Five years ago, Geetha Moorthy, Executive Director of the SAAAC Autism Centre, and her team wanted to give young adults with autism paid employment opportunities. Now, they have a real chance at transforming lives through the Goodness Gift social enterprise. We sat down with Geetha to learn more about the Goodness Gift.
Geetha, can you let us know what the Goodness Gift is?
Goodness Gift is a premium, socially conscious gifting solution. Our themed gift boxes incorporate locally sourced products, including food, personal, and household items. What makes the Goodness Gift a truly special organization is that it trains and employs adults on the autism spectrum in the enterprise’s fulfillment operations, including receiving, assembly and shipping.
Why did the SAAAC Autism Centre want to get into the social enterprise space?
Well, unemployment within the autism community is a significant problem. We routinely see 70-80% unemployment rates in Ontario among individuals on the autism spectrum. And for those who have jobs, they report not being challenged or working jobs where their responsibilities are well below their skill level.
Our idea with the Goodness Gift enterprise is to provide a space for training and employment. Our employees will learn job readiness skills, receive on the job training, and participate in paid employment in the fulfillment of orders of high-quality gift boxes.
Helping individuals on the autism spectrum gain employable skills after high school is one of the greatest challenges in our sector, and the SAAAC Autism Centre wants to take on this challenge with a credible solution. We think the Goodness Gift is a great first step in doing that.
How did the idea of the Goodness Gift come about?
About five years ago, a big cohort of students at the SAAAC Autism Centre had graduated high school. Their caregivers were extremely disappointed that their loved ones were not finding any opportunities — either jobs or other services. At that point, we decided to create a seasonal program to put together gift baskets for our annual sponsors. Participants were paid part-time, which for all them was their first time getting any type of compensation for their work, and we ran the program from October to December.
Every subsequent year, the orders began to get larger and larger. We had businesses and community members placing orders every holiday season, and we were able to bring more students into the program.
Last year, we made the decision to build a business plan to take us from a seasonal operation to a full-year one. And here we are!
What are your goals with Goodness Gift?
Given we are a social enterprise, our goals a bit different from typical for-profit operations. First and foremost, we want Goodness Gift to build critical, job-ready skills and provide quality employment experiences for our employees. We hope the skills gained here can help our employees lead more independent lives and provide them with the confidence to seek out other employment and learning opportunities in the community.
Though we are a social enterprise, we do want to adopt the mentality of great for-profit organizations in the development of quality products our consumers will truly enjoy. We really want Goodness Gift to become a leading option for premium, socially conscious gift giving in Canada. We have a lot of faith in our operations, our product partners, and overall product offering, and I think customers will see that.
Creating a complex operation does not happen in a vacuum. Who was involved in this process?
You’re right — this is an incredibly complex project, and if I were to list everyone involved and their incredible contributions, it would take the entirety of this article! But I did want to highlight a few major partners who have been critical getting us to this point.
The Toronto Enterprise Fund has been an incredible resource in helping us move to a year-round operation. They provided us with critical coaching and funding to make this a reality. We want to thank their amazing team and all the support they provided.
Unity for Autism has always been an awesome partner of the SAAAC Autism Centre. They always look to fund projects that are unique and can have significant impact, and they have supported us for years. They really trusted our vision for Goodness Gift, and were one of the first ones to fund our vision of making this a year-round operation.
Finally, the Ministry of Labour, Training, and Skills Development have provided us with a generous grant to start up our operations. We are truly appreciative of the Province of Ontario’s commitment to breaking down barriers and ensuring everyone from all walks of life get the opportunity to achieve their full potential.