Transformation: The Story of Creating EBW
And Then One Day, You’re Open
“The new facility we built at Christie and St. Clair, the Green Barns, put us in a new world. All of a sudden it was like we had an overnight success—that took 13 years to happen.”
—Nick Saul, Executive Director, The Stop Community Food Centre
One day, you wake up and your design and construction project is complete. And in a sense, that is when the real work begins. As we got closer to opening day, we came to understand that a much different kind of organization had emerged through the process of creating Evergreen Brick Works.
For one thing, we were bigger. Over the eight years of creating Evergreen Brick Works, Evergreen had grown four-fold, from about 25 staff to over 100, and from an annual budget of approximately $3 million to over $10 million. more staff, more money, a physical plant and our growing profile introduced a new lexicon of risk management, project management, accountability. “There is something I call the hippie shit attitude that goes ‘don’t worry—it will all work out.’ And I think that’s why in some circles the not-for-profit world has been regarded as less than efficient,” says David House.
Growing Pains – Who Will Drive the Zamboni?
Our opening was a success. Programs were launched and the public was coming to Evergreen Brick Works. But internally, we were scrambling to keep pace with the growth, adding new processes and systems to streamline activities and appreciating the importance of risk, and project and human resource management. With construction complete and our doors open, the new responsibility of filling the buildings with creative, evolving programs became our new reality.
A seven-day-a-week, four-season operation with new staff doing new kinds of jobs represented a big shift from our 20 years of a small, but growing, office culture. When organizations get more successful, the stakes become higher. “For Evergreen, it really changed our culture,” says Seana Irvine. “Until about the last year I never talked about risk. It was more about ‘okay, how do we do this?’”
“There is a new risk management framework that’s been thrust upon us over the last five to ten years,” says David Stonehouse. “Everything’s seen in terms of risk. But it’s a useful framework in the sense that it forces you to take certain things seriously.”
Risk is a constant balancing act. “If we had been more cautious in our risk management, this project would not exist,” says Geoff Cape. “What we can’t do is lose the essence of the organization that made success so far possible. In other words, we have to hold on to what we’re great at. We can’t let risk management get in the way of thinking big and taking leaps.”
In other words, risk management cannot stifle the organization’s creative soul. The trick, say social entrepreneurs, is not to lose the core of what made the organization great in the first place, that spirit of determination, DIY attitude and passion that commits them to their cause in the first place. “Evergreen staff were ready to put on their hard hats and construction boots if they needed to go to the new office before it was built,” says David House. “That’s cool.”
To adapt to the new responsibilities, we added new roles in senior management and business development and went through various structural iterations. But implicitly we understood the need to continue to harness the strengths of our staff and remain adaptable to the opportunities for interdepartmental collaboration, even if these were not always clear from a procedural standpoint.
“If you run a bank I think you need defined roles. I think one of the things that attracted me to Evergreen is that you do not get pigeonholed here,” says George Dark. “There’s a lot of multi-tasking going on here, because people are allowed to have different opportunities and they are allowed to grow into them. They are allowed to take on and not fail, but take on and see how far you can actually take something forward.
“I run a private sector practice with 80 people. We’d never been allowed to do that. I think it’s part of the great survival culture that exists here. Because there is a lot of cross-pollination going on. The world needs more cross-pollination. And this is living proof of people doing that.”
“Growth is hard. Turns out I’m not much of a manager. You have a social entrepreneur who’s doing the thing and who can make that happen, and is passionate and engaged about it and then all of a sudden you have to worry about HR performance evaluations, and it’s like WOW this is hard stuff… All of a sudden hierarchy emerged in our organization and I’m like what the hell is this, that’s not us. That doesn’t reflect our values.”
—Tonya Surman, Executive Director, Centre for Social Innovation