Social Enterprise

A Short History of HxBIA- who’s idea was this anyway??

Curious about how HxBIA got up and running? So are we sometimes! Perhaps a good retrospective is in order…

The Hastings Crossing Business Improvement Association Formation Committee first met in April of 2009 to discuss the feasibility of a new BIA in Vancouver’s DTES and what kind of approach it could take, considering the unique issues and relationships within the area in which it would be formed. The incorporating board of directors consisted of 3 social enterprises and two local “traditional” businesses. As of the 2011 Annual General Meeting the board has since grown to 10.

Brian Smith, who was then the COO of Atira Property Management, Heather O’Hara, Executive Director of Potluck Catering and Brian Dodd, then the Executive Director of United We Can were the three representatives from social enterprises. Matt Friesen, owner and founder of local software company Thirdi (recently acquired by Invoke Media and re-launched under the brand of Wantering) and local entrepreneur Mark Brand, who’s DTES and urban culture inspired clothing can be seen at any given time at one of his several restaurants (including the iconic Save On Meats), both comprised the traditional small businesses on the incorporating board.

After consulting several community groups, agencies, non-profits and dozens of local businesses and property owners it was decided that the concept could serve the businesses and property owners in the neighbourhood as per its legal obligations under the Societies Act of British Columbia, and Vancouver Charter, while at the same time creating opportunities to engage the broader community as a programming partner through various social enterprises. This in a nutshell is our raison d’etre or our vision. How do we create maximum economic and social value through a vehicle such as a BIA? “Economic value” being a concept to address in a future blog.

There were questions and curiosities from a wide spectrum of people leading to this decision and much outreach was necessary to both communicate the BIA concept to the business community and community at large, and to receive thorough feedback from the same. A group of volunteers walked the length of the BIA boundaries a number of times distributing fliers and notices of upcoming meetings to the more than 400 businesses and social enterprises within its proposed boundaries during this outreach process. With much of the  help from the Board of Trade’s Small Business Council and Inner-City Subcommittee as well as team members from Building Opportunities with Business I might add.

There were some in the DTES who were at first concerned that the BIA could act to accelerate gentrification of the neighbourhood, or employ programming that may be perceived as (or more importantly, be in actuality) discriminatory towards low-income residents. Businesses, not just advocacy groups had shared this concern. At this point I think it’s important that a distinction should be made between economic development and gentrification, or a healthy business climate and gentrification for that matter. One can have a healthy local economy and a strong business climate without gentrification, although quite often an urban commercial district or neighbourhood that begins to show growth (or “promise” otherwise) soon becomes an attractive site for investment, which in turn can bring social mobility and displacement. A significant amount of dialogue continues with either side to clarify What a BIA Does and more specifically what this BIA does. Through discussion and participation the mystification has lessened and an increasingly constructive dialogue has continued to build. The City of Vancouver and many other entities at work in the DTES for years now have built on the concept of Revitalization Without Displacement, and this philosophical approach to local economic development continues to be at work in HxBIA.

HxBIA continues to engage local organizations in order to adopt or design new concepts that are able to effectively serve businesses and property owners in a way that is culturally appropriate for the community at large. A comprehensive agreement for services has been signed with Mission Possible (MP Enterprises) which offers fantastic discounted rates for BIA members for example. United We Can holds a seat on the Board of Directors as does Potluck Cafe and Catering and the BIA is in touch with several other community organizations to develop programming in a creative and inclusive way.

Next post we’ll go into a little more detail about the area itself and talk about economics, and local economic development in particular.


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