Ryan Cook (left) and Sylvain Turgeon (right)

Ryan Cook (left) and Sylvain Turgeon (right)

Nelson group plans business alternatives for youth

A new project will be a training ground for young people wanting to create "alternatives-to-business" and "recreate the economy."

On February 5, a group of about 20 Nelson community leaders got together to brainstorm ideas for an alternative business school for youth in Nelson.

The initiative would provide business training, coaching, and follow-up for young people who want to start social enterprises — co-ops, non-profits, or for-profit businesses that align with the participants’ social values. It’s for young people who want to create their own job and change the world in the process.

Modeled on Vancouver’s successful Groundswell Grassroots Economic Alternatives training network, the project will be a partnership between Groundswell and Kootenay Career Development Society.

Groundswell describes itself as “a training network of young people starting alternatives-to-business together, and recreating the economy based on values of community and social impact.” The meeting in Nelson this month was to gauge the level of support for a local training network.

“The support at the meeting was palpable,” said Sylvain Turgeon, who manages the project at the society.

The vice principal of SelfDesign High, Barbarah Nicoll, participated in the meeting.

“It was exciting because it is a program that has worked in Vancouver and because it embraces entrepreneurism and youth,” she said. “For young people who want to stay in their community, it will empower them to bring what they have, in a way that is empowering and socially conscious.

“Whatever way you engage in your business,” Nicoll said, “that affects everyone else, it affects the world. Many young people know this.”

“Kootenay Career Development Society is developing a sustainable funding model and has already started the formation of an advisory committee to inform strategic planning” says executive director Jan Wright. “We have a number of community-focussed, smart and driven youth in the region and we want to support them to bring their ideas to life, while creating a future for themselves.”

Their target launch date for an initial program cohort is September.

The program will have three parts:

1. Classroom work for 2½ days per week over a three months period, allowing participants to work part time while attending.

2. A business launch pad, with business coaches that will assist with “lean startup models.”

3. Continued connection among the group after the program, with alumni supporting each other as their businesses progress.

“There’s clearly a gap in services for these youth leaders who wish to take their social venture startup idea to the next level” Turgeon said, talking about the society’s commitment towards economic and social development.

Turgeon, who is a project manager and workshop facilitator, says he sees a strong need among local young people.

“Many youth want to find meaning in their work, so it is not just work for the sake of work. They want work-life balance that includes their values and their beliefs. They want to work at something they truly believe in.”

Another organizer, Ryan Cook, who also works as a project coordinator, says social enterprises already represent 30 per cent of the local economy.

“With a youth population that continues to look toward deeper community connection and local sustainability,” Cook said, “The society is leading this charge with the development of programs that support the development of social enterprise ventures.”

Cook points out that a region-wide youth strategic plan developed by the Columbia Basin Trust has identified employment, entrepreneurship and community engagement as priorities.

Another participant in the meeting was Zoe Creighton, who heads the Upper Columbia Co-op Council. She said she enjoyed the enthusiasm of  “young, super-keen, pumped young people, tempered by the voices of wisdom and experience of the older participants.”

“We have Sylvain Turgeon and Ryan Cook, and they are firecrackers,” she said. “We have a model that’s been tried and tested in Vancouver. And we have the support of Kootenay Career Development Society, an established local non-profit. It’s a recipe for success.”

As the society will go on with their action oriented strategic plan, they will be continuing their community conversation style events with a youth gathering that is slated for mid March.

For further information, contact Sylvain Turgeon at sylvain.turgeon@kcds.ca, or visit their Facebook page to stay up to date on upcoming events related to the program.