In April 2022, on a bustling Saturday morning, Alexis Ashworth welcomed a group of young boys to a farm in Ottawa’s Greenbelt. The children, all with autism spectrum disorder, were part of the program for the Ottawa-based Ms. Ashworth Corporation. root in nature It was established with Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario (CHEO). On that day, children had to dig, plant and learn.
Mrs. Ashworth could not be happier.
“I left the barn with an overwhelming sense of joy,” she says. “This was just a dream a year ago and now it’s already happening.”
Root in Nature offers nature-based programs, corporate wellness programs, and horticultural therapy that connect people to the healing power of plants. With a growing body of research showing physical, cognitive, psychological, social, and creative benefits for people when they are out in nature — or even near potted plants in the office — horticultural therapy is becoming increasingly popular. Root in Nature launched in September 2021, already has eight employees and is branching out to Toronto.
The project marks a departure from Ms. Ashworth’s previous life, where she thrived between finance jobs, non-profit executive positions, and an MBA. But she says it is time. After seven years as CEO in Ottawa for Habitat for Humanity, she worked with an executive coach to figure out her next career move. Conversations continued back to gardening.
“Throughout the pandemic, I started turning to gardening and plants as a source of peace and relaxation to stay present,” she says. “I never thought it could be a career path.”
But when she reached out to a local gardener’s healer, she suddenly had an idea: why not use her business skills to unite the services of healers and create a social enterprise? (A social enterprise is an organization that applies business strategies to achieve a social, cultural, or environmental purpose.)
Or, in the case of Root in Nature, be green — and make green, too.
A mixture of passion and discernment
In 2019, Canada was ranked as the best country in the world for social entrepreneurship, according to A questionnaire released by the Thomson Reuters Foundation, which ranks 45 countries’ ability to grow and support entrepreneurs focused on social, cultural or environmental issues.
Kate Rove, an assistant professor at the Sprot School of Business at Carleton University in Ottawa, prefers to use the term “social purpose organizations,” and says that the best ones not only lead from the heart, but have mechanisms to measure impact as well.
“It’s important to live your values — that’s why you’re working in this field,” she says. “But how do you know you’re doing well in the world?”
To meet this challenge, it’s important to have clear goals, gather data and feedback, and then think honestly about whether you’re achieving the change you want to see, she says. It is also necessary to know the basics of proper business management, she adds. This includes good accounting records, strategic planning cycles, human resource systems, and an understanding of who your competitors are.
“What makes the social enterprise so powerful is that there is potential to do good in a sustainable way,” says Dr. Raff. Indeed, this should be the future of all capitalism. As consumers, entrepreneurs and investors, we want to embrace those who make a positive difference and benefit our stakeholders. This doesn’t work if organizations are poorly run and stop working.”
Kristen Train is co-founder of Big May, a new social enterprise in Toronto that helps parents shop for second-hand clothes online and keep fabrics out of landfill. She says she relied on her MBA skills and management experience working in real estate development to start her business.
After the birth of her daughter in 2018, Ms. Trane and her husband Simon worked in the business in their spare time. Growth was slow and steady until the pandemic hit and e-commerce took off. In the end, they quit the bullet and quit their jobs to work at Beeja May full time.
“I am not going to lie. It was easy and hard at the same time,” says Mrs. Trinh. “It was easy in the sense that I knew where my heart was, and if I didn’t, I was worried that I would always regret it.”
But she says the loss of financial security was a tough call. Although the company now employs 10 people and is growing, knowing it has a social mission helps during the long days and heavy workloads that go along with entrepreneurship. She says it’s important to pass a healthy planet on to her daughter.
“To some extent, the work is inspired by her and we are doing it for her.”
Nora Sharab, Co-Founder and CEO of Sitti Social Project In Toronto, she left her job in the corporate world to build her dream career helping international refugees. Her organization gives refugees jobs making soap, towels, jewelry and other handmade goods.
Ms. Shurrab, who described herself as a workaholic, was working a 60-hour week as an executive assistant with a chain of dental offices for a demanding boss. She says she’s been in touch day and night, finding herself answering emails while in the hospital’s delivery room after the birth of her second child.
“I felt that if I didn’t answer my emails, I would be seen as weak,” she now says.
But it wasn’t until she started having panic attacks that she didn’t know it was time to make a big change and throw all her time and energy into Sitti.
“These women don’t have anyone else,” Ms. Sharab says of the 34 refugee and disabled women she employs in Jordan. “We are building a company that is really looking to empower and inspire women. We have to be a vehicle for them – unlike what I do as my best self, so I am taking advantage of some men’s profit margin.”
Ms. Ashworth of Root in Nature says she thought long and hard before deciding to run the organization as a social enterprise rather than a non-profit. But in the end, she knew building a business was the right choice. For starters, she plans to stay with the company for the rest of her career, something that probably wouldn’t happen if she was a CEO or CEO working under a board.
I’ve always dreamed of being an entrepreneur, she says, and having the freedom to make decisions and make quick decisions. She also appreciates the flexibility to take care of her self-care even in this frantic novice stage. In other words – yes, she still works in the gardens.
“I have my own seedling trays and will plant tomorrow, actually,” says Ms. Ashworth. “That’s another joy of being an entrepreneur: I can orchard on Thursday if I want.”
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