The Real Winners in REAP Calgary’s Be Local Awards: the Community and Economy

Champions of Progressive Business Practices
Stephanie Jackman of REAP Calgary cheering on the winners of the 2013 Be Local Awards. (Photo: Britton Ledingham)

The Real Winners in REAP Calgary’s Be Local Awards: the Community and Economy

Stephanie Jackman's vision is now a thriving ethical business network

When REAP Calgary’s second annual Be Local Awards are presented on November 19, there will be eight new winners — and they will be worthy of some special attention and respect.

But these awards, much more than most, are part of a win-win process. The biggest winner may be the Calgary area community and economy.

REAP is a network of locally owned businesses and organizations that have chosen to be part of a new kind of economy: one that is as explicitly committed to the community and the environment as to making a profit.

Seven years into REAP’s existence there are more than 100 members, large and small. REAP’s website lists them in 15 categories, from adventure, arts and food through transportation and wellness.

Their activities are not small potatoes. The network has grown to represent $4 billion a year in revenue and about 7,500 Calgary area jobs.

REAP’s members — the candidates for the awards — are champions of a wide range of progressive business actions, including paying employees a living wage, supporting local suppliers, implementing energy efficiency and green power, and local charitable giving.

  Stephanie Jackman (Photo: Ingrid Kuenzel)

REAP founder and advocate Stephanie Jackman, had a seriously corporate background before launching the network. She earned a Masters degree in international business and worked for multinationals, in marketing communications companies, ad agencies and her own consulting business. Her clients included Unilever and major New York finance companies.

“Definitely not the sorts of businesses that I’m surrounded by now on a daily basis,” she smiles.

Her transition moment came 10 years ago.

“I woke up in 2004, realizing that I was part of a broken system. I leapt out of my corporate job into the vast unknown of possibility and potential. I desperately wanted my life and my career to have meaning,” she says of that time.

She had a serendipitous encounter with the Earth Charter, a global declaration of “our responsibility to one another, to the greater community of life, and to future generations,” produced over a 10-year period by a worldwide, participatory process. The Charter has now been endorsed by more than 6,000 organizations worldwide, including some governments.

The Charter was the spark that helped her realize what she wanted to do.

It wasn’t just to do business in a way that felt responsible and whole. It was to show that it was a viable alternative to the ordinary economy.

“I really wanted to prove that the social enterprise model could work for something like this — and that the network wouldn’t need to be reliant on government grants and foundation money in order to do it. And that’s true,” she says.

At least it’s true if you can hold on long enough, she adds. It took five years for her to recover her initial investment in REAP and make it fully viable.

“For me, this is a big part of who I am and how I contribute in the world. So I was happy to be able to do it, and absolutely determined to see it through and make sure that it would work.”

Stephanie started by hosting Calgary’s first Earth Charter Summit, in her living room. It was the first such summit in a Canadian city. It is an indication of her determination and capacity that the last Earth Charter Summit she ran, five years later, had more than 30 local partners and 1,000 attendees.

The Be Local Awards partly consist of daily blogging and social media about the activities of REAP’s members. Together, these posts tell a different story of what business is for, and what work and the community can be like.

Stephanie is one among many who see it partly as the story of a younger generation that is not willing to carry on with business as usual.

A strong sign of this is that there is so much interest from startups that REAP created a new membership category for them two years ago, and they now make up a quarter of the businesses in the network.

“I have a team of six people working with me now and I’m one of only two people in it that aren’t a Millennial. I see a huge difference in the way the younger generations are approaching work and life, and how they’re not willing to compromise their values in order to earn a living. I do think that that is going to increasingly drive change,” she says.

The Be Local Awards story is also the story of what Stephanie herself has achieved, 10 years after her transition moment.

  Click to vote in the 2014 Be Local Awards.

“I see this as my life’s work. Having made the leap, I can’t really imagine going back to a more conventional kind of a job.”

You can vote in the Be Local Awards until midnight on October 31.

The awards will be presented on November 19th at an event for REAP members and staff at River Café, a restaurant specializing in regional, seasonal ingredients. River Café is also a REAP member, and one of last year’s Be Local Awards winners for its outstanding energy efficiency innovations.

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Writer Bio

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Ben Wolfe

Ben Wolfe brings Axiom News 25 years of experience in writing, editing, design and publishing in the service of community-building and social change.

Ben is a winner of national, regional and local awards as owner of his own design and communications business, focused on environment, the arts, health and community development. He has been a daily newspaper reporter/photographer, columnist, and the writer, editor and designer of a wide range of print and online publications.

Ben is a past director of communications of both local and national NGOs, most recently the Canadian Unitarian Council. He is a co-founder of Peterborough Green-Up, a hands-on, solutions-oriented local environmental action project, now in its 23rd year.

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