15 December 2022

Impacts and insights from Urban Matters CCC’s community contributions

Preparations for next round of contributions underway

By Pauline Sydenham, Urban Matters CCC

Despite the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, Alberta-based organization AAWEAR has been busier than ever. AAWEAR, which stands for the Alberta Alliance Who Educate and Advocate Responsibly, is an organization run almost entirely by people with lived or living experience of substance use. Its members serve as either “peer outreach workers” or “peer navigators” who strive to improve the quality of life of those in the drug-using community by offering peer-to-peer mentorship and harm reduction services.

In 2021, our team at Urban Matters chose to contribute $100,000 to AAWEAR through our annual community contributions. As a Community Contribution Company, or CCC, we use a minimum of 60 percent of our profits for a social purpose and to give back to communities.

“We have been able to rent office and programming space that allows our team to stay closely connected and offer room for events and training,” says Kathleen Larose, AAWEAR’s Executive Director. “Our Calgary chapter also partnered with community-based organizations and the City of Calgary to provide a low-barrier primary care and shower program for community members. This created a safe space where underserved individuals would feel welcomed and unburdened by barriers to access. Over four months, the program grew from four participants to 53.”

The Urban Matters team originally learned about AAWEAR through the Alberta Intermunicipal Overdose Collaborative, a coalition of Alberta municipalities working together to develop a coordinated response to the drug poisoning and overdose crisis.

“We quickly recognized the important role AAWEAR has in empowering and advocating for people with lived and living experience (PWLLE) of substance use,” says Jen Casorso, co-CEO at Urban Matters. “At the time, AAWEAR was only funded to operate a small amount of outreach in a few cities. Now, AAWEAR has doubled its peer outreach capacity and continues to expand its network across Alberta.”

Micro-grants to fund PWLLE-led projects in British Columbia

Next door in B.C., granting organization Community Action Initiative (CAI) has been working alongside its provincial government since 2010 to provide funding and capacity building opportunities to community-based organizations focused on mental health and substance use services.

Over the years, Urban Matters has worked with CAI to deliver some of the programs it has funded, including the Community Action Teams in Central Okanagan, Penticton, and Fort St. John as well as projects through the Community Harm Reduction Grants. Through conversations with CAI and the Overdose Emergency Response Centre (OERC), we learned about a gap in funding that, if filled, would allow PWLLE-led organizations to undertake small but mighty action-oriented projects that they are not able to complete with their current funding.

In November 2021, we provided $100,000 in seed funding alongside additional contributions from CAI to create a micro-grant program that would provide groups in the Provincial Peer Network to access a one-time boost in funding to complete underfunded yet crucial projects.

“Grant funding for peer-led organizations is scarce,” says Prairie Chiu, Manager of Provincial Peer Partnerships and Community Development with CAI. “Yet we know that the overdose prevention and response activities led by peer groups are highly effective and impactful. This funding from Urban Matters allows CAI to flow funds to the organizations and groups that need it the most – those leading frontline, grassroots, innovative or bold initiatives that address mental health and substance use needs in B.C.”

A total of 25 peer groups applied for the micro-grant, each receiving $3,960 for projects related to:

  • Skills development and capacity building such as first-aid and de-escalation training, education on cannabis substitution programs and harm reduction strategies, Naloxone training, and more
  • Mentorship and knowledge exchange such as youth mentorship programs, knowledge sharing gatherings, compassion clubs, research and environmental scans, and more
  • Stigma reduction and inclusion such as community outreach and consultation, awareness campaigns, educational resources and more
  • Mental health and wellness such as honouring ceremonies, Indigenous harm reduction workshops, healing and wellness circles, and community gardens

In addition to a financial contribution, Urban Matters also provided in-kind support to the grantees by serving as a thinking partner for peer groups.

Similar to our core values as a company, these two organizations aim to empower the voices and agency of people with lived and living experience. They work to meaningfully improve social systems and structures by bringing those most affected by its challenges into the work of community building. PWLLE who conduct outreach alongside other professionals as peer navigators is a best practice that has been shown to increase trust and enable greater connections to services for people experiencing vulnerable circumstances. It is for these reasons, among many others, that our team dedicated its 2021 community contribution to these two incredible organizations.

Applying an entrepreneurial approach to address social issues

The impact of these community contributions on people, organizations, and society as a whole clearly demonstrates how business can be used to effect positive social change. In our case at Urban Matters, we leverage a hybrid business model known as a CCC to generate profit, of which 60 percent are redistributed through community-led organizations and ventures.

“From capacity building projects to community housing innovations and anti-stigma initiatives, we have intentionally used our annual profits to support communities in filling gaps in our social systems,” says Erin Welk, co-CEO Urban Matters. “Reinvesting in the community is the cornerstone of Urban Matters CCC.”

Imagine what our world would look like if all companies were structured to achieve positive social outcomes just as much as financial sustainability. At Urban Matters, our incorporation model does just that. This means we operate much like any other business, but with the heart of a non-profit. We combine our professional expertise in community consulting and innovation with our social values and passion for social development to create a ripple effect of long-term, meaningful positive change. It’s a sustainable business model that will continue to reap benefits for our society.

“When we combine efforts, resources and innovation, there is no limit to the positive outcomes we can achieve for our communities,” Erin says. “This year, we plan to use our profits again to build upon the impact achieved from our last round of contributions as well as form new partnerships to generate further meaningful and systemic social change.”