SFU Grad is Making Local Economy Her Business

July 05, 2017

Stephanie Jackman graduated SFU’s Certificate Program for Community Economic Development in 2014. Stephanie is founder of REAP, a not-for-profit association in Calgary for locally-owned businesses that care about the community and the environment.

Tell us about REAP.

REAP stands for Respect for the Earth and All People, which describes the values of our 150 locally-owned Alberta companies. Our programming promotes the businesses in our network, and also connects them with each other. If they can do more business together, that’s more local development and more social impact.

What are REAP’s revenue streams?

Unlike many business organizations, we operate as a social enterprise with 100 per cent of our operating budget coming from earned revenue. We offer programming in exchange for an annual membership fee, which accounts for 60 per cent of our revenue. Twenty per cent is through partnerships with companies who want to support us, and 20 per cent is event revenue. We do a lot of bringing people together to learn and connect.

Our operating budget supports a team of five staff (most are part-time) who deliver our member programs. We are building organizational capacity for local procurement consulting, which will form a fourth revenue stream.

You have been running REAP for a number of years. How have things changed over the years?

The world has changed a lot in these last 10 years. When I first started, there were not a lot of organizations having conversations about sustainable business or community economic development. Ten years later, sustainability is becoming more of a mainstream conversation and so we are looking at what that means for our organization. What is our best role as a leader in the CED arena?

So what kind of changes are you thinking about?

The first 10 years was about building the network, assembling businesses that share values and developing marketing programming.

The next 10 years is about leveraging that community asset we now have. We have 150 businesses in the REAP network. There's a lot of power in that.

We are looking at how to form long-term relationships, both within and extending outside of our community, to demonstrate how a partnership with the REAP community can help create benefit for them.

It’s the next logical step – for any place with a network of local businesses - to figure out how do we leverage this asset to make local goods and services accessible to larger scale buyers.

We are working on this now, identifying our most likely allies – then building out from there. Eventually, we would like to get into corporate Calgary and/or government, the really large buyers, and say, hey, we can connect you to a pipeline of ethical, local products and services, keeping your money in the community and saving you time on procurement.

What is the vision you are working towards?

The vision for REAP has always been to green and localize Calgary’s economy by showing what’s possible. My vision has been steadfast, but it evolves as the market changes and as rest of the world catches up. These days, I am really excited about the expansion of that vision to the mainstream economy. Participation in the movement we are building is growing.

You know, a few years ago, I thought we were building an alternative economy, another way of doing business that people could walk across the bridge to, but now I see that we are building a whole new economic system that will allow people in the mainstream economy to participate in a really meaningful way.

What did you gain from taking the SFU Certificate Program for Community Economic Development?

I experienced a lot of insight around what it means to be a leader in this space. On a personal level, I realized that I had traditional views on leadership that were not consistent with the work I was doing through REAP. Thanks to the SFU CED program, I now look at leadership through a community economic development lens, rather than a mainstream lens.

Can you say more about leadership through a CED lens?

I came to the program with what I would call a traditional perspective on leadership: a white man behind a podium leading a business with 1000 employees, heading for corporate greatness on the horizon.  

What the SFU CED program helped me see is how the work we are all doing as CED practitioners – empowering people to innovate, to pursue action meaningful to them – is actually what leadership looks like, and what it needs to look like.

Nobody has all the answers when you are birthing a new system. No one person can stand up and say, “Everyone follow me. I have the answers.” The process is iterative, chaotic, creative, and by nature needs to be collaborative as we work together towards systems change.

Find out more about REAP.