The Social Ventures Zone at Ryerson University is home to unique entrepreneurial initiatives that are designed to make a positive impact in a variety of communities, both in Toronto and beyond. See all of our profiles here.
Who’s involved in this project?
Laurinda Lee (founder).
What are your goals for this project?
LL: Kind Karma Company employs and teaches Toronto at-risk and transitioning homeless youth to create handcrafted, quality jewellery. When hired, each of our employees are asked to identify individual goals they may be working towards, such as pursuing post-secondary education, finding a home or taking a course. Proceeds from sales are returned to support these goals. We truly believe that by helping youth who may be experiencing difficult circumstances become successful, we are enabling them to pay this forward to the next generation and continue doing positive works in society.
What is the biggest challenge you’re facing?
LL: Our project launched last year, so I would say the biggest challenges we currently face are the growing pains that all new businesses and social ventures experience. For me personally, that means learning the detailed legalities of running a business, forecasting how many youth we can help based on sales, growing brand awareness and learning business skills related to taxes and accounting. But these challenges provide a wonderful way to learn and it is amazing to look back and see how far we have come since day one.
Can you explain the mentorship process available to you through the Ryerson Social Ventures Zone (SVZ)?
LL: I cannot say enough about the Ryerson Social Ventures Zone. As a first-time entrepreneur, there are so many aspects of running a business that you may not necessarily recognize during startup and the SVZ is always available to offer guidance and resources. From a dedicated librarian to the complimentary legal and accounting resources, and the dedicated staff whose exceptional experience and insight are invaluable to a young entrepreneur, the SVZ is a true game changer for social ventures.
In addition, there are the intangible resources that the zone provides – and for me, those are the relationships that I have formed with fellow social entrepreneurs who I can now count as part of my support system as I undertake the challenges of developing Kind Karma. Their experiences, feedback and the challenges they have overcome are all invaluable resources when it comes to learning, developing and growing a brand-new business.
The Ryerson SVZ is all about leveraging innovation to make a social impact. How will your project affect the communities you’re targeting?
LL: Although there are other programs dedicated to helping Toronto youth, Kind Karma is innovative in its approach to offering employment. Our youth have often stated that “work” has felt more like an art therapy session and that handcrafting jewellery allows them a medium to relieve some stress in their lives by focusing their energy towards something positive.
Kind Karma also offers a more personalized approach to employment and we believe this provides a higher rate of employment success among our youth than if they were to join a larger corporation. Lastly, returning proceeds to fund specific employee goals allows youth to actually make a difference in their lives and enables them to envision a positive future with greater clarity.
Have you been able to obtain any feedback from people who stand to benefit from your project? If so, what have they told you?
LL: Our youth truly enjoy the project and their employment at Kind Karma Company. It affords them the opportunity to work in an unconventional setting where work feels more like an art class (and who doesn’t love art class?).
What kind of public or private partnerships are you hoping to make (if any) to help grow your project?
LL: We are always on the hunt for new partnerships with a variety of organizations, from other social ventures to marketing influencers to businesses who may be interested in carrying our products. As a brand-new business, we love creating partnerships with other social ventures to share ideas, challenges, tips and success stories.
Imagine if you could scale up your project to its full potential. What would that look like?
LL: Our goal is to eventually expand across Canada and help youths on a national level. Youth are more likely to fall through the cracks in big cities and we feel our presence could be helpful from Montreal to Calgary to Vancouver. Our hope is to be able to be a nationally recognized social enterprise that helps youth across the country.
Timing is a crucial factor that contributes to the success of a social venture. Why is now the right time for your project?
LL: Consumers are definitely more conscious of their buying decisions and are making choices to purchase products that have a positive impact, whether it’s where our food is sourced or how our garments are made. There has also been a shift to locally produced products and we feel this is the perfect time for us to launch Kind Karma Company. Our customers are always happy to know that the products they purchase from us are not only beautiful but also help to support create a positive change in our society.
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