Former café owner leads sweet new social enterprise

Photo courtesy Island Crisis Care Society

Vancouver Island’s Corrie Corfield once took a bold leap into entrepreneurship by opening her own café. Ten years later, the graduate of SFU’s Non-Profit Management Certificate program has moved on to a successful career in the non-profit sector as the assistant executive director of the Island Crisis Care Society (ICCS). While Corrie never thought she’d be back behind a coffee counter, she’s now spending long days at the Nanaimo Bakery and Café—but this time, she’s serving up cake and lattes with a social purpose: to support community members in crisis.

Corrie’s organization purchased the 30-year-old bakery business last year with plans to reimagine it as a social enterprise. Based in Nanaimo, B.C., ICCS provides housing and outreach programs to help people who are at risk of or experiencing homelessness. The society now operates the bakery as a way to offer much-needed work experience for its clients, while also generating revenue to support its programs.

“Having a social enterprise means we have funding that’s our own, so we can self-sustain our programming,” explains Corrie, who notes that today’s non-profits can no longer survive on government grants alone.

To manage the project, all eyes naturally turned to Corrie and her wealth of hands-on experience. “This wasn’t something I thought I’d be doing again, but here I am,” she laughs. “It’s been exciting to take those lessons that I learned 10 years ago and apply them in this different context—and to know that it’s really making a difference in the community.”

Running a coffee shop had been only one step along Corrie’s unusual career path. She also worked in communications, including radio, TV and film, before trying her hand at being an entrepreneur. It wasn’t until she landed in the non-profit sector, that “it really clicked,” she recalls.

“I was kind of born into it,” explains Corrie. “My parents were heavily involved with the Salvation Army, so I grew up in that atmosphere and was always involved in social services work. When I moved into non-profit, I was able to bring together everything I’d done previously and actually use it for a purpose, which is really fulfilling for me.”

Although Corrie knew she had found the right career, she still felt something was missing. Wanting to better support the organizations she was working with and feel more confident in her knowledge and skills, she sought out SFU’s online program for non-profit leaders.

“I would say this program should be essential if you want to move into non-profit leadership,” she says. “You really need an understanding of boards, volunteering, fundraising, finance and strategic planning. This program is a great way to get all that.”

She also found the lessons timely and was able to apply her learning to specific challenges as they came up at work. “As I was taking the fundraising course and learning about diversified revenue,” she recalls, “we were walking down that path as an organization and looking at what options might be available.”

Of particular value to Corrie was the opportunity to connect with peers in various other non-profits who were doing work quite different from her own. “It forced me to look outside the box at the way we do things as an organization,” she says. “That’s where non-profits are heading—we have to look at things differently, be innovative, and learn lessons from other sectors and other people who are doing things very differently from us.”

These days, however, it might be Corrie who’s showing others how to do things differently.

“A lot of communities struggle with the same issues we’re supporting—homelessness, substance abuse, mental health,” she says. “I’ve heard from other non-profits who are watching us and waiting. If we can make this business work in the way we’re projecting it will work, it could be hugely impactful, for our organization and for our community.”

It’s a sweet future Corrie envisions for their new social enterprise, and she’s clearly working hard to get there, one latte at a time.

By Kim Mah