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United We Can leads the way for Vancouver social enterprises

United We Can

About this story

"It's a huge institution, Vancity, but it has that level of community connection with real human beings. You can't buy that. There's something about that that's really important.” – Ken Lyotier, Founder of United We Can

When it comes to inspirational, ground-breaking social enterprises, few can match the story of United We Can. Founded in 1995 by a group of Vancouver binners in reaction to systemic problems with the province’s refund recycling system, United We Can has since created a thriving recycling depot as well as numerous offshoot social enterprises, providing green-collar jobs to hundreds of hard-to-employ workers and keeping enormous quantities of recyclables out of landfills.

For a fledgling organization made up of binners and street people, support from Vancity and the Vancity Community Foundation has been critical. When no one else would, Vancity supplied the not-for-profit with a line of credit, while the Vancity Community Foundation provided a grant to help with start-up costs.

Now almost 20 years on, United We Can has outgrown its first home and is in the process of acquiring a new, larger facility along with three satellite depots through downtown Vancouver. Other social enterprises have also sprung from the organization, including the award-winning Potluck Café Society, which operates the Potluck Café & Catering, and Sole Food, one of Vancouver’s largest urban farms.