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New study to explore social enterprise for college and communities

April 19, 2021

Two Medicine Hat College (MHC) students have an opportunity to explore social enterprise and its potential for both the Bachelor of Applied Arts – Art & Design program at MHC and regional non-profits.

The college recently received $34,900 in grant funding from the Community Foundation of Lethbridge and Southwestern Alberta as part of the Investment Readiness Program. This program is designed to help grow and ensure the sustainability of social purpose organizations across Canada, including charities, non-profits, and social enterprises, which are revenue-generating businesses that seek to achieve social, cultural, community economic and/or environmental outcomes.

With this funding, Arberesha Salihu and Lanette Williams will determine the feasibility of developing a self-sustaining social enterprise within the art and design program that would allow students to serve the design needs of non-profit organizations while creating the summer work placements needed to fulfill the program’s graduation requirements. Through regional stakeholder engagement and research, this study provides students with an opportunity to shape their educational experience and make valuable connections in our communities.

“The college’s Art & Design program already has tested experience within the non-profit sector,” explains Kari Godlonton, the program’s student placement officer. “Specifically, the pandemic impacted available opportunities for work-term placements for students, a mandatory component to graduate. The program pivoted this challenge last year by providing design services at no cost to non-profits who would not have been able to afford this work otherwise. The volume and diversity of requests was overwhelming and indicated a future market for this concept to support their missions, mandates and goals.”

Salihu, now in her third year of the art and design program, moved to Medicine Hat from Kosovo seven years ago and appreciates the chance to be involved with a project that has the potential to help others.

“I have always loved working in a collaborative environment and giving back to the community. Providing services that could support growth and development of local organizations and open doors for students is a win-win and a step towards change,” says Salihu, who looks forward to collaborating with people from different backgrounds and solving problems together.

Working with Salihu is Lanette Williams, a first year student in the Early Learning and Child Care program. Originally from Jamaica, Williams dreamed of moving to Canada and applied to Medicine Hat College after being encouraged by a friend. Engaged in the community and attracted to the concept of social enterprise, Williams wanted to be involved with a project that could make a difference in people’s lives by increasing access to supports and services to those who may be unable to afford them.

“If non-profit organizations can access design services at a reasonable cost as result of this study, they will be able to serve their target populations more effectively,” adds Williams. “I thought it would be fulfilling to be part of a project that would assist students and incorporate my passion for change.”  

In the coming weeks, Salihu and Williams will make connections with non-profits across southern Alberta to gain a deeper understanding of their organizations and the challenges and opportunities that could be addressed through this social enterprise concept. If the results of the study indicate a social enterprise is feasible, this entrepreneurial approach to education and student employment could serve a model for other programs and increase opportunities for Work Integrated Learning.

If you are part of a non-profit organization that could benefit from design support or interested in learning more about this project, please contact Arberesha Salihu or Lanette Williams.