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IRP Stories: In the Face of Funding Cuts, Sage Seniors Association Pivots with New Financial Services Social Enterprise


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.

Across Canada, seniors are the fastest-growing demographic. Alberta is no exception, with the population of those over the age of 65 expected to double in the next two decades. Based in Edmonton, Sage Seniors Association has been supporting and inspiring older adults since 1970, enhancing quality of life. The non-profit is a recipient of the Investment Readiness Program (IRP), receiving funding to become investment ready.

Sage’s operations include a health services program run through a primary care clinic, and outreach programming, helping seniors find accessible housing, accessing benefits and more. The other piece is recreational — Beth Mansell, the organization’s strategic initiatives manager, explains, “We run over 100 different life enrichment programs, everything from Zumba classes to ukulele groups, line dancing. With COVID, we’ve transitioned to operating most of that virtually.” 

Sage runs over 100 life enrichment programs for seniors in their community

To drive its impact even further, Sage has many community partners, such as with the Multicultural Health Brokers Co-op, supporting newcomer and immigrant seniors. The co-op has a grocery program, delivering culturally-appropriate food to its clients. “At the beginning of the pandemic, we were able to access a small grant to help with food security,” Mansell says. “We partnered with [the co-op] to deliver food to 180 seniors on a weekly basis.”

Before government funding cuts in January 2020, Sage had also been supporting seniors through the Guardianship and Trusteeship Program. When an adult no longer has the capacity to make their own financial decisions, these documents pass financial responsibility to trusted individuals. For 30 years, the program helped families go through the necessary paperwork without needing to hire lawyers, who can charge upwards of $2000 for the service. “That’s a big barrier for people who don’t have extra cash lying around,” Mansell says.

The funding cut meant that Sage was no longer able to provide this service for free. Mansell says this happened “right around the same time that the IRP was announced.” With that, Sage decided to turn the Guardianship and Trusteeship program into a social enterprise, offering in-house financial support on a sliding-scale, fee-for-services basis. 

“We could have highly competent staff members, who aren’t lawyers, help people fill in the correct information and gather different pieces of documentation,” Mansell says. In this way, Sage will continue improving its community’s well-being, and reduce inequalities through affordable financial services.

Sage Receives $70,000 to Get Investment Ready

To grow its social enterprise, Sage needs investors. With $70,000 in IRP funding, the organization is creating a feasibility and business plan, analyzing everything from market demand to technical viability. These are all assets needed to show investors that the business can become profitable, and provide returns. 

While Sage has launched social enterprises before, this is the first time it has been able to plan thoroughly. “Nonprofits and charities usually don’t get funded to take the time to do that,” Mansell says. “Doing this in a meaningful way, we’re able to explore strategic partnerships, so that we can develop a program that is financially sustainable, that isn’t reliant on government grants. The feasibility and business plan allows us to get to that stage.”

Sage has already begun work with an external consultant. “I really like that the IRP is set up so that you can utilize internal resources, as long as you are back-filling the roles,” Mansell says. Through this, she has been able to work with the consultant in “more of a co-creation approach, so that I’m actually able to learn from their processes. We hope that in the future, if we explore other types of revenue generation, we won’t need to consult with an external organization.”

For the time being, Sage is running the social enterprise on a cost-recovery basis. “If there were profits to be generated in excess of that, we would reinvest those revenues into other areas of Sage that aren’t covered by grant funding,” Mansell says.

With COVID Sage has transitioned to operating most programming virtually

Looking to the Future

For the next steps on its investment journey, Sage will be looking for smaller forms of social financing. “With the IRP funding, we fall into the early stage [of the investment] continuum,” Mansell says. “We’re seeing it as a demonstration to make sure that this is going to work.”

Reflecting on what inspired Sage to launch the social enterprise, Mansell says, “Considering that we’re now not bound by what the government is expecting us to do, we’ve been able to streamline things in a way that works better for the client and the organization.” 

For Mansell, the COVID-19 pandemic solidified Sage’s mission with the social enterprise.

“We say that ageism is the last socially acceptable form of discrimination, and we’ve seen that throughout the pandemic. COVID has given us the chance to hit pause and really reflect on how we can be working together, as coordinated sectors, to make sure that the needs of seniors are being met.”

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