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How two former university football teammates aim to level the playing field for underserved communities

Social enterprise Placemaking 4G is working to transform office culture — and give back to communities in the process.

Bradley Daye and Matt Thomson first met on a university football field in Sackville, N.B., playing for the Mount Allison Mounties. When they reconnected in Halifax after graduation, they were dismayed by how many young people were compelled to leave the region in search of work and frustrated by the disconnect between their careers and their personal values. “We were both thinking about the life we wanted for future generations in this province that we love and call home,” says Daye, whose great-great-great-great-great-great-great-grandfather came to Nova Scotia in 1789. “He was a Black pioneer, so there are roots on top of roots on top of roots here.”

In 2017, along with Lauren Sears, Daye and Thomson founded Placemaking 4G, which specializes in equitable recruiting in Nova Scotia. The social enterprise is a triple threat: it creates space for equity-deserving communities, works with companies to develop more inclusive and progressive workplaces and directs 60 percent of its profits toward local grassroots initiatives. It’s a model that fuses work with personal values — an alloy the former teammates once craved. Says Daye: “Lots of folks will start something based on how they can turn a need into money. And for us, it was how we can turn a need into impact!”

Here, Daye and Thomson discuss their unique business model, their take on Canada’s place in the global social enterprise movement and their breakout during the pandemic.

What was the inspiration behind Placemaking 4G?

Bradley Daye: It was motivated by realizing that systemic inequities and discrimination are still prevalent in our labour force and our organizations. This perpetuates harm, particularly for members of equity-deserving groups, which we define as Indigenous, racialized people, people living with disabilities and women in non-traditional industries. We wanted to make equitable access to prosperity a reality.

How do you fulfill that mandate if you are recruiting — that is, looking for optimal team members on an ongoing basis — rather than simply hiring applicants for open positions?

Matt Thomson: We’ve recognized the value of continuing to work with organizations to help foster that sense of belonging. One of our primary objectives is to identify opportunities for improvement within an organization, work with them through the recruitment process, and strategically collaborate on initiatives to create inclusive communication in that workplace.

Daye: We work with leaders and teams to shift their organizational cultures away from fear-based approaches that perpetuate unsafe environments. We’ve started to build out technologies to support that, including 11 self-directed educational modules.

How do you recruit people?

Thomson: We have a great communications and marketing team that establishes a strategy for each opportunity — whether that’s going directly to equity-deserving communities or educational institutions. But it depends on the role: We’ve recruited for everything from entry-level roles to CEO, so there’s a targeted distribution strategy that’s curated per position, always with a lens of equitable access to prosperity as the guiding light. Our process is designed so that people can be seen and heard authentically.

So Placemaking 4G is considered a Community Interest Company. What exactly does that mean?

Daye: Community Interest Company is how we’ve registered our business. It’s a business structure that’s only been in Nova Scotia since 2016. You can operate in a lot of the same ways as a for-profit: you don’t necessarily need a board, you need to report on your impact every year and you need to have an impact statement that holds you accountable. Also, 60 percent of your profits need to go back into the community and you have to report on how you did that every year.

Thomson: There’s a thriving social enterprise community internationally. To be frank, Canada’s lagging a little. You see CIC designations on law firms in Scotland, for example. It’s a foreign concept when you look at it from a capitalist profit-centred perspective, but there are lots of examples out there, including Indigenous communities. That’s what we are looking to do at scale and possibly popularize as a new form of doing business.

What do you appreciate most about a social enterprise business model?

Thomson: My personal answer to that would be that I can show my kids that you can thrive because of — not despite — who you are. And that’s the space that we hold as an organization for our incredible team members, for the incredible organizations and clients we work with and for our candidates as well.  

Daye: I don’t think it’s very common for people to have the ability to align their values with the work they do on a daily basis.

When you talk about putting money back into the community, where is that money going?

Thomson: We have supported local equity-deserving organizations and sports tournaments. We held a conference called Celebrate Cape Breton in which 110 youth planned out what an environmentally sustainable Cape Breton would look like. An organization that works with Black women and girls to support physical activity applied for funding, and we’re able to support them with what you could call micro-financing. Right now, we’ve got $20,000 in our bank account specifically designated for CIC investment.

How have the past few years shaped how you approach this kind of work?

Daye: There were pandemics on top of epidemics and the resurgence and popularization of the Black Lives Matter movement. Some have called it the great resignation, but it was really the great realignment. People finally had a moment to pause and reflect. That pause looked different for different people, but everybody was asking: What is truly important? That meant many people became more conscious about how they spend their time — and work is the major place we spend our time. Because of that, organizations needed to change the cultures they had created. We were there to help individuals and organizations find that readjustment and find the best contributors. We broke out during the pandemic.

MaRS commissioned photographer Jenna Marie Wakani to photograph the thinkers, entrepreneurs and investors behind some of Canada’s most exciting companies. See the full portrait series here.

Photo credit: Jenna Marie Wakani

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