New Dawn Enterprises Hosts 6 Impressive Social Enterprises


Today we talked to Erika Shea, Communications Director of New Dawn Enterprises. New Dawn is a not for profit social enterprise located in Sydney, NS that has been around since 1976! In 2016 they will celebrate their 40th anniversary.   New Dawn is the epitome of social enterprise success in Nova Scotia; it’s regularly quoted by practitioners and educators as a model to strive towards and is considered one of the first social enterprises in this area! New Dawn began in 1976 as a continuation, in some ways, of the Antigonish movement. A very small organization for most of its forty years, the first concerns of the organization were housing, particularly co-op and affordable housing initiatives. As the organization became more established and experienced, it systematically turned its attention to other gaps on the island that it might help to fill.

We chatted with Erika about what New Dawn does today, and about their new Buy Social Canada certification.

New Dawn’s Many and Varied Social Enterprises

New Dawn is a very large and varied social enterprise, with seven different divisions! New Dawn Enterprises hosts 6 impressive Social Enterprises in Sydney, Nova Scotia.  Among their main divisions is New Dawn Health Care, which includes three enterprises: a home care business, a guest home, and New Dawn Home Living - a collection of semi-independent living units. Their home care operations started in the community over 27 years ago.


New Dawn also has a real estate division; they have 11 residential and 5 commercial properties - that’s 240 apartment units - and they also manage 27 Supportive Housing for Individuals with Mental Illness (SHIMI) units. The latter service is offered in partnership with the health authority; New Dawn looks after the building operations in this arrangement.

And that’s not all! New Dawn also has one of the largest Community Economic Development Investment Fund (CEDIF) programs in the province. “Through the CEDIF we’ve raised $11M over the last 10 years, and we’ve paid $1.2M in dividends to our investors.” says Shea. “We have about 600 investors and we’ve invested in 10 different businesses in addition to investments in New Dawn.”

New Dawn also boasts a new Centre for Social Innovation. The building used for the CSI used to be a convent and a high school in downtown Sydney, Cape Breton. Combined, the entire complex has 80,000 sq feet of space now being used for arts events and performances, and working space for non-profit, for-profit, government services, and social enterprise all under one roof. New Dawn is attempting to create a more dynamic and multi-sector work space. It’s modeled after CSI in Toronto and New York City. Erika Shea laughs: “We’re not there yet but it’s something really beautiful to aspire towards!”

Forrester School of Dance-2
Forrester School of Dance-2

Additionally, New Dawn runs the Meals on Wheels Program in Sydney, where over 9000 meals a year are delivered with a team of 35 volunteers.

They also have New Dawn College - which right now is offering two welding diplomas.

And last but certainly not least is the Community Engagement division. This division exists to create spaces and conversations about the type of Cape Breton community members want to live in and the future they want to have here.

Given a history of external consultants and projects imposed on these local places, this seems like a well-needed piece to the community development fabric, to inform what New Dawn and the local community should pursue in terms of development.

Taking Community Economic Development into Their Own Hands

We asked Erica more about the CEDIF since it’s been gaining some press recently, and due to its success as an investment fund. Delegations from around the country have visited New Dawn in recent years seeking to learn more about the fund’s success and how they might encourage their provincial governments to adopt similar incentives.

According to the website, a Community Economic and Development Investment Fund is a pool of capital which is raised from individuals within Nova Scotia to invest in for-profit entities within a defined community.

Although the CEDIF is community-driven, hence the name, there are still strings attached, as you can see above. “There is criteria for the CEDIF, set by the province of NS, including that the companies we invest in have to be for-profit. That excludes a lot of organizations - and it’s something we’d like to see change over the next couple of years - we’re actively advocating for that change,” says Shea.

This advocating shows; the types of organizations they’ve invested in have changed significantly over the last year.

“We’ve previously tended towards investing in the digital innovation sector.” says Shea. “But this year we invested in Big Spruce Brewing Co., and a live seafood logistics transportation business - both of which are innovative, but not explicitly part of the digital innovation sector.”

The reason that New Dawn wanted to start doing a CEDIF was because companies in Cape Breton, for two reasons, had a lot of problems accessing capital. “Geographically we’re far away from the centres of financial capital, like New York and Toronto, and for some of these areas, it’s about who you know - the financial communities are tight-knit; it was hard for companies in Cape Breton to tap into that investment given our distance.”

“Another issue was one of perception. Financial institutions that don’t know about Cape Breton, or otherwise have a preconceived notion of what Cape Breton is or what Cape Breton-ers are like, might not think a CB company is a sound investment. This precluded a number of companies from capital need to expand.”

“And finally, we knew of local business who were growing and were export-oriented and have great prospects and growth prospects - we wanted to support that.”

Their most recent CEDIF success story is ProtoCase: a custom enclosure manufacturer for engineers and designers.

“They design things - like the case for your desktop computer, and they can do really small-order custom designs as well,” says Shea. In 2015 they had 8000 customers across the US. When New Dawn started investing, they had 70 jobs.

“We’ve invested twice and they’ve grown substantially, they employee more than 125 now,” says Shea. “These jobs are well-paying and meaningful; they provide employment to people here that is worthwhile and well-paying, and also attract others to this area for employment.”

“Our investment has helped them expand their facilities, grow staff, and add a new line of product. In return they’ve given our investors a really strong long-term investment opportunity.”

Using Social Enterprise to Sustain Themselves Financially

New Dawn doesn’t apply for any core or operational funding from any level of government, which is very impressive given their high social aims. All of their non-revenue generating projects have to be supported by the revenues they make from the sale of goods and services.

“It’s always a real balancing act,” says Shea. “Homecare will generate revenue above expenses, real estate too. So any new projects - community engagement work, and New Dawn’s Centre for Social Innovation, at least in the beginning, will have to live in the margins that are created by our other businesses. In those businesses we have to make sure we’re paying people well, treating people well, and really providing the best services possible - so there’s no large margin to be made.”

Given they’re a social enterprise, they have to achieve their social mission plus their financial goals - a tough act. “It can be hard to juggle the business side and social sides of the organization.” says Shea. “It has so many parts that are always evolving. We’re always trying to pay careful attention to the fact that at the end of the day everyone needs to be travelling in the same direction in terms of mission.

“It’s not just about generating revenue - all divisions have to be working towards achieving the mission. We realize in home care or real estate; although there’s opportunity to generate a lot of money, we can’t sacrifice what’s important simply to meet our financial goals.”

New Dawn’s Buy Social Canada Supplier Certification

New Dawn was recently certified with Buy Social Canada, which is a recognition and third party certification program to build the marketing potential and procurement opportunities for social enterprises. We asked Erika Shea a few questions about the Buy Social Certification and what it means for New Dawn.

First, we asked Erika what social purchasing practices New Dawn already follows.

“I think New Dawn’s really fortunate - it’s been around for 40 years. We have built over time relationships with other social enterprises in the community. We contract with a local social enterprise called Pathways to Employment that supports people recovering from mental illness - to provide landscaping services to our properties. We also rent space to Pathways for admin offices in one of our buildings - and because of that have developed a close relationship with them. It’s really nice to develop that strong relationship with a supplier - they’re close to communicate with and they’re incredibly flexible and accommodating to our needs. That’s one of the great benefits of local and social supplier-purchaser relationships.”

“When we’re ordering catering for events - we’ll look to other social enterprises to provide those kinds of services, like Horizon Achievement [another social enterprise certified with Buy Social Canada].”

We asked Erika what New Dawn’s hopes were for the new Buy Social Certification.

“Our hopes are two-fold. One, we just want to be part of spreading the word about Buy Social Canada; it’s an amazing initiative. If we can lend our voice, we’re really happy to do so.”

“The second is around our home care business. There are other homecare businesses in the community, and increasingly so; we are an aging island, so there’s a growing demand for homecare services. It’s important to us to be recognized as a not-for-profit social enterprise because we have a significant impact in the community; our homecare was established 27 years ago and we employ more than 100 staff in Homecare alone.

"To be Buy Social Certified and to share that with existing clients and new clients is one visible and vibrant way to show the community that when you buy homecare services from New Dawn, your money is staying here and being reinvested in the community. After paying our staff, excess revenues are available for investing in other community projects and things that will help create a more vibrant community - like Buy Social Canada!"

To learn more about New Dawn enterprises, visit

To learn more about Buy Social Canada, visit