Eco Equitable harnesses ‘the potential of business to be a force for good’

Anouk Bertner says she has always wanted to use the tools of business to accomplish a social good.

Anouk, who studied business at Concordia University, has worked for more than 10 years with social enterprises and non-profit organizations. After earning her MBA, she saw her colleagues going off into finance or management – but she saw herself taking a different path.

“I’ve always seen the potential of business to be a force for good,” says Anouk, who is close to marking her fifth year as Eco Equitable’s executive director.

Eco Equitable teaches everything from the basics of sewing to more advanced classes. Photo by Ted Simpson

The social enterprise began in 2002 with a French Catholic nun named Lucille Champagne who worked with refugees and new Canadians to begin a program that not only built people’s sewing skills, but also their social skills, helping with integration into the community.

“She saw that when people were getting together to sew, and they were working side-by-side, and they were supporting each other, then that’s really when community happened and when integration was possible,” says Anouk.

Instead of a formal course, “it was much more about getting people comfortable, getting their language skills up, creating community,” she says. “All those things that are really obvious, but are actually quite hard to put in practice.”

Now, Eco Equitable is one of 18 social enterprises and non-profits in McArthur Avenue’s Heartwood House. It offers a range of sewing courses, from beginner’s classes to pattern-making. These sewing courses are a main revenue source to support the social programming.

Eco Equitable is Ottawa’s only textile recycler, and managed to repurpose 10,175 pounds of fabric in 2017. The textiles come from a variety of places, including individual’s homes, the National Capital Commission’s flags and the G7 summit.

Eco Equitable is Ottawa’s only textile recycler. Photo by Ted Simpson

The core of Eco Equitable is its social programming, or sewing for jobs. They work with many immigrant and refugee women in the area, helping them get their skills up for the job market while also providing them with income for their work.

Much of the work cycles back to the community – for example, Eco Equitable makes a lot of conference bags, including bags for the G7 summit that incorporated fabric from recycled Canada 150 flags.

Anouk says Eco Equitable is getting more recognition in the wider Ottawa community – recently, it received the Community Builder of the Year award from United Way Ottawa in the category “From Poverty to Possibility.”

“There’s a lot of values-based organizations that are interested in creating products that have a story to them,” she says. “People are getting sick of mass-processed, mass-made, questionable-origin products.”

That, plus the knowledge that Eco Equitable is helping newcomers get established, makes people and businesses feel good about supporting the enterprise, she says.

Being in Vanier, where many newcomers land when they first arrive, makes sense for Eco Equitable, she says.

“I think Vanier is one of the only neighbourhoods in Ottawa that has real personality,” says Anouk, adding that its location within Heartwood House makes its community impact stronger.

“The great thing about all being co-located in a space where we all do similar work is that we can help each other,” she says. “It’s convenient and supportive.”

Eco Equitable is located in Hartwood House on McArthur Avenue, with many other social enterprises and organizations. Photo by Ted Simpson

EcoEquitable exploite le potentiel des affaires comme une force positive

Anouk Bertner dit avoir toujours voulu utiliser des outils commerciaux pour faire le bien commun.

Anouk a étudié le commerce à l’Université Concordia, puis a travaillé pendant plus de dix ans avec des entreprises à vocation sociale et des organismes sans but lucratif. Après avoir décroché sa maîtrise en administration des affaires, elle a vu ses collègues lancer leur carrière dans le milieu des finances ou de la gestion. Personnellement, elle a choisi une voie différente.

« J’ai toujours vu le potentiel des affaires comme une force positive », affirme Anouk, qui entame sa cinquième année au poste de directrice générale d’EcoEquitable.

Eco Equitable enseigne tout, des bases de la couture aux cours plus avancés. Photo by Ted Simpson

« Elle s’est rendu compte que lorsque les travailleuses cousaient ensemble, qu’elles collaboraient et qu’elles se soutenaient les unes les autres, c’est là qu’un esprit communautaire se formait et que l’intégration était possible », raconte Anouk.

Au lieu d’un cours magistral, l’idée consistait davantage à veiller au confort des participantes, à améliorer leurs compétences linguistiques et à créer un esprit de communauté », précise-t-elle. « Toutes des choses qui sont évidentes, mais qui sont plutôt difficiles à mettre en pratique. »

Aujourd’hui, EcoEquitable est l’une des dix-huit entreprises à vocation sociale et sans but lucratif qui occupent la Heartwood House de l’avenue McArthur. L’entreprise offre un large éventail de cours de couture, aussi bien des formations pour débutants que des ateliers de fabrication de modèles. Ces cours de couture constituent la principale source de revenus de la programmation sociale.

EcoEquitable est la seule organisation d’Ottawa qui recycle des tissus. Elle a réussi à transformer 10 175 livres de tissus en 2017. Les tissus provenaient de divers endroits, y compris de particuliers, de drapeaux de la Commission de la capitale nationale et du sommet du G7.

Eco Equitable est le seul recycleur de textile d’Ottawa. Ted Simpson Photo

Le cœur d’EcoEquitable est sa programmation sociale. Elle aide de nombreuses réfugiées et immigrantes de la région à améliorer leurs compétences afin d’intégrer le marché du travail tout en leur versant un salaire pour le travail qu’elles accomplissent.

La majorité du travail retourne à la communauté. Par exemple, EcoQuitable fabrique beaucoup de sacs de congrès, comme elle l’a fait pour le sommet du G7 avec du tissu venant de drapeaux recyclés de Canada 150.

EcoEquitable est plus largement reconnue dans la grande communauté d’Ottawa. Récemment, l’entreprise a reçu le prix du bâtisseur communautaire de l’année de Centraide Ottawa dans la catégorie Pauvreté à possibilité.

« Il y a beaucoup d’organisations axées sur les valeurs qui s’intéressent à la création de produits qui ont une histoire », dit-elle. « Les gens commencent à en avoir assez des produits d’origine douteuse traités et fabriqués en masse. »

Cet aspect, outre le fait qu’EcoEquitable aide de nouvelles arrivantes à s’établir, fait en sorte que les gens et les entreprises se sentent bien d’appuyer l’entreprise », ajoute-t-elle.

Il est logique pour EcoEquitable d’être établi à Vanier, où beaucoup de nouvelles arrivantes aboutissent au début de leur aventure canadienne.
« Je crois que Vanier est l’un des seuls quartiers d’Ottawa qui a une vraie personnalité ». Anouk est également d’avis que l’emplacement de l’entreprise dans la Heartwood House augmente ses répercussions communautaires.

Eco Equitable est situé à Hartwood House sur McArthur Avenue, avec de nombreuses autres entreprises et organisations sociales. Ted Simpson Photo

Eco Equitable harnesses ‘the potential of business to be a force for good’

Anouk Bertner says she has always wanted to use the tools of business to accomplish a social good.

Anouk, who studied business at Concordia University, has worked for more than 10 years with social enterprises and non-profit organizations. After earning her MBA, she saw her colleagues going off into finance or management – but she saw herself taking a different path.

“I’ve always seen the potential of business to be a force for good,” says Anouk, who is close to marking her fifth year as Eco Equitable’s executive director.

Eco Equitable teaches everything from the basics of sewing to more advanced classes. Photo by Ted Simpson

The social enterprise began in 2002 with a French Catholic nun named Lucille Champagne who worked with refugees and new Canadians to begin a program that not only built people’s sewing skills, but also their social skills, helping with integration into the community.

“She saw that when people were getting together to sew, and they were working side-by-side, and they were supporting each other, then that’s really when community happened and when integration was possible,” says Anouk.

Instead of a formal course, “it was much more about getting people comfortable, getting their language skills up, creating community,” she says. “All those things that are really obvious, but are actually quite hard to put in practice.”

Now, Eco Equitable is one of 18 social enterprises and non-profits in McArthur Avenue’s Heartwood House. It offers a range of sewing courses, from beginner’s classes to pattern-making. These sewing courses are a main revenue source to support the social programming.

Eco Equitable is Ottawa’s only textile recycler, and managed to repurpose 10,175 pounds of fabric in 2017. The textiles come from a variety of places, including individual’s homes, the National Capital Commission’s flags and the G7 summit.

Eco Equitable is Ottawa’s only textile recycler. Photo by Ted Simpson

The core of Eco Equitable is its social programming, or sewing for jobs. They work with many immigrant and refugee women in the area, helping them get their skills up for the job market while also providing them with income for their work.

Much of the work cycles back to the community – for example, Eco Equitable makes a lot of conference bags, including bags for the G7 summit that incorporated fabric from recycled Canada 150 flags.

Anouk says Eco Equitable is getting more recognition in the wider Ottawa community – recently, it received the Community Builder of the Year award from United Way Ottawa in the category “From Poverty to Possibility.”

“There’s a lot of values-based organizations that are interested in creating products that have a story to them,” she says. “People are getting sick of mass-processed, mass-made, questionable-origin products.”

That, plus the knowledge that Eco Equitable is helping newcomers get established, makes people and businesses feel good about supporting the enterprise, she says.

Being in Vanier, where many newcomers land when they first arrive, makes sense for Eco Equitable, she says.

“I think Vanier is one of the only neighbourhoods in Ottawa that has real personality,” says Anouk, adding that its location within Heartwood House makes its community impact stronger.

“The great thing about all being co-located in a space where we all do similar work is that we can help each other,” she says. “It’s convenient and supportive.”

Eco Equitable is located in Hartwood House on McArthur Avenue, with many other social enterprises and organizations. Photo by Ted Simpson