Video venture puts skills training in focus

Ottawa charities land $125,000 for plan to employ at-risk youths to produce promos for paying clients
YouthOttawa
Youth Active Media provides video production training to youths at risk of not finishing high school. Photo by Mark Holleron.

As far as Ian Bingeman is concerned, it’s not a contradiction to believe charities should behave more like businesses.

The executive director of Youth Ottawa, a not-for-profit organization that provides skills training to disadvantaged young people, is always looking for ways to supplement the money his group brings in from grants and donations. And sometimes, he says, that requires thinking like an entrepreneur.

“From a charitable standpoint, if you have something that can offset your costs, it’s a huge benefit because it reduces the amount that you have to go to donors or sponsors for,” Mr. Bingeman explains. “It’s a way of just being more effective with our resources.”

Youth Ottawa’s willingness to go beyond traditional sources in its quest for new revenue paid off last month, when it and another partner won $125,000 in a Dragon’s Den-style pitchfest at Bayview Yards called the New Leaf Community Challenge.

It was the fourth year for the event sponsored by the Ottawa Community Foundation. The non-profit agency funds hundreds of local charities, including Youth Ottawa, and aims to help those organizations find ways of applying business principles to charitable endeavours as a means of becoming more self-sufficient.

Mr. Bingeman’s organization has partnered with the Social Planning Council to launch Youth Active Media, a social enterprise that provides video production training to youths at risk of not finishing high school. The students work with professional filmmakers to produce promotional videos for paying clients.

Earning wages

More than 140 students at up to a dozen Ottawa high schools are expected to go through the training program over the next 18 months, with 40 or so to be hired to produce videos for customers at a wage of $16 an hour.

Mr. Bingeman says he hopes the program shows the value of education and skills training to kids who might be thinking of dropping out of school.

“It’s not just a job,” he says. “It’s something that makes them want to jump out of bed in the morning and say, ‘I’ve got something awesome to do today.’ We really want to focus on that bridge from high school going on to their careers.”

The new funding from the Ottawa Community Foundation will help cover salary costs for the students and two full-time filmmakers. Youth Ottawa and the Social Planning Council are kicking in a further $12,000 apiece, with the goal of generating $70,000 in annual revenues by the time Youth Active Media is fully operational a year and a half from now.

"It’s not just a job. It’s something that makes them want to jump out of bed in the morning and say, ‘I’ve got something awesome to do today."

Mr. Bingeman says he wholeheartedly endorses the idea behind the New Leaf Community Challenge.

“I run a charity, and I agree with the vision they’re putting forward, which is that it’s going to be in my best interest to start looking at ways of running social enterprise,” he explains. “How can I start bringing in more revenue to the organization which will offset some of our operating costs?”

Nine charities applied for this year’s challenge, which was aimed at finding creative ways to tackle the issue of youth unemployment. Three finalists pitched their plans to a jury of nine well-known local entrepreneurs – including former JDS Uniphase chief executive Jozef Straus and Bridgehead founder Tracey Clark – at an event on Nov. 20.

The students themselves were the driving force behind Youth Ottawa’s decision to apply for the pitchfest, Mr. Bingeman says, suggesting the program is already having an impact.

“It’s instilling that drive and passion about this,” he says. “That kind of gumption that comes out of it, I don’t think we could get if we were just running that traditional model of ‘We get the grant, we do something and then away it goes.’”