. Mahalia directs the accolades she receives towards EE whose supportive environment made ‘bumbrella’ possible.

Strategic Planning with CAIF

EE has come a long way from its cooperative roots with one donated sewing machine, but the path forward has not always been clear. With the expertise of Anouk Bertner, a strategic management consultant, EE worked to develop a Strategic Plan that represented the needs of the community and fully engaged all stakeholders. What resulted is a clear picture identifying where the organization is at present and where it wants to go.

What emerged from the community engagement process is a Strategic Plan for 2013-2017 with 7 clear strategic goals. The strategic goals address the services that EE offers such as the training programs and community-building nature of the organization while also addressing the core operations such as communications, financial resilience that will allow EE to flourish in the coming years. The Strategic Plan is accompanied by an Action Plan and Business Plan for 2013 that clearly defines milestones, responsibilities and key success factors to ensure that the strategic goals are achieved and are well sequenced.

It is clear that CAIF’s support was essential to EE’s successful advancement. As Executive Director, Tara Templin stated:

“Having CAIF’s support allowed EcoEquitable to focus on our Strategic Plan. We achieved so much, so quickly by having the funding to hire an external expert which allowed us to engage our community, clearly communicate our goals, and work on an Action Plan immediately. Already, we’re using the Strategic Plan document to engage with partners, build a new website and share with new funders.”

World Cafés and the Strategic Plan

CAIF funding allowed EcoEquitable to create a robust plan and they are now poised to become a more vibrant organization. The Strategic Plan did not emerge out of the work of one individual tapping away on a keyboard in isolation.

Emerging from EE’s core value of Equality, two World Cafés were organized to which every volunteer, seamstress, student, board member, staff and donor was invited. What ensued was a dynamic discussion of ideas – from bridal boutiques to partner programs in Africa to social sewing hubs as part of an exploration of what EE could be in the future. Big ideas, practical ideas and everything in between were discussed. Discussions emerged from the ideas in both French and English with multiple communities represented at the sessions. These World Cafés and a full day board retreat formed the background for the Strategic Goals.

Promising Future

With talented seamstresses, dedicated staff and enthusiastic volunteers, EcoEquitable’s Executive Director, Tara Templin is confident that ‘EE has enough energy and impetus to grow as an international organization helping marginalized women around the world through meaningful partnerships’.

EcoEquitable Website: www.ecoequitable.ca
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