By Sonya Anderson
Minds and hearts were captured by keynote speaker, Mark Brand, at this year’s Mayor’s Progress Breakfast. His message of social entrepreneurship through inclusion and co-creation resonated with the 350 attendees and had them pledging to each other to “leave the world a better place than they found it”.
Brand shared his compelling story of overcoming homelessness and rising to become a beacon of hope for the marginalized members of his community in downtown Vancouver by providing nutritious food and a place of belonging through his diner, Save On Meats.
Brand, a chef by trade, used to frequent the diner when he was down on his luck and found that it was a place that welcomed, with dignity, people from all walks of life and gave them nutritious sustenance.
The former owner’s kindness sparked in him a desire to be able to pay this kindness forward and help those within his community that needed nutritious meals, stability, and a place to feel welcomed. So, with his limited means, he bought the diner and started a chain of events that would change the fabric of his downtown neighbourhood.
Brand realized early on that people in general don’t understand the issues of poverty and are reluctant to donate to people on the street for fear that they will use this money to feed their drug or alcohol addictions.
But he feels we have an obligation to help out, “We have to stand for other people, we can’t just walk by them anymore.” So he developed a solution — a token program through which people could buy tokens from Save On Meats and give these tokens to homeless people who would, in turn, use the tokens at the diner for a free meal.
“Every token is an interaction,” he explained. His token program was solving many issues at once; isolationism, malnutrition, and a desire for people to donate something that they could visibly see was having an immediate impact.
He went on to share some staggering statistics: isolationism is the single biggest cause of addiction and instability, 7 out of 10 people in North America are one paycheque away from being destitute, and it costs twice as much to have someone homeless in your community than it does to house them — and often as much as 6 times as much.
Brand now encourages communities throughout North America to follow his lead and work towards developing socially minded enterprises like his, that hire people that have significant barriers to employment, but who, nonetheless, make for the hardest, most loyal employees.
Inclusion and co-creation are the secret to success. By creating an environment where everyone feels welcome, you lift people up out of poverty and simultaneously offer those who want to be a part of the solution an opportunity to help out.
“Inclusion isn’t just a tagline, it’s a way of doing business that can be profitable and beneficial to the whole community.”
Cover image: Mark Brand and Mayor Jeff Lehman at the Mayor’s Progress Breakfast.
Inset image: Save On Meat tokens