Combining Purpose & Passion

August 1, 2019

In the wake of losing her home in the 2013 Calgary flood, Hannah Cree set out to create a business that would close a systems gap, addressing poverty and homelessness, while also disrupting an outmoded industry. The result is CMNGD – a for-profit business that employs people facing poverty through a sustainable commercial laundry service.

“The opposite to addiction is not sobriety. The opposite to addiction is community”

In this episode:

  • How Hannah and her partner Dave decided on creating a laundry business
  • Social hiring as a means to creating community
  • Taking care of your own mental health and identifying your strengths and weaknesses to hire a dream team

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Show Notes

Transcript

Hannah: My name’s Hannah Cree and I’m the co-founder of CMNGD.

Vicki: It’s so good to have you here. Hannah, thank you very much for joining us today. So tell me what is Common Good?

Hannah: Common Good. We employ people that are coming out of poverty and homelessness and we do that through a commercial laundry service and we’re tailored right to the restaurant industry and we launched almost three years ago out of Calgary.

Vicki: Tell us a little bit more about how you run your business, why did you start it? First of all, and then we’ll talk about the how.

Hannah: It actually surrounded the Calgary flood in 2013 we walked out like we lost, we lost our house. It was underwater and a, I remember throwing my cat in the bag and walking out of our house, knee deep in water and not thinking we would have it again through that trauma, really, we had a complete stranger offer us their own house and uh, she had just had a baby two weeks before. So it was me, my husband, three kids, a cat living in her basement. We didn’t know each other. She had a brand new baby and her husband was like, you know, a perfect storm of, you know, with the flood and then no house. And, but in that trauma, what I realized is that we had an outpouring support, right? We didn’t have a house, but our friends or family and complete strangers were offering us food, clothing, cash. My husband’s friends showed up from a province over with all the supplies we needed to rebuild our house. And we had only been in Calgary for two years. And the community was just outpouring of support with our histories. Like we’ve always been involved in social justice work and poverty and just volunteering in those pieces and I just had this moment, I remember, you know, sitting by the river afterwards because the river’s just rushing down and I just was like, hey, we’re okay, but there are thousands, thousands of people in our city every night that don’t have a house and they don’t have that same safety net. I was even raised in poverty. Like actually I have a weird story of being raised in actually quite being really rich and then when we’re eight and divorce just went right down. And so I’ve kind of experienced both. But even in poverty I was on the very high end of poverty. Like I didn’t experience what people experience every day and now I just was like, we don’t mobilize in the same way for these people, for people that are our most vulnerable, are sitting on our streets and we just don’t mobilize for them. So that year we rebuilt our house, got back in, and we just really felt strongly that we had to give back to Calgary because they had given so much to us, complete strangers. At one point I had 17 people in my house pulling out wet, soggy, gross, everything. It was just disgusting, right? And complete strangers just came upon the flood. And so we really wanted to give back and that’s, that’s what happened. We ended up at the Calgary drop in downtown. Uh, it’s actually the largest structured homeless shelter in North America. Not actually something to be proud of. Right? So we just started volunteering there and just talking to people. And I actually created a, uh, clothing street store to activate all this clothing that was coming in, but they had no volunteers to give away the clothing. So we activated that and we just started listening to people and it was the story. So it was the stories of people that over and over would just say, listen, I’ve done everything the system has told me to do. I’ve gotten my id back, or I have, you know, gone and done this course or that course. And I got my license back. But guess what? No one will take a shot on me. No one would give me a chance now because I had broken history in my job. I was an alcoholic. Whatever the story is, no one could give them a shot and I get it because like employment is difficult, right? Like for employers, they go in and they go, the person might not have an id or a bank account, like there’s still some steps that are missing. We really saw that. We saw the, the system, there was a, there was a cog that was really stuck in the system that nonprofits really believed. They’re getting these people ready to be employed. They’ll say we’re getting them job ready, but where they’re getting them is actually, they’re getting them resume writing, which there’s nothing wrong with that. We need that. They need to be resume ready, but they’re not employment ready because they need more skills. They need to get back on the job. They’re usually behind. Like our one employee, you know, he hadn’t, he’d been on the streets for 10 years while the iPhone came out. During that time, he’s like blown away that my husband was watching a hockey game on his phone. He needed a whole bunch of skills to even get back into the workforce. We were really seeing this cog and Dave and I just started talking and my husband has his own story around being homeless actually for one day on the streets of Edmonton for a leadership course and that really changed how we looked at things and we were, had an entrepreneurial background. He had run a marketing agency. I’ve worked deep in the community really as I look back on systems change, but didn’t know I was doing that. I just was in community, right? And working with entrepreneurs and we were like, there’s an opportunity here. We can change this.

Vicki: That’s so huge. Your story will so resonate with people out there. Also, it’s so instructive for us in the world we’re going into right now, right? Like these climate refugees, all of the challenges that are happening, how these crises actually have an opportunity to bring us closer together or separate us depending on how you look at it and having to walk into it. And so you walking into this experience and receiving all of that support and then wanting to give it back is amazing. So let’s talk a little bit, so you got shoulder to shoulder with everyone talking about and experiencing what their challenges were really deeply empathetically understanding it. And if these huge to all of these cool new businesses that are emerging and new models, then what, how did you decide to get into this space? Like it’s hard, right? Like how did you pick this out of anything else?

Hannah: Yeah, I remember when Dave came to me and was like, we’re going to do laundry. And I was like, I don’t do my own laundry. Not sure if this was for me. Like I taught the kids at about eight how to do laundry, right? Like it’s like, here’s something that you can do for me. It’s one of those things where I was like, oh, like laundry. So what happened was when Dave took his leadership course and he had to be homeless for one day, there was another gentleman in that course and he’s from Toronto and he had a shelter. So a shelter in Toronto was actually running a commercial laundry, but they were running it as a charity and they were really running it because they had chronically homeless people in their shelter that were never going to leave in their opinion. And so they were just trying to find something for them to do. And laundry is really repetitive, right? And it’s easy to train and if someone doesn’t show up, you can pop other people in. It’s just folding and counting and like moving things. That was like 11, 12 years ago. Dave thought of that model again while we were going through the flood and going through this going, we’ve got to look at this. And what was interesting is that we know at the time they were putting 250 grand into their model, like fundraising to get this to work. And we’re like, but if you’re selling to restaurants or whomever your customer is, you should be making money because the competition is huge. They’re billion dollar companies. We’ve watched in our industry in the last two years, four of our big competitors have all bought each other for over a billion in Canada and in the US right. And so we’re like, no, this isn’t right. Like something, our entrepreneurial was like, Ding, Ding, Ding. Like something’s there. How it happened is we sat down with 50 restaurants, local restaurants in Calgary, and we said, tell us your pain. Just tell us everything that’s wrong. It’s really actually no different than what we did when we are just naturally volunteering in the homeless shelter of like, what’s your pain? Like what’s the problem? And I think that’s entrepreneurial too, right? Every single restaurant owner swore about their current provider. It didn’t matter which big provider it was, they were swearing, they were giving us their invoices. They were like, here’s the problem. I mean one guy was like, I just want a lid on my laundry. Like I just need a lid. This is all I need. And we’re like, okay. You know? And so it was like those things and like hidden fees. So it’s a really, really old industry. They all still use paper, perforated billing. I think they must own the companies because who uses those? So it’s all paper based. They actually, your prices go up every year without knowing like they just really feel ripped off. And so once we started to look at the numbers and then we knew it was a good employment model, we started talking to the homeless shelter and saying, we think we have something but we’re not quite sure. We want to get into the industry. We started talking all the restaurant owners, we actually got one of the people in the restaurants to come work with Common Good, you know, so get the expertise in the industry but also look at if there’s something disruptable in there. And it was, I mean, and what’s interesting is really there’s lots of disrupt on the environmental side and the employment side, but really it was disruptable because they’d provide bad customer service, which just is not acceptable anymore.

Vicki: Yeah, absolutely. You take care of your customers. Absolutely. So you take people that are coming from the homeless shelter and train them to do laundry to then service small businesses like are these restaurants huge or are they like, how did you pick that group as your go to market strategy? Like how did you decide that was the place to start?

Hannah: Well, so that was really because the restaurants, they really needed something customizable but also locally owned. Restaurants are about 3000 in Calgary. It’s a lot. We’re quite a foodie city actually and so we knew that if we could go into locally owned because the big chains all have contracts with our big competitors because our competitors are all over Canada, including small towns, so we knew we needed to go local, but there’s something to that. We go local. People love the story, they want the restaurants want to have more local touch and so using us becomes their social impact and they get to talk about how they’re employing local people that are coming, you know, out of poverty too. They could be out of the homeless shelter when they come to us. All of those pieces. What I love is at the time where we went to the homeless shelter and said this is our idea. And we were like, can we do this? They said yes right off the bat and I’ll tell you, a lot of other nonprofits didn’t know what to do with us. And we scaled our model, we tested it, the basement of their laundry. So we scaled our model for the first year and a half out of the basement of a homeless shelter.

Vicki: Wow. Amazing.

Hannah: And so that story alone, and we would do it at seven at night, cause they use their laundry to do all of their laundry. And then at seven at night we would come in and take, and hire out of the shelter and then go in. I’ll never forget Dan, he was our first, first guy. He was volunteering, running that laundry during the day just so he doesn’t have to be in the shelter. Right. You just needed to be safe. And so he was our first like I’m in. Because he’s never been paid to run the laundry before.

Vicki: And all of a sudden what he was doing all ready, he got paid for it, which is cool.
Hannah: Yeah. He just had to do it at night. He was so funny and he showed us the ropes. Honestly, he knew that laundry inside and out and he showed everything that needed to be done and, and just to see his empowerment. But he was, he was institutionalized. He was 10 years in the shelter and he even said himself, he’s like, I couldn’t even be on my own. I don’t know what that would be like.

Vicki: So how big is that challenge of like chronically being homeless inside shelters? Is it a percentage of all a homeless shelter with the people that are there? Are they stuck in that system? Like they just can’t get out of it?

Hannah: Yeah, I, I think that after the two year mark, it’s, I think a, once you’re in there, it’s actually really, really difficult to get out. The barriers are insane just from people telling you that you’re no good. The mental pressure alone creates a lot of mental health issues. And so we’ve seen like we can give them a job and we can give them dignity and confidence and all of that. But the leftover mental health and all of those pieces that have happened since then is really, really difficult. And you know, in the first year we had a lot of people that were chronically homeless and Dan one, and I actually just can’t even, like I just heard he passed away in the shelter. Right. And No, it’s just, and he worked with us and he saw that and I’ll never forget like I was reflecting on it because he showed us the ropes for Common Good in my opinion. Yeah. Cause he knew the laundry and you knew homelessness and he knew where people get stuck. And he was the one to say, you know, once you’re in here around two years, like there’s just no getting out as unsafe as it is. He had his stuff ripped off almost every day. There’s fights, there’s alcoholism. Like I dare anyone to just go live there for a week. You will be drinking, you will be beat up. Something will happen. These are not safe places. The nonprofits are doing the best that they can under this. But this is a bandaid, like let’s get real. Like this is not the answer. So he taught me that and I’ll never forget because while we’re doing a startup, my husband gets a knee replacement, ten months later I have to get a hip replacement. Well while Dave is in getting, and this is our first year of business, he’s getting his knee replaced and he was in the hospital and Dan went into the hospital at the same time and he had a really bad infection. And this was when, this was kind of where he stopped working with Common Good and got really sick. I had to go to two ends of the hospital to see both of them and like really, really far. And, and I remember walking over to Dan and I just sit there and talk with him and he said to me, I think I’m going to try and visit Dave tonight. I heard he’s not doing great. And I said, no, he’s not and it’d be great. And he goes, I’ll try, I’ll try. But he was so sick and was hooked up to all these things and had a viral infection. The next night I went to visit him and he said, I saw Dave and I knew he had, cause Dave said he showed up and played cards with me and he said, you know, it just felt so good to make someone else feel good and to give to someone that has given me so much. And like all he did was walk over. Right. But that’s what community is.

Vicki: Totally.

Hannah: That’s what looks like. You know, I remember that moment. And so to hear that, you know that how we found out was that his name’s posted in the homeless shelter. It’s just really hard because that institutionalization, uh, lays heavy on me.

Vicki: Thank you for feeling that so deeply. You’re going to get me verklempt here. This is really, this is something that we are. So I think we’re all yearning for this right? And deeper connection with one another and caring about each other. And this whole, you know, drive for individualization and not being part of the whole and separating ourselves from each other is one of the chronic challenges that we’re facing of how we come back together. So you’re a systems neighbor, you see some of the challenges in the system. So let’s talk a little bit about some of the barriers for you to scale up this business. So you’re working with homeless shelters to get people to hire and your business is growing and you have big plans to grow it. What are some of the barriers that you’ve faced that are part of the system?

Hannah: It’s not hard to find people to work. Everyone thinks that’s a barrier for us and it’s like, nope, there’s thousands of people that need a job. If we ever do a job posting, I have 600 applications and that’s only Calgary. That’s not a barrier for us. If anything we don’t in some ways like we, we prefer actually working with the agencies that are innovative and have a little bit more holistic systems and they’re really great to work with because there’s like some accountability. If our employee doesn’t show, we can work with the local place and they also have coaching and so we’re not here to replace the system. We were saying we’re missing cog in it that we needed transitional employment. They needed some job experience. In terms of some of those barriers actually you know, some of it is just people. For me it’s government policies could change everything. You know, if there was a policy like there is in Scotland where if you want to do any business with the government, you have to be a social enterprise or be in business with a social enterprise and a real one, like when I say real like employment, social enterprise, right? You’re employing people at a living wage and you’re providing all of these different pieces or you’re doing a huge environmental impact, but you have to have those pieces in. It’s little Scotland has the most social enterprises in the world because of a government policy saying if you’re going to do social procurement, this is what it looks like. So for me it’s, it’s government pieces. You said it best to me. We’re still working outside of the systems and so for me that’s what it is. And then on the other side it’s capital, patient capital. You know, and I come out of the startup tech world and I’ve seen so much money go to these big tech startups and we are scraping for cash and there’s no reason because we have actually a revenue rental reoccurring model that’s awesome and providing great things to that. But you still need patient capital because profit lines and social enterprises are not huge or revenue and stuff, right? It’s patient capital and people need a lot of education on that, like what that looks like and and how you’re really giving back and the bigger impact that your money is making. Because I’m for profit.

Vicki: This is one of the things that I really feel is going to change a lot in the next decade where we have an model where all we look at is what are the financial returns, but we don’t count the real costs like the environmental costs, the cost to people’s mental health, just like wellness in general, right? It’s just focused on greed and financial return and it misses this whole other part and then we’re like, oh yeah, that’s just, that’s an externality. You know, someone else is going to go fund that. But now that we’re in such dire straits with most of our economies, we can’t do that. And so I think part of the thing will be how to measure the social impact that you’re having as well as the financial impact. Because at some point we’re going to be figuring out how to monetize that and then go. It is incredibly important because the cost of a homeless person, do you know what that is? Economically?

Hannah: Yeah. In Calgary it’s actually a hundred grand a year. Yeah. So like for us, you know, we’ve employed over 18,000 hours, which is hundreds of thousands of dollars. We know we’ve saved the local economy $1 million with our model because we’re taking people off the streets or we’re paying them and they’re getting into their own houses and all of that. Like the costs are large, it’s way easier to do this with social enterprises. And that’s actually what Scotland did. They said, we know that if you’re employing people at this and you’re saving the environmental impact, this is actually helping us in saving the government money. Like they understood that. So to me, and this is not a political issue, this is actually, you actually are saving the economy money by doing this and you’re employing people and you’re saving the environment. If the governments have more pressures on those big, any corporation to have more of that impact, that’s actually how it turns.

Vicki: Yeah, and you said the cost saving to reduce bad business practices essentially is so much higher and therefore why don’t we use our investment capital to look at it that way. Right? Or, I mean, we’re in such a transition to the old world to the new world and you’re one of the pioneers. I know. You’re like, would it please get here sooner? Thank you. Very, we’re in the process of shifting from that race. It makes absolutely no sense the way that we’re doing. So let’s talk a little bit, so you’ve got this social hiring component, I’m going to call it social hiring.

Hannah: Yeah. Barrier to employment. Social hiring actually is pretty good. Yup.

Vicki: I mean it’s crazy that we have to put words in front of words. I know impact investing, social hiring, social entrepreneurs, yet it’s just, we’re so out of balance and we actually have to have all these qualifiers now on our words.

Hannah: That’s actually one of my big things. I said, we don’t need a social, we don’t need a word for social enterprise in five to 10 years. This is just the way we do business. You’re either on board or you’re not. But the fact that we have to put that all divided out and it’s confusing for people. People thought I was doing social media, like you know, they didn’t understand it was what social enterprise is like. I get that.

Vicki: Yeah. I’m just running a business in the same way to solve a real problem. Hello. You talked a little bit about environmental costs. Is the laundry industry like super old school as well? Like is it toxic and chemicals and like how do you solve that?

Hannah: Yeah, that one was a really hard one for me. My heart hurt. This is what actually is very angering to me is that this industry, there’s a lot of money in it’s billion dollar industry and they are, they could be leading in the environmental and social change. The number one question I usually get on the environmental side is like, so are you using all the natural stuff to clean your water and commercial laundry? I mean it barely has taken off and clean stuff in personal side, residential side, but in like commercial, no way. There’s no innovation yet. There’s like a little bit, but right now it’s like all chemical really heavy and it’s crazy bad. And then there’s this one little inventor pioneer in Calgary who’s across Canada, but just quietly, you know, he’s an inventor. We just happened to buy our laundry next to him when we expanded and he’s the one that’s really doing some interesting stuff in the industry and to kind of frame that, we’re now entering a partnership with him to expand our model with his environmental model across Canada. And so he’s already across Canada and has his, has his warehouses, but he’s doing some really cool stuff. Like he saves 95% of the water in the industry that is insane because I created a map of machine that washes mats, like just mats that you walk on. They’re awful to wash in the machines. They ruined them and he had enough. And so he created a machine that basically washes and dries, and rolls the mats in like seven seconds, right? And so saving time, saving all of this other stuff. And then he had to get into linens for the restaurants in order to get their mat contracts. And so that’s kind of what he was doing in Calgary. But he also then created biofuel machines. So he has this machine that takes the restaurants food waste, turns it into biofuel. And then the, he uses that to heat the water in the warehouse and we were all in the same warehouse. And so that we all just started talking and we started giving him and like, this is how it works. Like we walked in and said, we don’t want to do mats. We don’t want to clean them. The ruining our machines, we’re taking your contracts, but you can still have it and wash it, but people want to come with Common Good because we got this model and blah, blah, blah. And he was like, okay. So it was kind of started there. And then over the last year he came to us and was like, okay, like if you’re going to expand across Canada, you’re probably gonna eat my lunch. So how do we do this together? And we were just like, you know that entrepreneur moment where you’re like, yeah, we hope to eat your lunch. But we were at that time where we were like, how do we make this scale? We have no idea. And it’s expensive, we would have to spend 2 million per city to pop up a laundry plant. So now, now we have laundry plants across Canada and now we can pop up really quickly. So I’m in Edmonton right now expanding at a cowork space to go to all these other places. Um, and then Toronto, Vancouver, cause now we can do it for like 150 grand per city or whatever that is and go.

Vicki: And this is really the opportunity of partnerships, right? Where do you see, I want to have a bigger impact.

Hannah: And for me, executive Matt has the environmental impact and is pioneering it. Like he’s creating that technology and he saw our people side and our customer service side and our branding and marketing, which we do really well and in the storytelling essentially. And it was like both of our greatest gifts and he was back in operations and knows like knows what he’s losing money on and what he’s not. And like we are that front end and that culture piece, you know where the challenges come is like how do you merge your cultures? How do you create a new culture? You know? Those things are what we’re working through now, but I think it’s a really uncommon thing to do, right? Just really, really uncommon thing because it’s not a by of anyone. It’s literally a partnership.

Vicki: Yes. Beautiful. I mean this is how we really scale. We take the best of each of us that really serves us, which really drive this and you don’t have to do everything. This is the whole model for the future. What your core competency, what do you amazing at, and then find people that are passionate about those other things. Part of the thing that’s so crazy as you start to learn about yourself and what motivates you and what excites you, and then this narrative of you’re supposed to do everything as an entrepreneur, like when you can break through that and realize for me anyway, like someone likes doing spreadsheets, really someone really likes doing that. I hate bringing in spreadsheets. There’s a person who has passionate about something else that you’re not good at as you are passionate about what you’re good at and that the more you can sort of focus on that, the more you just create this environment and culture where everybody’s flying and you can create this super high performance Dream Team because you’re all doing the things that you’re great at. Right. That’s, that’s the muscle to build for sure.

Hannah: Yeah. And I think it’s, you know, people talk about, oh, you gotta, you know, hire people that are smarter than you. And I’m like, people don’t really do that. If you look at like the typical founders, they’d still believe they’re the smartest people in the room. Right? I mean, there’s a confidence issue there. What you want are the most skilled at what they love, like key into their super power. If it’s spreadsheets. And it’s like, that’s all those pieces. And what it’s really about is get to know what you do well and get really serious about it. Because for me as a woman, you know, I looked at all the skills and talents and I was like, I can do that, I can do that, I can do that. But when I changed it and said, what brings me joy and what am I actually really good at, like again, gives me energy. Afterwards it was like, Oh, I’m actually really good at strategy, vision, storytelling, community building. Right? And it was like, oh, but I’m doing all these other things because I’m supposed to get keyed in on what you’re really good at. And then you got to set your team up around that.

Vicki: Yeah. I think we certainly in my generation, we were really trained that you had to be good at everything. Right? So like if you look at performance evaluations in organizations, which I’ve never actually worked for any other company, I am totally unemployable. But one of the things that I think is, is amazing is we ask people to like spend time on stuff that they’re not good at so they can get better. And I’m thinking, why would you ever have a company like that? Right. Don’t touch it. You’re not good at please ever. You know, cause someone else shows it.

Hannah: Yeah. Like the research says you can go and spend all the time that you want on what you’re bad at. You’ll probably get five to 10% a little bit better if you spend some focus time. But if you actually focus in on some natural innate abilities, if you spent that same time, it’s like 10 x

Vicki: Totally. And it’s way more fun. Let’s just be clear. All right, let’s talk for a second around the challenges of like, I can imagine listening to this and thinking, okay so are building a business it’s hard, dealing with people, period. People are hard in general and you’re adding on this layer of people who are really struggling and in a homeless environment, like how do you cope with that? What are the things that you’ve learned in your business working with this population?

Hannah: I got to this moment actually this year and SheEO, has been a big game-changer for me. Just even emotionally and the shifts that we’ve been going through is one of our employees, older employees, he’s moved on. He has his own place but kind of has struggled still back and forth. Uh, because we really have to build community around people. The research said in Vancouver that came out, you know, the opposite to addiction is not sobriety. The opposite to addiction is community. It’s connection. And so we have in the last year or like actually this is what we have to build around our employees is the community and the connection and all of those pieces. But I ran into him and there was some bad stuff going on for him and I remember in my car afterwards going, I don’t know how to walk him through all of this stuff cause I’m not through my stuff. I got to get, you know, I have to go dive deep into my own trauma and my own hurts in my own pieces and also build my life around the stuff that I love and then I’m good at so that I can walk other people through. Like we just can’t bring people through what we have not healed ourselves. And so a lot of stuff actually Common Good brought up a lot of stuff in both myself and my partner, right about who we are and our own gifts and skills and some just deep stuff from years ago usually from your childhood, right. And uh, I really stayed, entrepreneurs are going to have to work on yourself a, that’s exactly what you’re going to bring to the table. That’s the culture you’re going to create in your own company. But how do you lead people through if you’re not going to recognize your own shit. We actually took a little step back in the last six months and got coaching and got, and we’ve had the coaching before, but like really got serious and dove deep to get better skills because in the end what we saw with our employees is that it’s been amazing. We can give them a job and the dignity and the confidence that comes with that, but there’s still huge mental health barriers because they’ve gone through incredible trauma and trauma are not always what people think. Like just it’s Oh, someone got raped or this like someone died. They have gone through stuff and then they’re told that they’re no good and they should just get a job and nothing, you know, they don’t even have the skills to emotionally walkthrough and our next big huge barrier is mental health and we saw that. We were like, oh actually the biggest barrier is all this mental health and how are we going to bring them through it if we have not dealt with our own mental health issues. And so that’s where we’re at is actually focusing on ourselves and setting that up because the only way our employees are going to pick up on those types of skills is if we’re doing it.

Vicki: Yeah, I mean this is a really, I was having a conversation the other day with someone around mental health and you just sit back that we’re talking about this at an epidemic level everywhere is because our systems are so messed up. This is literally a symptom of broken systems. But I also do want to tune in on what you just said a second. It’s really important. Like I always felt that business is the container that we select to work through our stuff. And so in most ways like that, if you’re out to do transformative work, you must be part of that. You must transform yourself. Right? And so if you’re not willing to walk into that, you are absolutely not going to be successful transforming whatever it is you’re doing. We increasingly are drawn to like our greatest strength is our greatest weakness. You know, like I am a super connector and I also struggle with asking for help, recognizing that that’s the irony of humanity. What you’re amazing at giving to other people is what you generally suck at doing yourself. Okay, good one. There you go. And so yeah, to your point of like how do you actually create an environment for yourself to thrive and therefore you’re likely to create an environment for others to thrive. It’s such a powerful message.

Hannah: Yeah. And that means we didn’t do it right for the first couple of years. Like I said, I’m really honest about the struggles of it too and that we’ve lost employees because I think a lot of people get caught in the social good of the goodness of it. But the dark, right, we’re talking about that flip side. The shadows of it are really hard and really deep and I think we have to talk about it because even when we’re trying to fix these problems, sometimes we create worse problems too. So really understanding the depths of it is, and that means you have to live in the problem cause here’s the thing about social good. If you’re going to work in it, that means you’re actually working in the problem for basically the rest of your life. Because if I think poverty or homelessness is going to be eradicated in my lifetime, like it could be if we actually use all that trillions of dollars to actually do it the way that the systems are now. No, you’re actually working in the problem. You’re actually working in devastation. You’re working in people’s lives that are broken. The environment is broken. It is heart wrenching. Yeah. You better love that problem because I think people look and go, I’m doing good and this is great. But actually if you’re truly good in system chains, you are working in in devastation a lot of times. And that is difficult.

Vicki: It is. And it’s also, I mean to your point of this like being energized by the journey is really, really critical, right? If you’re on the outside of this, not deeply caring, empathetically, working closely with the people that you’re working with, it’s hard. I can completely relate on this too cause I feel like every single day I’m working with people that are stepping outside of their comfort zone to create a better world. And there’s nothing more energizing for me than that. And I completely empathetic to how hellishly hard it is every single day. Right? And sometimes all we just need a quick hug and you know, text back and forth thinking of you, hoping your breathing. It’s challenging. But again, I just love this quote that you had earlier around the opposite to addiction is not sobriety, but it’s connection. Whoa. Because we’re so isolated from each other. Isolation to connection is that’s powerful.

Hannah: Yeah, so when we purchased the plant, uh, at the time we were, we’re actually at a crossroads because when we purchased it, there was Syrian refugees that were working at it. When we were taking the whole thing over and we actually had a moment where like we don’t lay people off because they don’t fit our model. I was like, whoa. Right, so you’re working in systems change and you have this little model and then this presents itself and we were like, we don’t, we can’t. And we had pretty much all barriered employees coming out of the homeless shelter at that point. And so we decided to integrate. That was the best thing. This was actually a really great lesson for us and we’re starting to kind of move towards this model is that in this piece is, this is just this moment that I witnessed around the lunch table. Syrian refugees, they had only a, there was a almost like a family. There’s a few of them in there. They had been in Canada for about a year and the woman sat down at the lunch table and she had her food out. And then another man who is coming out of the homeless shelter at the time of sitting down with her and he was asking her basically, you know, how did you make that food? What is in it? And she was struggling with some of the English words. And so she was pointing to things and he’s like, oh that’s peas. And that’s da-da-da. And what was really interesting as they started to talk, she realized he didn’t have family. Cause that’s usually what happens, right? You’ve burned everything out and there’s no family around. Well they have an incredible sense of family and community. And she is like just shocked. And she said, you must come over, you must come for food and come for this. And she, and he’s like, well can you teach me how to cook? And then I was like, oh, that’s community. And what that was was different backgrounds, different people, different histories, different races. And so community actually, you know, so the segregation of putting them in transitional housing and putting all, you know, like all of that doesn’t work because we actually have to integrate. And so we have to have different people’s skills and different, and before we were like complete, like everyone varied model. But what we’re learning is no, we need lots of different people. Barriers, no barriers. I actually want to remove that word because I have friggin so many barriers to just like we all have our crap and some are much like, and we got to help the people that are in poverty because the barriers are not their fault. We put them in there, the systems put them in there. Right? But that community piece, and then I read, it was research that came out of downtown streets of east Vancouver that said, we’re doing this wrong. And that’s where that trauma informed care care came from and said, this is about community. We’re doing this wrong. And I was like, yes, yes.

Vicki: There’s a couple of things that sort of come up for me on that. So changing barriered employment, let’s change that language, right? Because I just realized that now in order to create new behavior you need new language, you actually literally have to make up new words and so when I think of the word employment, like someone’s going to employ me, I feel allergic to that because I want to employ myself. Well I have lots of barriers to employment. That’s certainly not what we’re talking about here. And then the other part that really came up for me was around everyone having something to do and I think this is part of our thing, you know we talked about purposes, it’s like some big heady thing like what’s your passion? What do you, what’s your purpose? Why you’re on this planet underneath it. There’s a really beautiful, it’s medic when people talk about it with the shards of glass, like we’re all whole, we were all part of one thing and then this wave broke into the million pieces and each of us are here to like find our path back to make a whole. I think a lot about that. What are the different experiences that you can go through on the way to finding how you connect with others? It’s because once you start to feel connected, you’ve Lizzie isolation that we really do start to feel like part of community and you’re creating opportunities for people to find each other.

Hannah: Yeah, that’s exactly right that we all have something to bring to the table. I work deeply in the entrepreneur community and the support that’s there and I always say like even to the startups that are coming up, you’re sitting there going take me out for coffee and like tell me everything you know, and I’m like you have stuff to give. They usually have long history backgrounds in different industries and it’s like don’t discount who you are. You bring yourself to the table too. But people have to feel confident enough to be able and have an environment that’s safe enough for that little lunch table discussion to even happen. Right? Like it never would have interacted if this didn’t happen in this work environment where he felt even confident enough to talk. A lot of people think that everyone, we know the stories of all our employees and it’s like actually a lot of times we don’t even know for the first six months and they shouldn’t have to tell us because you know when they’re on the streets, the first thing they’re asked is how did you get here? Like we don’t even do that in meetings. We don’t even have a sense of how to treat people when we think that we can say to someone on the street, how did you get here? Tell me your story. Instead of like, hi, what’s your name? Yeah, we’re missing some, even just humanity pieces in it.

Vicki: It’s feels like a real remnent from the six direction upon me that we really live in. Right. It’s like even as you said, let’s sit down, you know, I get these emails that don’t have to due to with my, can I to pick your brain and asked you how you got where you are, it’s going to help you. I don’t think so. It’s really that what’s inside of you, the question asking, you know, to unlock everyone has what they need inside and it’s, how do you bring that out? But again, to your point, like sort of feeling when it’s right to be asking those questions and creating space for people to feel safe to share it, this whole thing. You wonder what is success for you?

Hannah: Whoo

Vicki: Yeah, small question.

Hannah: It’s funny, I think that I think, I don’t think I ever thought I’d be having a laundry and, and working really in poverty and homelessness even six years ago, honestly. And so I, I have actually gone through my life and being like, I got to do this by this time and I gotta do this. And instead of, um, now I’m in the path of like, okay, there’s a lot of problems in the world and I’m really passionate. I, I what I’ve known since I was a kid, like since I was a kid, I’ve always been passionate actually about injustices. When, when things are injustice I’m like, it doesn’t even matter the topic. I will be there. And like that’s what gets me going. And I think I’ve spent a lot of time trying to figure out where I’m going to be instead of now I’m on this path of like a little bit of least resistance. Like show me what the next step is. Because in this systems change model, I don’t know what success looks like. I think people go, we’re going to eradicate poverty and now that I’m working, deepen it to do it. That’s a hard, you know, I, I don’t, I don’t think that’s realistic, but for me personally, it’s just to be open to that journey for Common Good. We are expanding the model across Canada. We can also see these models go a lot of different ways. We’re looking for entrepreneurs, like people that are really passionate about this work and go and pop up a cleaning company. We have the employment model, we have the backend, you know, so we’re looking for people to actually create more businesses like that in other industries and come along, I can’t do this myself. We, Dave can’t do this. None of us can. Right. But let’s start pairing up and partnering with each other. For me. I think it’s about collaboration and we’re still not there yet. People still think collaboration is like this weird handshake deal. Collaboration is messy. It’s at the table. It’s sometimes frustrating. It takes forever. But those are the changes that work, right? Yes.

Vicki: That’s the hard part. It’s like living together, working together in alignment towards common goals that is like super messy and chaotic and challenging. But it is work of humanity right now.

Hannah: Yeah. Like that’s kind of the work for me. So for me, if we can inspire other businesses owners to start shifting their models and looking at their own imprint of, of environment and how they’re treating their employees and what opportunities they have and diversify it in their own pieces. And then I’ve, you know, I’ve done, I’ve done my work because we just need more of us because the moment that tipping point happens, you know, there’s no turning back and we’re not, we’re getting there, but like we need a mass amount of people to kind of come and businesses to come because then we don’t call it social enterprise anymore.

Vicki: Yeah. This moment that we’re at, if you know the question I think about all the time is how are you using your leadership? Just solve for the challenges we’re facing. And so I would like to thank you for using your leadership to work on the worlds to do list I love that ignited nation sustainability goals, working on barrier employment, employment period. How we can live together in community. Thank you for coming up with such a cool model and I hope you will be, have an email inbox full after this of people who want to join you on this work. It’s really important. Thank you for everything you do.

Hannah: Hmm. Thank you for disrupting all this financial models and the work that needs to be done for women. Right? I think that we’ve been fighting to be at the table and there’s some of us that are at the table, but we’re also a little bit too tired and maybe so grateful a little bit that we’re at the table that we’re not ready to shake it up yet and we have to shake it up. We have to like probably flip the table. Right? And so, you know, to get more women at the table, I’d tell you three years ago I didn’t think that mattered, and I see it more and more every day. It’s like we have to use now that we’re here and there’s points like we got to use our voices and start changing the systems to work for everybody, not just a subset.

Vicki: Hallelujah sister, thanks so much, Hannah.

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