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Social businesses are breaking the cycle of poverty

Landing and succeeding at your first job can be difficult, even under the best of circumstances.  

But for youth experiencing homelessness, the added barriers of not having a stable home, lacking connections to trusted adults, mental health challenges, incomplete education, and other factors, can make employment seem unattainable. And the stakes are much higher.  

Christian started working as a support worker at BottleWorks, a social enterprise run by Operation Come Home and powered by United Way East Ontario, to help at-risk young people gain financial independence and break the cycle of poverty.  

A social enterprise is a business created to achieve a social, cultural, or environmental goal. Social enterprises sell products and services to generate their own income and reinvest their profits back into their missions.  

BottleWorks hires youth who face barriers to employment to collect empty alcohol bottles donated from businesses, residents, and bottle drives across Ottawa. While the youth gain valuable employment skills—like customer service, punctuality, teamwork, and initiative—the revenue from the empties funds programs at Operation Come Home like mental health counselling, housing supports, and academic coaching that help youth succeed in other aspects of their lives. 

“We take on youth who may be experiencing homelessness, or youth who just don’t have experience at another job. We take them on, and we get them used to regular work hours, scheduling, having lunch breaks. A lot of youth just aren’t used to that.”

Building a more equitable local economy

Small changes to the way businesses approach their operations can result in big changes for the most marginalized people in our communities.  

As we work on building a more equitable economic recovery from the pandemic, social enterprises can be a major tool in developing workers who have been traditionally overlooked in the labour market, like youth experiencing homelessness, Indigenous peoples, people with disabilities, newcomers, and others. 

“Social enterprises are really the jewel in the city. They are business ventures and activities that have the primary mission of creating a positive social impact in the community. As the activity of the social enterprise grows, so too does their social impact.”

Michael Murr

United Way works in partnership with the Centre for Social Enterprise Development (CSED) to inspire the development and growth of social enterprises. We also have connections to many sectors, industries, businesses, governments, social services, and community leaders. Together with CSED and other partners, we’re bridging the gaps between social businesses that supply goods and services, and organizations looking to purchase those goods and services to fulfil their business goals.  

In doing so, we create opportunities for marginalized groups, reduce wealth inequities, and rebuild systems that create prosperity. United Way believes that building community wealth will move us towards stronger, healthier communities that serve everyone. 

A brighter path for young people

In addition to the job experience BottleWorks offers to vulnerable youth, employees are also paired with a youth support worker that mentors them while driving their routes each day. Having access to a peer keeps them socially connected, and close to the resources they need to succeed in all aspects of their lives.  

Virtual Tour of Operation Come Home

“Some of the youth come to us with questions and it’s great because Operation Come Home is like a one stop shop for everything. I can direct them to other supports or just talk to them about anything.”

Our choices will determine whether we return to our old ways of before the pandemic, leaving many people out of financial independence, or whether we can reimagine our communities to make them more equitable for everyone.  

Alongside our partners like Operation Come Home and the Centre for Social Enterprise Development, we’re choosing a future where everyone can thrive.  




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