EMBERS Staffing Solutions

picture of embers

EMBERS Staffing Solutions started in 2008, and is a project of EMBERS (Eastside Movement for Business & Economic Renewal Society), a Vancouver-based community economic development charity founded in 2001.

EMBERS Staffing Solutions was the first socially responsible, non-profit staffing agency in Canada. EMBERS provides companies with high quality blue-collar workers on a monthly, weekly or daily basis. Candidates are talented, reliable and proven workers in construction, warehousing and other sectors.

All profits from EMBERS Staffing Solutions are reinvested back into EMBERS Staffing Solutions’ employment programs to help to improve the lives and skills of workers.

This social enterprise has been such a model of success in Canada that there have been two case studies published so far.  We have included both for insight in how the initiative has evolved over time. Notably, the 2015 case study acknowledges the project had slowed at the end of 2012, unable to bring in enough revenues to cover overhead, and was considering shutting down the program.


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EMBERS Staffing Solutions Case Study
Published May 6, 2015

This case study provides an in depth look at EMBERS Staffing Solutions from early beginnings through to 2015, sharing key insights at each stage along the way.

It concludes with reports of exponential growth in terms of both impact and revenue. From January to November 2014 EMBERS Staffing Solutions employed 694 people who together earned almost $2,641,000 in wages and benefits. During the same period, over 400 of EMBERS workers transitioned to full time employment.


Key Takeaways:

  • The staffing business model was well-suited as an additional revenue stream to support EMBERS larger mission. Since the impact and earning potential in this model are so well integrated, building out the social enterprise reinforced impact rather than sucking up time and resources that could have taken away from their impact goals.

  • The idea developed organically, and took time to gain board support and approval.

  • All stakeholders, especially the board, needs to embrace the long-term outlook for a social enterprise's success.
    There are bound to be ups and downs and the leaders need to champion the work through those dips.

  • You learn by doing. It's normal for the business model to change and adapt to the market once you move from planning to taking action. Know that the business plan will evolve and shift so be open to that level of uncertainty.

  • Since EMBERS Staffing Solutions business model was so well aligned with their mission, they were able to take advantage of both earned revenue and grant funding opportunities. However, this may not be possible for all social enterprises.

  • Customers are the heart of your social enterprise. Get to know them well and design your enterprise to fully meet their needs and desires.  Also realize that customer needs may change over time and your enterprise may need to adapt to better serve them.

  • Although some decisions were instigated by either impact or revenue motivations, all decisions were well evaluated from both perspectives.

  • A great amount of insight on how to gain traction and grow the business came from tapping into industry experts.

  • Managing growth takes a different skill set from navigating the start-up phase. Be sure to have staff strong in the right skills required depending on stage of growth.

Read Case Study

EMBERS Staffing Solutions Case Study
Published July 17, 2012

At the time of publishing, EMBERS Staffing Solutions had paid out over $900,000 in wages and benefits, and hired over 550 individuals of which more than 200 transitioned into working full time.


Key takeaways:

  • Align your Enterprise with your mission: In Canada a non-profit organization can operate a social mission business as a project of the parent charity if the business is related. However, if the business is unrelated, the organization must operate the business as a separate taxable corporation.

  • Leverage your Network: EMBERS took the collaborative advantage rather than a competitive advantage and used existing counterparts in the United States to help, guide, develop and support the organization.

  • Utilize resources that are already available; there is no point in reinventing the wheel.

Read Case Study


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