Avana is a purpose-led business
Inside The Tampon Book. Photograph: Cedric Soltani/Studio Dropped
Why I Built a Purpose-Led Business

I’ll admit that when I founded Avana in 2014, my idea for the business originated from a place of personal gain. I was a young mom with passive income on my mind, and I found myself thinking about building a life where I could spend lots of quality time at home with my growing family.

At the time, I had a successful career in private banking that had me flying around the country every month. But I didn’t want to raise my family traveling at that pace. I didn’t want to miss bedtimes and story times and joyful moments.

My husband and I had a single rental property, and I found myself sketching out how I could take that experience and expand on it. Once I had my vision, I rallied my family’s support, and Avana was born.

Pivoting to Purpose

Over the years, as we started to expand our rental portfolio and develop new properties, the company grew and succeeded exponentially. But I couldn’t turn away from something.

There was a serious and growing need for affordable housing.

And, particularly for vulnerable populations like single mothers trying to escape domestic violence, access to safe places to live (in good neighbourhoods) could quite literally mean the difference between life and death. Approximately every six days, a woman in Canada is killed by her intimate partner. These are often women who have to return to unsafe living arrangements because shelters are at capacity or can’t afford to house themselves and their children on a single (usually low) income.

I witnessed domestic violence as a kid growing up and knew first-hand how much of a difference access to safe, quality housing could make in a child’s life.

I knew I had to do something.

Purpose and Profit

Avana maintains strategic partnerships with women’s shelters like the YWCA Regina (a crisis-stage shelter) and SOFIA House (a second-stage shelter). Through working together, we learned about the dire circumstances of women and kids trying to flee violence at home. As a result, I felt an undeniable call to help. So I shifted Avana to a purpose-led business model in 2018 – our one and only focus became building affordable housing suites that could support our communities.

Affordable housing may sound uninteresting to the average real estate developer because the industry norm is about extracting the most profit possible. A purpose-led mission throws that out the window because it’s about doing the most good possible – not collecting the most rent or building with the cheapest cost. Ours is a business model that industry peers might consider to be uncomfortably audacious. But it’s what makes Avana unique.

Everyone Deserves a Safe Place to Sleep

Unlike most other provinces in Canada, Saskatchewan doesn’t provide ANY government funding to operate second-stage shelters that help families transition out of the crisis shelter system and into long-term homes. And the demand for safe, temporary housing in Regina shelters is so significant that 3,000 women and kids are turned away each year due to lack of capacity. During the COVID-19 pandemic, these economic disparities are just getting broader and more urgent – as are the rates of domestic violence incidents reported to the police.

Not having a safe place to sleep is simply not acceptable.

Our homes are built with quality materials and located in safe, desirable neighbourhoods with good schools. We believe that all our residents should be treated with dignity and respect and feel like members of our family – affordable housing shouldn’t be marginalized. We will never move forward as a society if we keep up the negative stereotypes of affordable housing.

To help support single mothers trying to get back on their feet, the Avana Foundation developed the Avana Empowerment Fund to provide additional funding to help these families rent affordable suites. The Avana Empowerment Fund looks at a family’s whole picture, providing a coordinator from YWCA Regina to help single mother families settle into these longer-term homes.

Use Your Skills and Find Your Purpose

Maybe it was my interest in real estate and development that led me to recognize the opportunity of filling the need for affordable housing. Perhaps the idea is also influenced by my role as a wife and a mother to four young kids. Or the personal experiences I have as a witness to domestic violence. Maybe it’s the sense of outrage I have that we as a city, province, and country are not doing enough to shelter and protect vulnerable populations.

I genuinely believe that you can have a higher purpose and do good in the world while still running a successful business – it’s just that profit isn’t of equal importance to purpose. Yes, we are fiscally responsible and sustainably lead Avana, but our purpose – and our residents – will always come first.

Further Reading…

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