Getting Connected in Cape Breton


The last time you heard from me I was writing about the Halifax Partnership and their Connector Program, which aims to put youth, newcomers and new grads in touch with professionals in a number of fields. It seems as though that program is working, as more and more youth decide to remain in Halifax.

That same municipal program exists way north of the city, in Cape Breton, which has its own Partnership and its own, brand new Connector Program--the 24th to join what has become a national initiative. This week I spoke with Elva Zhou, Program Coordinator, and the Partnership team about beginning a new series of connections.

In Cape Breton, youth retention is as much of an issue as it is in other parts of the province, and perhaps more so. In fact, retaining anyone, local and newcomer alike, is a challenge. For this reason, the CB Connector Program works closely in concert with two programs geared towards inclusivity and facilitating settlement of immigrants: the Atlantic Immigration Pilot and the Cape Breton Local Immigration Partnership. These two, headed by Omar Tag El-Din and Kailea Pedley, respectively, also work under the umbrella of the Cape Breton Partnership, which means that economic development in the region is heavily dependent not only on the retention of its local young people, but of recent (considered within 3-5 years) international graduates and immigrants to the island.

All three members of the CB Partnership team stressed that population decline is a major problem for Cape Breton, and that the region would do well to follow examples like that of New Brunswick’s population growth-oriented cabinet shuffle, among others, with the appointment of some sort of population growth coordinator.

Census data from 2016 shows that Cape Breton’s population has declined over a five-year trend, compared with a slight increase for the province overall in the same period. The positive exception to this regional decline is Cape Breton’s Mi’kmaq First Nations, all five of which saw population increases from 2011-16.

In an earlier post, I gave a recap of the Many Hands Many Voices Conference, which took place in October at the Membertou Trade and Convention Centre. The Membertou First Nation community essentially operates a social enterprise structure, with profits from local businesses being reinvested into social infrastructure.

Tonight, at Centre 200 in Sydney, the Community of Membertou will be awarded an Employer Excellence Award from the Cape Breton Vital Excellence Awards. These awards recognize the accomplishments of talented youth on the island, and the employers creating the jobs and work environments in which those young professionals thrive.

Granted, Membertou and the other First Nations on the island have been reinvesting in their own communities a lot longer than the term “social enterprise” has been around, but to be formally recognized in a time when populations are down and economies are suffering is to bring well-needed notice to the long-term benefits that stem from investing in social infrastructure. Social enterprise works, and we need look no further than communities in Nova Scotia--in Cape Breton--for proof.

If you have a social enterprise, or you’re looking to start one in Cape Breton, get in contact with Elva Zhou at the Cape Breton Connector Program. There are currently no social enterprise Connectors associated with the program, and you could be the first! An already successful program could be made more comprehensive by providing connections to those looking to grow within the social enterprise sector in Nova Scotia.


Written by: Sam Krueger

Sam is from Toronto and lives and writes in Halifax. He has spent the summer conducting research at Common Good Solutions HQ for the Social Enterprise Network of Nova Scotia, and is excited to bring a voice to the office, its people, and Nova Scotia’s social enterprise community.