Vancouver social enterprise Give + Share chosen for United Nations innovation project
For founder Stephanie Limage, it's the latest milestone in a career dedicated to bringing people together to create impact.
Many entrepreneurs define success in relation to revenue. Stephanie Limage, however, is not your average entrepreneur. She calculates wins based on how many lives she can change and how much social impact has taken place as a result of her work — and in that vein, Limage, through her international not-for-profit and various startups, has achieved a lot.
She’s been spotlighted for her work numerous times in the past — including a recent tech adoption award nomination by the BC Tech Association — and more recently, her latest social enterprise is being recognized by the United Nations.
Limage has been invited to join the UN’s SPARK Lab and take part in its UNDP SDGs [Sustainable Development Goals] Innovation Pilot Project. The initiative, in conjunction with the China International Center for Economic and Technical Exchanges (CICETE), is meant to augment China’s approach to tackling social and environmental challenges by introducing new services, harnessing science and tech, and by accelerating the spread of solutions to deal with development challenges.
When asked about what she’s hoping to get out of the program, Limage deflects attention away from how she might benefit. “I'm not hoping to get anything out of it,” she says. “It's what others are going to get out of it that I've been focusing on.”
She says the most exciting thing will be discovering what can be accomplished through the support of the fellowship and the opportunity that it provides to bring about change. “That's the most exciting thing for me — the lives that can potentially be changed and the social impact that can happen. What I'm most excited about is being around bright people who share similar values… like social entrepreneurship and sustainable development goals, and [people] who care about using technology for good.”
Limage's company and the “tech for good” that caught the UN’s attention is called Give + Share. In a nutshell, it’s a software and a mobile application that helps front-line workers unify and manage the flow of data and updates of community resources, including free to low-cost meals, shelter and other items all in one accessible digital location. Limage describes Give + Share’s work as building out humanitarian architecture to deploy resources in a more streamlined way in an urban context.
Here’s how it works. There’s a SaaS (software-as-a-service) product and a mobile application designed for workers deploying support resources — the end-users, including government, law enforcement, NGO-NPO frontline workers, social workers and anyone else who is engaging with those in need in the community every day. The SaaS is paid for by the NGOs, but there is a version of the mobile app that is free too at this time.
Imagine someone on the streets who needs pro bono access to a lawyer. They would need a referral in order to expedite their request. To assist this person, a police officer could use the Give + Share app to get help for them faster by referring them. For another example, Limage says to think about a homeless shelter. Picture someone waiting in line for a bed. There are 100 people behind them and 50 people in front of them. But there are only 25 beds, so that person is obviously not getting a bed. What Give + Share can do is enable a frontline worker to see in real-time how many beds are available in the shelters nearby and how much the capacity is. Then they can send a message to that shelter and say, “I have 100 people in line. I see that you have this many beds available, is it possible to send the beneficiaries your way?”
For organizations like the Salvation Army and Union Gospel Mission, frontline workers are busy and can’t always be on the phone calling around, so a few clicks on the Give + Share mobile app can make a big difference. “It helps with mitigating these risks in the community and making sure a lot of people can sleep indoors,” Limage explains. You know, there are lots of available spaces, there's a lot of available programs, and a lot of them aren't leveraged, and some of them are leveraged too much. And so if there is a better, coordinated response, then people can be able to deploy the resources in and send people where they may be able to get help.”
The objective is to fuse as many community partners as possible, so organizations can collectively combine resources. “When everyone's working together in unity in the community, and able to share resources and understand what's going on in someone else's camp, then it makes the community a better place,” she says.
Limage can speak to these issues confidently because she once found herself on the receiving end of the services she’s now working to optimize.
Limage was once in the Canadian child welfare system as a ward of the state. But then she got to 18 and was no longer eligible for the government support she had been receiving. She has previously shared publicly that she had no plan or education to support herself. “I lived in women's shelters for over six months, I went from shelter to shelter and met many unsavoury characters along the way and broken people,” she said in a previous interview.
“When I was living in the shelters I got to know people's stories, the decisions they made and the cycles we as humans repeat if we do not obtain healing,” she explained. “Everyone has a story, we can not look at situations and individuals as one body, each person has a unique set of challenges and one solution, like a shoe, does not fit all.”
Her own experiences taught her that for NGOs to be successful, they must be laser-focused on treating people who need support as individuals — and more importantly, working with, not competing with, other organizations to provide the best possible tailored support.
Limage believes that one of the challenges often in the NPO-NGO world is that organizations compete to show “who’s bigger and who's doing more” to demonstrate impact because they want their donations. But the approach must be to look at things from the position of neutrality and what humanity actually needs, Limage says, and that means being impartial and putting aside an agenda and looking at things as humanitarian crises and deploying a cluster approach. This is the vision Give + Share is executing on. “It’s using everything that you have in your kitchen to be able to get the job done,” Limage explains metaphorically. “I've got a pot, you've got a pan, he's got the macaroni, let's make something to eat.”
“There’s obviously resistance to change when change comes in,” Limage recognizes, “but change is evident and necessary in order for things to improve.”
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