Soon after its recent annual general meeting, Groupe Convex sent out a press release outlining its past success and future goals.

Groupe Convex is an organization that runs nine social enterprises. The first line of the press release said the organization, as well as its flagship business, Recycle-Action, finished the fiscal year with a “positive result.”

The Review spoke with outgoing  CEO Caroline Arcand for more details.

According to Arcand, Groupe Convex finished not only with a $250,000 reserve fund dedicated to supporting the businesses, but also a $115,000 surplus. Not bad for a non-profit organization.

“Since we’re a network, we consolidate all our businesses,” says Arcand. “We hope at the end of the year when we add the pluses and minuses that we finish with a surplus. Up to now we’ve always succeeded.” She also makes the point that the surplus is not liquid cash, but the combination of assets.

If you were to compare the English and French releases, you’d notice an additional line in the English version that mentions upcoming “challenges” in the next year.

Arcand says those challenges stem from many different factors. For one, Groupe Convex may need to dip into that reserve fund sooner rather than later to support none other than Recycle-Action.  

In August, China announced retaliatory tariffs on about $60 billion of U.S. products, including “recovered fiber materials” like cardboard boxes.

Many local businesses buy or sell across borders; similarly to the tariffs on steel and aluminum, these international trade disputes hit close to home.

Where before, Arcand says, Recycle-Action could sell recycled cardboard for about $600 per tonne, those tariffs effectively bled the prices down to about $80 per tonne.

Another challenge is the lack of trained labour in the region. But for that, Groupe Convex is working towards a solution.

Training opportunities

The release reads, “The aim: positioning the Prescott and Russell organization beyond its initial social enterprises mission in order for it to become the go-to entity in terms of skills development, job creation and inclusive entrepreneurship.”

Earlier this year, Groupe Convex was awarded $854,000 over three years to put towards its Unique et Compétent program in partnership with the Employment Services Centre of Prescott-Russell (ESCPR), the Conseil scolaire de district catholique de l’Est ontarien (CSDCEO), the Eastern Ontario Training Board and Valoris for Children and Adults of Prescott-Russell.

Valoris refers youth (aged 16-30) who are either struggling to find a job or are looking for more specialized training. The funding is coming from Employment and Social Development Canada and is mostly going towards paying the trainees’ salaries. Arcand says the program will help 49 youth over the next three years. That’s just over $17,400 per person, and less than the province’s minimum wage.

Groupe Convex launched another program earlier this year dedicated to helping other not-for-profit social enterprises that employ people with developmental disabilities. For that, Arcand says it received about $500,000 through Ontario’s Social Enterprise Demonstration Fund. Arcand says about $300,000 of that will go towards grants. Each business will receive mentoring and could could receive a maximum of $30,000, half as a grant for job creation and the other half as loans for infrastructure expenses.

According to Arcand, the loans will be given through its partnership with the Prescott-Russell Community Development Corporation (PRCDC). Each business plan is reviewed by the two organizations. Arcand says this is to prevent bias. However, Suzanne Hocquard, who is in charge of the program at Groupe Convex, is also an advisor with PRCDC so it’s not exactly an independent body.

Arcand estimated that about 15 businesses are going through the program.

Arcand also said Groupe Convex doesn’t have any plans to build a reserve fund for training programs and isn’t yet in a position to offer funding that doesn’t grant-dependent.

New mandate

This expanded mandate focusing on training opportunities comes as a result of an 18-month relationship with LIFT Partners, a philanthropic non-profit organization that connects organizations like Groupe Convex to major firms like KPMG and MNP.

While the partnership wasn’t without its headaches, Arcand says it helped Groupe Convex focus the expansion on training and servicing new clientele.

For the majority of its history, Groupe Convex has hired people considered “at-risk” for various social factors. These people would mainly be referred to Convex through Valoris. Clients are most often trained in manual roles and the majority earn minimum wage.

Asked how it would ensure its core clientele wasn’t left behind with these changes, Arcand said Valoris names some of the members of Groupe Convex’s board of directors who are there to ensure the “interests of Valoris’ clients are well represented.” Secondly, Valoris contributes financially to Groupe Convex through its referrals. In fact, Arcand’s CEO position is paid for by Valoris.

The minimum wage increase was another “challenge” Arcand mentioned, moving forward. She says with the increase will cost the organization about $500,000 more in salaries in benefits in the next year.

Change of scenery

As previously mentioned, Arcand will soon be leaving Groupe Convex to become the director of the Employment Services Centre.

“I’ve brought Groupe Convex to maturity,” says Arcand. In a certain sense, going to the centre is a return to her roots as she worked there before launching the organization in 2001.

“I like finding myself at the head of an organization that could be an excellent partner for Groupe Convex.”

Asked about playing favourites, Arcand said the employment centre and Groupe Convex are really the only two organizations dedicated to job creation in the region so it’s a “natural partnership”. She adds, “I think we can be creative, share resources to develop projects and initiatives that make sense.”

Arcand’s term finishes in a couple of weeks. CAO Chantal Lessard will take over as CEO in the interim but the organization is still looking for a long-term replacement.

Here is the September 2018 press release from Groupe Convex.