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Graham Anderson and Robyn Ashwell

September 01, 2014
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This profile of Graham Anderson and Robyn Ashwell is part of a series exploring the impact of SFU Semester in Dialogue alumni on our local and global communities.

By Justin Wong

Graham Anderson and Robyn Ashwell (Fall 2010) are pioneers in the distribution industry for creating Shift Delivery, the first Canadian delivery service to utilize pedal powered cargo-tricycles as a means of transporting goods.
 
“We wanted to connect our passion for cycling and the Greenest City goals by partnering directly with local businesses,” says Anderson, referring to Vancouver’s Greenest City 2020 Action Plan.
 
Social enterprise is the ethos that permeates throughout Shift Delivery. Each trike is a hybrid of manual and electrical power, producing zero tailpipe emissions, and featuring a brightly branded cargo container that can carry as much as a minivan.
 
“The primary motivation to start this business wasn’t making a profit. It was to set an example for doing things differently and to creatively change the distribution industry,” says Ashwell.
 
Anderson and Ashwell were inspired to adopt a co-op model for Shift Delivery based on their interest in social justice. Their company’s success has been built through a collaborative work environment where all of the worker-members share the ownership and governance responsibilities.
 
“Profits are distributed on the basis of hours contributed to the business. It is a more fair way to not only share the profits, but share risk also,” says Anderson.
 
Reaching a consensus can be a daunting task in a collaborative environment where “too many cooks in the kitchen” may be counter productive. Facilitation and networking have been an invaluable set of skills in growing Shift Delivery.
 
“In Dialogue we spent a lot of time developing our facilitation skills. The facilitation skills of all of our founding members have really helped the process of developing the business and have helped us work as a collaborative team,” explains Ashwell.
 
An empowering moment for Ashwell was when Bob Elton, former CEO of BC hydro, was a guest speaker in the Semester in Dialogue. “It showed me that I had the competence and confidence to have meaningful conversations with people in positions of power.”
 
Anderson and Ashwell negotiated their business license with the City of Vancouver confidently and have cultivated relationships with 16 local businesses in Vancouver. Mills Office Productivity, Save On Meats, Spud and Food.ee are just some of these clients.
 
SHIFT Delivery has seen great success. In the last two years they have replaced 26,000km of truck travel and prevented 20,000kg of carbon pollution. Since SHIFT’s inception, two similar companies have formed in Canada, showing that the model is spreading.
 
“A lot of people just assume they have to use a truck for deliveries. Now, when people see our trike they often tell us ‘Oh, this makes so much more sense!’,” says Ashwell.