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recently featured a profile on Mission Possible, a Canadian social enterprise that offers empowering employment opportunities to those who are at risk, living in poverty or homeless in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside. Mission Possible’s unique approach includes urban maintenance—such as pressure washing and graffiti removal—as well as a women’s program in partnership with local hotels, which donate leftover soap that Mission Possible employees recycle and send to developing nations.
Below we’re sharing our interview with Brian Postlewait, Mission Possible’s executive director, who offers more background on the company, the business model as well as some words of wisdom. One of our favourites: “When people find meaningful work, they also find a ticket to dignity and purpose.”
4 Questions with Brian Postlewait,
Mission Possible‘s Executive Director
1. How did the idea for the business model come about?
For MP Maintenance: We actually started work on a small project to remove graffiti in Vancouver’s downtown core leading up to the Vancouver Winter Olympic games. The City of Vancouver gave us some start-up capital. It was a great success and got us out of the gate, but we quickly learned that graffiti removal was not a great stand-alone business because of seasonality (Vancouver rain) and other complexities. We started work on an idea identification process with lots of help from business friends, and a consultant hired through a grant from Enterprising Non-Profits. We emerged as a maintenance company that focused on the core services of pressure washing, graffiti removal, window/awning cleaning, and site clean-up. With existing customers we have expanded in some small scale interior building repair and maintenance.
For MP Recycling: Our soap recycling enterprise is just the perfect social enterprise storm. Several million children die around the world every year of acute respiratory and diareal disease. Simple hand washing with bar soap cuts mortality rates do to these diseases up to 60%. In Canada alone the hospitality industry disposes of and estimated 2,000 metric tonnes of bar soap every year—going directly to the landfill. Canadian charities currently purchase bar soap from at wholesale price for disaster response missions. MP Recycling provides a fee based collection service to the hospitality industry that diverts soap from the landfill then cleans, sterilizes, and repurposes them for communities of need. As a result we have created 10 jobs for women-at-risk in Vancouver’s downtown eastside. These amazing women experience a sense of purpose and dignity—not simply from a paycheque, but through knowing that their produces are saving the lives of children around the world.
2. How did you decide to join this sector?
The work we do requires relatively little prior knowledge before training. Most importantly, it’s high dignity work. When you show up to a job site, and after a bit of hard work, you stand back with a great sense of accomplishment. The impact is immediately visible to the eye.
I love to give people opportunities to achieve things that others or they themselves thought they couldn’t do. People often decide that those with barriers and challenges (whether of choice or circumstance) don’t have something to offer. It’s a myth that people challenged by homelessness and poverty don’t want to work. Most people will trade dependancy for opportunity any day of the week. When people find meaningful work, they also find a ticket to dignity and purpose.
3. How do you get your inspiration?
I know all too well what it’s like to feel rejected and relegated to the margins. I used to be motivated my simply proving people wrong, but that produces its own negative cycles. On good days I try to be inspired by being receptive to a higher power. A lot of my inspiration comes from our employees who have overcome unbelievable challenges. They are amazing people. I hope some of that will rub off on me.
4. How do you reset yourself to be creative? Do you have any rituals?
Baseball, of course! There is nothing better in the world than sitting down for a nine inning game.