Combining social innovation, humanitarian action, and a circular economy

Combining social innovation, humanitarian action, and a circular economy

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Combining social innovation, humanitarian action, and a circular economy

Published on:
May 4, 2018
Event date:
Friday, 4 May, 2018 (All day)
By Isabelle Langlois

Architecture sans frontières Québec (ASF Quebec), the humanitarian arm of the Ordre des architectes du Québec, moved to the “Young Project” in the neighbourhood of Griffintown. This initiative for the transitional occupancy of vacant buildings is the result of a partnership between the Ville de Montréal, Entremise, the McConnell Foundation and the Maison de l’innovation sociale (MIS) and houses some fifteen other community organizations. The MIS, which is also partnered with the Montréal Summit on Innovation taking place on May 23, supports these organizations in the development and deployment of their social innovation initiatives. These projects include Matériaux sans frontières, the initiative that the ASF Quebec team has been trying out for a few years.

In parallel with the programs developed by ASF to help underprivileged communities in Quebec and abroad, Matériaux sans frontières combines humanitarian action with a circular economy. Given that the architectural design process is closely linked to the materials employed, the organization seeks to use the program to mobilize material resources in order to redistribute them in a manner that benefits their initiatives.

“We saw that donations and the recovery of building materials presented a strategic development opportunity. Whether it be new materials resulting from the manufacturing sector or used components resulting from demolition, their acquisition saves resources and acts as leverage for funding new projects,” explains Bruno Demers, the director of Architecture sans frontières Québec.

For example, a few years ago, ASF renovated several homes in the off-reserve community of Kitcisakik. Instead of raising thousands of dollars to buy the necessary materials, many of them were simply donated, with donors receiving a charitable donation receipt in exchange. This practice is at the heart of the business model. “For manufacturers, there is obviously a tax benefit to receiving a charitable donation receipt. Plus, their good deed makes it possible to remove materials with minor defects from their inventory without the added cost of managing waste materials. They can also be proud of working on their business’s social responsibility through their involvement in community or humanitarian projects.”

The project is still in an exploratory phase, but the development opportunities are particularly promising. For example, a warehouse would allow ASF to accept spontaneous donations when no project requiring the type of material donated is in progress. Ultimately, the program could take the form of a cost-effective social economy service, with the organization receiving donations to redistribute them to beneficiary projects or resell them to finance its operations. This kind of business model drives a thriving economy in the United States. There are dozens of similar centres operating under this charitable procurement model, such as The ReBuilding Center in Portland, Oregon, a material reuse and home deconstruction centre.

ASF has also set its sights on the deconstruction sector. Last year, the organization completed a unique project in Canada by making the deconstruction of a building possible through the charitable donation receipt strategy. Instead of opting for conventional demolition, the owner of a heritage barn decided to have it dismantled by Matériaux récupérés de Portneuf, a deconstruction contractor that works with ASF. Although the operation was more expensive than throwing everything away, the donation of the materials resulting from the deconstruction earned the building owner a charitable receipt equal to the market value of the donation, as well as eligibility for a tax credit. The organization then donated materials to support the renovation of Bâtiment 7, a new community project in Pointe-Saint-Charles. “In addition to making an ecological and socially responsible gesture and helping a humanitarian organization like ours, it is an economically attractive solution for donors,” explains the Director General.

In Quebec, there is a huge demolition market where materials are destroyed and their value lost. Most materials are recycled, but re-use is extremely low. With good deconstruction and dismantling practices, the components can be recovered with their structural value intact. “We produce more than 13 million tonnes of waste in Quebec, and about 40% of that comes from the construction sector. Within this figure, there are many components that could be reused, resold, and recovered for the Quebec economy. Right now, this is not being done. Charitable donations are definitely a strategy that can lead to the transformation of this sector.”

The potential of this socially innovative business model was the source of the partnership between ASF and the MIS, an organization whose mission is to decrease the obstacles that stand between an idea with a positive social impact and its implementation. In order to help them achieve their ambitions, the Maison de l’innovation sociale invited ASF to move into the Young Project and act as a partner in MIS initiatives by providing support through strategic, referral, and integration consulting. “We are not start-up professionals; our focus is primarily humanitarian work. The support of the MIS is therefore essential as it allows us to plan our development and connects us with the right stakeholders.” It is also in this context that the MIS has been added to the program of the Montréal Summit on Innovation, whose aim this year is to increase the potential for collaboration in the city in order to generate the greatest possible social impact.

Although ASF is in an ideal position to move Matériaux sans frontières forward, their solution could also be implemented by other charities. “If we look at the program from the point of view of innovation and sustainable social development, it is a fine model that deserves to be replicated across Quebec and Canada in order to replace waste with the creation of opportunities for socio-economic development,” concludes Demers.

Thanks to the support of the Maison de l’innovation sociale, Matériaux sans frontières will have the opportunity to participate in the Montréal Summit on Innovation, whose theme is Entrepreneurship + Social Impact: boosting Montréal’s potential for collaboration.

Combining social innovation, humanitarian action, and a circular economy