October 2017 – Jake Stika is a Co-founder and the Executive Director of Next Gen Men . Having grown up as an immigrant to Canada as well as having lived in Brazil, Germany, and the Czech Republic in recent years, Jake has a global perspective on community development and social innovation. Jake believes himself to be a reconnection entrepreneur and is less interested in symptoms, but rather underlying causes. His vision for Next Gen Men comes from observing society today and wondering how to create change amongst youth and his peers for a better tomorrow, today.
Q: Tell us more a bit about your how you began your social enterprise, Next Gen Men :
Next Gen Men is an existing non-profit, we started with our Youth Program for boys aged 12 – 14 where we challenge societal constructs of what it is to “be a man” today. We are doing this through a gender transformative lens and we’ve seen really promising progress. We started the Youth Programme 3 years ago and from that we grew to add a program which is a monthly discussion group for adults of all genders to hold space for conversations that men don’t traditionally have. Having these two really promising programs while understanding the constraints of running a non-profit regarding sustainability, scalability, financial feasibility, we knew that we needed to design a social enterprise. Last fall I was named one of 20 Ashoka’s Emerging Innovators in the Canadian social sector and corporate social responsibility came up as a major theme during the Summit and Bootcamp. Given my values and my background in entrepreneurship and start-ups, my struggle was how do I take something as intangible as healthy masculinity and create a product or a service that people would be willing to pay for. I came back to Calgary and worked out of a business accelerator for 3 months on this issue as well as in collaboration with the University of Toronto’s volunteer consulting group to do market research on the idea. We developed a program called Equity Focused Leadership where we’re taking the lessons we’ve learned with our youth program, including that a gender transformative program needs between 10-15 sessions to root. We are also offering evaluations by measuring the changes in attitudes and beliefs amongst the participants, as well as evaluations 6 months after the workshops on changes to organisational attitudes and beliefs. We’ll hopefully be able to have that social return on investments, where we can say that female employees 6 months after the program saw a marked difference in equitable attitudes.
Q: What is a unique feature of your social enterprise?
For people such as ourselves, gender equity is just the right thing to do but when you look at it from a business perspective, there needs to be a return on the bottom line. Studies show that 30% or more representation of women on your leadership translates into a 6% increase in profits. Diversity and inclusion are actually two different things – you can have diversity without having inclusion but if you create an inclusive environment for that diversity, output rises by 50%. We do take a gender focused lens but it’s within a broader diversity and inclusion lens. If people can be more equitable from a gender standpoint then we believe that those tools will then translate to more intersectional issues such as race, ageism, ableism, but starting from that really prevalent.
We also offer one-off workshops and presentations on unconscious bias, allyship or power and privilege. These are a bit of a Trojan Horse for us to come into an organisation and really show them the value of looking at things a different way. Really it’s about starting this discussion about equity and working with men around it. There’s a lot of women support groups that are important and valuable but essentially if a company says ‘were handling equity, we have this group’ then the company is saying that women are facing a problem and we tell them to fix it themselves. We want to engage men, who often in today’s society still hold those positions of power and influence, in the discussion.
Q: Have you been getting involved in any partnerships?
We are actually starting a collaborative project with Shift , a groupout of the University of Calgary which is focused on domestic and gender based violence. What they have identified is that violence prevention programs don’t necessarily work because they are mandated after the moment of violence, most men don’t go preventatively. Shift found to be more upstream thinking, so they’re focusing on healthy masculinity which is something that Next Gen Men has already been working towards.
Q: This isn’t easy work – what motivates you to keep moving forward?
If you asked me 6 or 7 years ago whether I would be leading a feminist male organisation, I would say no, you’re crazy. But today I’ve gone through a lot, I’ve had my own struggles with mental health, well-being and the stigma surrounding those issues and masculinity. One of my cofounders, who is my best friend, lost his 13 year old brother to suicide. I grew up in jock culture, we’ve seen how toxic masculinity affects us and those around us and we want to create a platform for change. Really, I would love to stop calling it toxic masculinity because it paints the word masculinity with a negative connotation, I would rather just redefine what masculinity can be.
I myself am really privileged in this work as a cis-white heterosexual male, but that being said I also came to Canada as a refugee immigrant. We don’t know the other person’s privileges or lived experiences and in this work, as I mentioned, I’m tremendously privileged and I want to use that to highlight privileges and disadvantages.
Find out more about Jake’s experience in ACSE, First Edition by clicking here!
In conversation with Eashan Karnik
September 2017 – Eashan Karnik is a graduate from the University of Toronto with an Honours Bachelor of Science. While his degree was in Neuropsychology, his career in working for the legislative protection and ecological enhancement of Canada’s lands and waters has spanned almost a decade. Eashan’s extensive work for sustainable development in Mississauga has led to him being selected by the City Council, and Canada’s Minister of Heritage as the Community Leader for Mississauga in Canada’s sesquicentennial celebrations. Eashan currently spends his days working on CitySolar, a green energy subsidization program that he hopes will allow all of Mississauga to progress, along with Canada, towards a clean and green future.
Q: Do you have any updates on what you’ve been up to with CitySolar?
CitySolar has been doing really well, the Summit actually gave us a lot of traction to move forward. Over the last three or four months we have been working on putting together a deputation and presenting it to Mississauga City Councillors and the Mayor. We are hoping to receive feedback on whether there could be a collaboration with the city or if the city could use some funds from the Climate Action Plan that it’s been working on for initiatives like this. Seeing as I have been a member of the Environmental Action Committee of Mississauga, which is a committee that deals with deputations and project proposals, I could not make a deputation myself. As my term has just ended, we are hopefully going to present our deputation in September. In that deputation we will gather a lot of information on exactly what would be the next steps in regards to how the city could implement CitySolar because we do want to work with the City of Mississauga before reaching out to other places. Although we have spent the past two months doing a lot of research and communicating with other organisations that work in solar instalments, our focus has been this deputation – we feel a lot is riding on it. I am definitely excited to see what happens after the deputation and to hear back from all of the groups that we have communicated to.
Q: What have been some of the challenges or obstacles you have been facing?
I guess the challenges and obstacles are one thing: time. I work with the Ministry of Environment full time, and after I received a full time job offer it’s been hard to make it into a full time project especially when our organisation and our proposed business plan indicates that it’s going to take a few years before City Solar starts returning investment. Being able to invest the time and effort into meeting with different people and meeting with groups has definitely been a challenge. The other challenge is that we would like to have a bit more public awareness surrounding solar energy, especially given that a lot of people are apprehensive of green energy and green energy costs due to the current energy crisis in Ontario. Another big challenge for us has been having credibility given that City Solar requires a lot of capital cost, which is why we’re hoping that the City can be a source for capital to get this project off the ground.
Q: Tell us about your personal achievements in the last couple months.
I received the 2017 Civic Award of Recognition from Mayor Crombie which had a lot to do with the environmental policy that I worked while sitting on the Environmental Action Committee as well as with CitySolar. Even though the project is still in its planning and implementation stage, I was noted for spreading awareness of the project and awareness of green energy. Receiving this award is definitely something I’m very proud of. CitySolar and I were featured in an article in the University of Toronto Mississauga Magazine , which was in relation to our attendance at the UN Youth Assembly back in February. It was a great experience, and it was great to have CitySolar in print, talking about what the initiative is and how we plan to move forward with it. Finally, I’m starting law school in Ottawa in September, which is going to be a big change but it’s something I’m very much looking forward to.
Q: What motivates you to keep moving forward with City Solar?
The drive for me is definitely very simple: I feel there’s a change that’s easily within reach but not many people are reaching for it. Every day we hear about different technologies regarding solar energy, we hear about solar jobs being implemented on a daily basis, we hear about how booming the industry is but we don’t really see any of that impact in our communities. We don’t see solar instalments everywhere we go, which is something I believe should happen. I feel that the years of research and the years of planning and implementation are gone and now is the year of action. That’s my drive, I feel like it’s something that needs to be done and something that’s a very simple answer to a very difficult question. We should definitely start with solar energy and to have it implemented in my home city is what drives me every day.
Find out more about Eashan’s experience in ACSE, First Edition by clicking here!
In conversation with Tania Hossain
August 2017 – Tania Hossain participated in the First Edition Active Citizens Social Enterprise (ACSE) programme in early 2017 and was 1 of 15 young leaders of ACSE who presented their social enterprise projects at Parliament Hill in Ottawa. Having lived in South Asia & the Middle East for over a decade, Tania witnessed poverty and marginalization firsthand. From that experience, her hope is to inspire philanthropic spirits in Canadians to see beyond their immediate wants and needs, & be involved with organizations & causes that have positive social impact on a local, national and global level. Her social enterprise Think Jackfruit seeks to reduce this food waste by manufacturing and packaging jackfruit as a meat replacement product in Bangladesh and introducing it here as a healthy nutritious food to our Canadian market.
Q: What drives you to push against all of the challenges you’re facing with Think Jackfruit?
My project is not for the faint of heart – and I’m realising it more the deeper I go into it. A few days ago, when I was presenting to a crowd of 30+ people, I was talking about the Rana Plaza incident where well over 1,000 people died in a sweat shop labour factory in Bangladesh. I’ve talked about how that has been one of the great motivators for me to start a project where I want to help people, where I want to spread supportable income in Bangladesh. I also want to bring something here, to Canada, that addresses climate change, where consumers need to be more conscious with what they purchase and with what they consume on a day to day basis. So as I was talking about the Rana Plaza incident yesterday, it got me a little emotional because even though it happened a little over 4 years ago, to this day makes me feel in some ways frustrated, in some ways very, very driven. A lot of work needs to be done in terms of changing labour laws and in terms of the ecological injustices that are happening around the world. That has been the ‘why’ in my life, the biggest motivator and every time I talk about it, it’s a great reminder not just for the people that are listening to me, but for me as well, why I’m doing what I’m doing.
Q: What have you been doing since the day of the First Annual ACSE Youth Innovation Summit to keep this social enterprise moving?
The Summit has been a blessing for me because I have been connecting with a lot of institutions in Bangladesh and non-profit organisations. Building these relationships with reputable, non-profit organisations in Bangladesh is really important to me because they will help me navigate the chaotic system there. At the same time, here in Canada, a big portion of the project involves market research – collecting data on what the consumer demand is and on what the current vegan and vegetarian food selection looks like. I’ve gotten involved with the Toronto Vegetarian Association whichis quite large and with tons of resources, tons of people and tons of community events. I’ve also been surveying vegans, vegetarians, restaurant owners, and chefs to get feedback on what they think about a product like Think Jackfruit , and how they see it used in their kitchens. These are very important questions that will not only help me when I go travel to Bangladesh and design the product, but also with how I brand the Think Jackfruit project seeing some people here may just be interested in the product as a health product, but others may be more interested in the ecological issues that this product addresses.
Q: Can you tell us a little bit more about your next steps and what you’re hoping to get out of your trip to Bangladesh?
Right now I am in conversation with a few non-profit organizations, so that when I’m in Bangladesh the time is being used in the most effective way possible – I can meet with those individuals in person, and just continue the conversation where we left off. I also want to document the stories of people who have been affected by the Rana Plaza incident because I think that they are a key portion of this project. I want to collect their stories, their lived experiences about how this incident affect them, but also what they see as dignified work. I want to be very conscious and when I’m building this start up in Bangladesh, this space for them to get employed, I want to be able to not just give my own understanding of what dignified work looks like, but I also want them to have ownership and say what dignified work looks like. So I will be collecting and documenting a lot of their stories, and of course connecting with the food manufacturers in Bangladesh.
Q: Can you briefly summarize what your experience from the beginning of the ACSE training to now has been?
Prior to going through the training program and being a participant of ACSE, I’ve been researching and developing this idea for little over a year but I didn’t share that information with anybody. Going through the ACSE program and actually speaking about the idea to a group of individuals helped me feel validated and it helped me realise that what I’m thinking about and what I want to do is not something minor but can actually transform the way we look at our food, our environment, and our global community. It was a very surreal, transformational experience in the sense that I not only made a lot of meaningful connections but I also realised that my project can make a huge difference in the lives of people – that’s one thing that I’m very much indebted to UNA-Canada and British Council.