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Innovative idea aims to give used furniture a new home

Monday, January 22, 2018 - 10:58
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With the cost of rent in Greater Victoria, finding affordable housing can be challenging.

While organizations like Ready to Rent BC provide renters the information and skills they need to secure affordable and stable housing, many struggle to acquire basic furniture, says Andrew Holeton, director, operations and program development. That can impact their housing stability if they fall prey to predatory lending, he says.

“We’ve got people who have furniture they don’t want and we have people who can’t afford new furniture, particularly if they’re coming from a shelter or they’re newcomers to Canada,” he says. “Our idea is to get furniture to people who can use it and decrease the amount of usable furniture going into the landfill.”

Ready to Rent BC will explore their furniture bank idea at Vancouver Island’s first Social Venture Bootcamp, hosted by Royal Roads February 15 to 18, 2018.

Bootcamp participants will focus on testing the viability of a social enterprising idea—from concept to launch through curriculum delivered by experts from Royal Roads, Camosun College and the University of Victoria.

Holeton says the fundamental question is one of distribution: “How do you make it easy for people who’ve got furniture, and the right kind of furniture, to get to the people who don’t have the ability to afford it?”

Toronto’s Furniture Bank has already figured out how to make money giving away furniture for free, Holeton says. Now he wants to know if it could work here.

Royal Roads Associate Professor Rob Mittelman, one of the bootcamp facilitators, specializes in social entrepreneurship, non-profit marketing and entrepreneurship as a tool for poverty alleviation.

“The tools you learn in business aren’t just applicable to selling burgers or cars or flat screen TVs . You can use those same principles to address a social issue and create a revenue-generating business,” he says.

Maria Anderson is a student in Royal Roads Doctor of Social Sciences program and the Graduate Certificate in Executive Coaching program. She is also the student representative on the University’s Board of Governors.

While conducting her doctoral research on how leadership fosters individual and collective thriving in IT professionals, she realized that IT professionals were often not flourishing in their roles.

“The culture in tech can be toxic,” says Anderson, who worked in the industry for more than 30 years.

She says IT professionals are leaving tech because they don’t feel their work is meaningful. She wants to open a consultancy practice that supports organizations to create an inclusive, people-centred business model that’s still profitable.

“I’m tired of just talking about it and I want to do something about it,” she says. “I have a vision; I just want to make it real.”

Mittelman says the four-day skills-oriented bootcamp will focus on putting ideas into practice.

Holeton says there’s still a lot to figure out before the furniture bank idea becomes reality. Who will lead the operation? What opportunities are there to work with space-starved thrift store operators?

“You’re in a space with people who are in that problem solving and questioning mode so I think that’s a really unique environment—taking advantage of that focused, innovative, creative space where you’re comfortable failing because everyone around you is stumbling. Innovation is fundamentally about trying, failing, picking yourself up and trying something new.”

Do you have a social enterprise or venture idea? Register for SeCatalyst’s Social Venture Bootcamp happening at Royal Roads University Feb. 15-18. 2018.