Building resilient coastal communities through social and community enterprise

Rural coastal communities face multiple pressures on community vitality and long-term sustainability. Sustainable community development literature has stressed the need for locally-driven solutions for societal transition to sustainability, guided by a holistic set of sustainability goals and indicators to assess prospective development strategies. It is imperative for communities to guide development in a way that honours their land, ocean, cultures, and traditions through a place-based approach. In this context, our study asks: “how does place-based social enterprise (SE) contribute to community revitalization and the enhancement of long-term sustainability in rural coastal communities?”. 

SEs are organizations that draw on commercial, market-based activities to address social and environmental goals. However, entrepreneurship literature (including SE literature specifically) has often examined place through a one-way relationship, overlooking how community-level factors and entrepreneurial practices can be mutually reinforcing through place-based development processes. In this study we apply an interdisciplinary lens, incorporating insights from research areas like entrepreneurship, management, sustainable community development, and sociology to test a newly-emergent heuristic model, called PLACE, for building community resilience and renewal through SE in rural Newfoundland and Labrador and beyond. We will extend the PLACE model developed by the principal investigator during a seven-year study of the Shorefast Foundation on Fogo Island, comparing the real-time longitudinal case study of Shorefast with retrospective case studies of other social enterprises in rural NL. 

The PLACE model, named for an acronym that emphasizes the power of place-based SEs for contributing to more inclusive, economically-diverse and culturally-resilient communities, reflects major activities that have been indispensable to the experience and successes of Shorefast: 

  • Promote community champions (to nurture pride and drive positive action in the community) 
  • Link divergent perspectives (insider & outsider knowledge, new & traditional skills) 
  • Assess existing capacities (human, ecological, institutional, & infrastructural) 
  • Convey compelling narratives (to counter negative and self-defeating discourse) 
  • Engage both/and thinking (to reveal innovative and optimal solutions) 

The aims of this research are to 1) further develop, extend, and apply the PLACE model by studying social enterprises in 6-10 distinct coastal communities across Newfoundland and Labrador; 2) share the learnings from this research with various stakeholders from across Atlantic Canada, including community leaders and policy makers, by hosting workshops and producing media to share the learnings more widely. The key research methodologies include: (1) ethnographic immersion in a community and (2) PLACE Dialogues, which are workshops that double as both knowledge mobilization (KM) activities and focus groups (data collection) with stakeholders. This is a form of action research, in which cumulative findings are shared with community champions from multiple sectors and explored in terms of applicability to their specific places.  

This study is supported by the Ocean Frontier Institute Phase 2 funding (Future Ocean and Coastal Infrastructures). Its findings will contribute to growing, but still relatively underexplored, research on the role of SE in community development. It also aims to inform provincial and municipal-level policies around supporting SE development in coastal communities. Project partners will help test and refine the PLACE model (research partners) and/or provide funding and in-kind support (knowledge mobilization partners). 

Team members: 

  • Natalie Slawinski, Principal Investigator 
  • John Schouten, Co-investigator 
  • Alex Stewart, Co-Investigator 
  • Mark Stoddart, Co-Investigator
  • Tom Cooper, Co-investigator
  • Kelly Vodden, Co-Investigator
  • Wendy Smith (Collaborator) 
  • Brennan Lowery, Post-doctoral fellow
  • Ario Seto, Post-doctoral fellow 
  • Sara Langer, PhD Student

Project partners: 

Community Partners:
  • Bonavista Townscapes Foundation Inc., Bonavista
  • Bonne Bay Cottage Hospital, Norris Point
  • Fishing for Success, Petty Harbour
  • SABRI, St. Anthony
  • Shorefast, Fogo Island 
Knowledge Mobilization: