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Helping women in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside

When I started working with Tradeworks just over a year ago I have to admit, it was purely strategic. Concepts are like that. They make sense in your head but it’s not until one lives and experiences that one really feels in the heart. Let me explain, it was the fall of 2007 and with 2 ½ years until the Vancouver 2010 Olympics I was thinking about how my business could be a vendor for gifts and promotions. With sustainability high on VANOC’s agenda I knew I held a piece of the puzzle sorted and could see what I needed to fill the gap. Social responsibility and lasting benefits to the inner city, Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside. Before long I was introduced to Tradeworks as a potential vendor for custom wooden packaging and that’s where the story started to get interesting.

Social Enterprise

Tradeworks is a social enterprise that trains and employs women in carpentry. They make a variety of wooden products like wine boxes, tool boxes, hand turned pens and desktop accessories. Besides providing trade skills and job experience the women build confidence and self esteem by working and learning as a team. It’s a culture of support and development that I am happy to be a part of. When I arrived all the products were being made from Baltic Birch plywood, a high quality woodworking material that’s imported from Northern Europe and filled with formaldehyde. Over the last year I’ve helped the social enterprise develop a supply chain that includes a variety of sustainable and local materials including FSC certified and reclaimed woods, Stanley Park storm salvage Douglas Fir, mountain pine beetle, formaldehyde free plywood/MDF and bamboo. It was the smile on the women’s faces that first led me to believe that my work was making a difference. Seeing them start to glow when their skills advanced and problems were solved. Empowered women working to improve their lives in a business that I was helping to build. Creating value where it’s needed. That’s what social enterprise is all about.

Moving forward

Tradeworks is at a pivotal moment in its existence. To date Saul Good and Tradeworks have been working cooperatively in a social enterprise/for profit hybrid model. Tradeworks provides training and employment opportunities for women and Saul Good provides sales, marketing, strategy, supply chain and business development. A commission sales agreement allows Tradeworks to benefit from my sweat without coming up with cash. This is incredibly important for an organization that relies on external funding to operate its programs. It’s my goal to see the woodshop so busy that the revenues it generates fully supports their training programs and allows for investment to grow and develop more training opportunities.


Quality can not be compromised in an age where dollar store products are on the verge of extinction. If the goal of Tradeworks as a social enterprise is to train women, improve their lives and give them a door to create better jobs and better livelihoods for themselves, they must be ready to see their brightest and most talented people move on to new opportunities after their stint in the woodshop. How can one run a profitable business when one continuously loses their best employees? Tradeworks needs to develop programs to allow their women to move up the ladder within the organization, to gain more responsibilities and income, training new women in the new skills and culture as well as manage operations and projects. Yes, some of the women will need to move on, possibly to go for apprenticeship and trades tickets, and this needs to be a celebration and not a curse.

You can find out more about tradeworks on their website: http://www.tradeworks.bc.ca