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IRP Stories: Heart Linked Launches Social Enterprise, Empowering Young Girls' Leadership in Northern Saskatchewan

NICKIE SHOBEIRY  NOVEMBER 10, 2020

This is part of our Investment Readiness Program series, showcasing how IRP funding is helping social purpose organizations prepare for investment while continuing to have a positive impact on their communities.

This year, the province of Saskatchewan released a suicide preventation plan, which included a focus on supporting Indigenous youth. Based in northern Saskatchewan, Heart Linked is a non-profit and cooperative aiming to empower youth through retreat programming, building resilience, healing and leadership. As a recipient of the Investment Readiness Program (IRP), the organization has received funding to become investment ready.

Heart Linked was founded in 2016 by a group of women who noticed a prevalence of suicide and self-harm amongst young Indigenous and First Nations girls. “While there were many promises of aid and support [from the government], the people actually living in the communities didn’t see any massive change,” says co-executive director, Cathy Edwards.

Taking matters into their own hands, Heart Linked opened a youth retreat. “We worked with the school board to identify young girls who were at high risk for self harm, but who also exemplified the spark of leadership qualities, so that we could nurture all of the positive things in their life and help them go back to their community, to be a role model,” Edwards says.

Today, Heart Linked supports three communities — La Loche, La Ronge and Sandy Bay — with programming around body image, social awareness, nutrition and more. As with many organizations, COVID-19 has halted Heart Linked’s in-person retreats. “The IRP is helping us to develop an online portal so that we can nurture leadership and resiliency skills in girls located anywhere in Canada,” Edwards says.

As well bridging gaps with technology, Heart Linked is launching its first business, creating a product line of socially-conscious artisanal goods. “We felt strongly about the need to develop social enterprise, to create a revenue stream for our movement, so that we aren’t completely reliant on grant funding,” Edwards says. As well as this, the social enterprise can “potentially employ some of our participants, and by offering them a revenue source, build confidence, resilience and independence.”

Heart Linked receives $ 25,000 to Get Investment Ready

By building a sustainable social enterprise, Heart Linked can expand its impact, increasing its community’s well-being and economic opportunities. To do this, the business needs to scale — and for that, investors are needed.

To prepare for investors, Heart Linked received $25,000  in IRP funding. With this non-repayable capital — one-time funding that doesn’t need to be repaid — Heart Linked will be creating a business plan, digital presence, and conducting product research. These assets are all needed to show potential investors that the social enterprise can become profitable and provide returns.

“Having the resources to develop a coherent and thoughtful plan, mission and vision is of vital importance to be able to attract long-term funding, and also to motivate membership in the cooperative,” Edwards says.

“Having that funding will allow us to establish a professional foundation, and help set ourselves apart from a standard charity where people are seeking donations. We are really looking to build that social enterprise component, and show that through funding, we are helping to build self-sufficiency.”

She continues, “Without the IRP, we would not be able to accelerate our development at the pace that we have. It’s allowing us to really focus our efforts. It’s all well and good to volunteer, but the IRP has allowed us to garner commitment from the right people, to get us the tools that we need to set ourselves up for long-term success.”

Looking to the Future

After the IRP-funded assets are created, Heart Linked’s first steps will be to look for retail partnerships for their product line. On the programming side, Edwards says, “There are a number of foundations that are listed with the IRP that we would be looking to partner with. Ideally, we’d love for this programming to be available anywhere in Canada. I don’t know a single girl who couldn’t benefit from leadership and resiliency training.”

Heart Linked applied for the IRP before COVID-19 hit. Edwards explains that, even before the pandemic, many communities in northern Saskatchewan were feeling isolated.

“We know that having in-person experiences is going to be even more vital once we’re able to resume those sorts of activities. By really leveraging our IRP relationships, we hope to host even more girls for in-person retreats post-pandemic, and grow at an exponential rate.”

She adds, “As a world right now, we’re facing the challenge of COVID, but there are still personal challenges. The most important skill that we want to impart to girls is resiliency. As a life skill, it’s something that’s not focused on, and is a power that can be drawn upon your whole life.”

Nickie Shobeiry is a writer, TV host and journalist, focusing on stories of social impact and entrepreneurship in Canada and beyond.