Greater Victoria’s Beacon Community Services could become one of the region’s most innovative non-profits thanks to the help of a challenge being hosted by Royal Roads University.
The charity, known best for its thrift shops on the Saanich Peninsula but also offers a range of services all over southern Vancouver Island and the Gulf Islands, has been chosen as the school’s partner for this year’s Design Thinking Challenge.
“Firstly, what it is going to do is hopefully raise our profile within the community, we are just starting to get into the West Shore community for example. I’m hoping it will educate people on what we do in the thrift shops, and I’m also hoping it will give us a different perspective on how we can reach out to the community,” said Jackie Leuchter, senior thrift shop manager with Beacon Community Services. “The goal is to make the thrift shop a hub for the community, so people can come and get information about the different programs Beacon has, and how we can support them best in the community.”
The challenge sees business students work with a local social organization to come up with innovative solutions for the challenges they face. This year, the challenge being addressed is how Beacon Community Services can bolster inclusivity and community connections with its thrift stores.
“We are always looking for new ways to serve the community,” said Leuchter. “The students will offer us a different perspective on how we can reach out to the community. Sometimes when you are in the midst of everything … you can miss the bigger picture when it comes to new ideas.”
This challenge is the sixth the school has held, and features student participants from business schools across Canada, the U.S., and France, according to associate professor Amy Zidulka. The students are currently in an early phase of the challenge which sees them get to know the workings of similar organizations, thrift shops in this case, in their home communities to help them better understand how they work and what ideas could become solutions.
“Business schools are generally focused on case analysis, which is great, but it is not so great when you have to imagine new futures because it is based on what has happened in the past,” said Zidulka. “Design thinking is an innovative approach that always starts with empathy – deeply understanding the people involved in the problem you are trying to solve. You should also look at facts and figures, but you must always be on the ground talking with people and observing so you understand all of the human aspects of a challenge.”
The challenge also helps teach students the importance of iterating on ideas, as they are almost never perfect when they are first thought of. Zidulka said Beacon Community Services will be involved in judging and mentorship phases of the challenge, helping to shape and iterate on the ideas generated by the students, and ultimately ending up with several well-refined potential ideas to implement.
What exactly those ideas will end up being by the time the challenge ends on Feb. 18 is hard to know at this point, but Zidulka said they could be anything from helping Beacon find a niche to capitalize on with their thrift shops, as Value Village has done by becoming a destination for Halloween costumes, to staffing stores with death doulas since donations are regularly received from family members after the death of a loved one.