Groundswell: supporting our community through social ventures

Photo courtesy of Groundswell

Photo courtesy of Groundswell

Groundswell is a cafe as well as a community and business program that helps entrepreneurs create their own small business or social venture. Founded in 2012, Groundswell has fostered several businesses in a variety of domains such as upcycling and reducing food waste.

Gilad Babchuk, Groundswell co-founder, started his first social venture when he was 21. Originally from Israel, he has successfully founded and established many democratic education institutions in Israel and has experience running a variety of enterprises from non-profits to social ventures. He was the executive director of the Institute of Democratic Education (IDE) a non-profit organization for social change in Israel, prior to moving to Vancouver in 2011.

“Democratic education is when students, teachers and parents are all equal and students can choose what to learn and how to learn,” says Babchuk.

Building social ventures

Babchuk currently acts as one of the chief instructors and mentors for the Groundswell social venture program. The program aims to help entrepreneurs turn their ideas into a ready-to-launch enterprise through a series of workshops: one-on-one mentorship, peer mentorship, community skill building and more.

“We want to figure out what your strengths and passions are,” he says. “Not only do we want just a good business idea, we want something that comes from your core.”

According to Babchuk, entrepreneurs do not need to come into the program with a perfect idea, money or resources, they just need to be in a place where they want to implement changes to their community. Babchuk says that unlike other business programs, the Groundswell approach is practical and uses a hands-on approach.

“We don’t teach much in theory; we are basically building your venture with you,” he says. “We don’t see ourselves as a school.”

In the peer group, Babchuk says the main facilitator is in the room but all entrepreneurs have the opportunity to get involved with almost every project from members of their cohort. Most projects and businesses from Groundswell alumni are started with $5000 or less and they encourage entrepreneurs to start small and slowly build up their business.

“We want to promote initiatives locally and not all entrepreneurs are the type that get MBAs,” says Babchuk. “We want them to fulfill who they are and grow with the community.”

Creating opportunities for youth

Gilad Babchuk, mentor, social entrepreneur and educator.

Gilad Babchuk, mentor, social entrepreneur and educator.

Another recent initiative Groundswell has started is the youth employment and microbusiness program. Since Groundswell serves as a cafe as well as a meeting and event space, Babchuk says they took the cafe one step further – they are now roasting their own ethically sourced organic coffee and employing marginalized youth with limited access to resources or youth who need a safe place to be and a community connection.

“The youth are involved with management meetings, creating the budget and writing marketing materials,” says Babchuk. “They get to experience launching a small business and to be a part of the decision making without any of the risks.”

In addition to receiving exposure to the management side, the youth are also trained to roast and package the coffee and to become baristas. Proceeds from the business help fund the social venture program and provide scholarships for people who have difficulty paying their tuition. Although Groundswell just started roasting coffee a few months ago, they have already won the 2016 Golden Bean Silver award for Organic Espresso.

Babchuk hopes to see more initiatives like this happening at Groundswell and says that it wouldn’t have been possible without funding from Vancity, the Vancouver Foundation, the City of Vancouver and the Conconi Foundation. The coffee-roasting project was designed to be self-sufficient, but the funding helped Groundswell pay the youth before any revenue was generated. The funding also helps reduce the cost of the programs in order to make them accessible to more people.

“We hire really great people who are mainly volunteers to be mentors for the program. They are high performers in their field who bring their knowledge to make Groundswell what it is,” says Babchuk.

To date, Groundswell has launched 30 social ventures.

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