MetroWorks Employment Association

Organization Type: Social & Community Services
Address: 7071 Bayers Road, LL05, Halifax, Nova Scotia B3L 2C2
Contact: Lesley Dunn

In the early 1970’s the city of Halifax was concerned about the rising costs of social assistance, and the increased dependence of more and more people on it. On December 13th, 1977 a non-profit organization (Human Resource Development Association, now MetroWorks Employment Association), “was launched by the city of Halifax largely through the efforts of the municipal social planning department to provide learning, training, and employment for people on social assistance as an alternative to welfare.”

At a time when funds were limited we understood that new solutions needed to be found to better use existing resources and turn them into sources of growth. We pioneered the use of welfare funds to capitalize businesses that hired persons facing persistent multiple barriers to employment. Our approach would change how North America, and the world, looked at poverty reduction, the rising costs of social assistance, unemployment, and economic development. Forty years later our idea of creating hybrid business structures (for-profit and non-profit) continues to drive transformational change encouraging people to work across traditional fields of responsibility to develop new ideas (products, services, models) to tackle the rising needs of individuals living with mental illness, and ability differences, individuals living on a low or fixed income (social assistance), single parent households, and individuals who are under-employed or unemployed.

Through our hybrid business structures we have ensured a continued link between economic development and the goal of increasing social equity and individual dignity. Our organizational structure and mandate has been described as “one of the most imaginative initiatives in North America.”  For over thirty years (1982 – 2013) our activities were referenced in numerous books, reports, and case studies gaining us international recognition. In Canada, we were selected by Carlton University’s Community Economic Development Technical Assistance program as a “host provider,” community organizations were referred to us so we could assist in their development of economic ventures. A study released in 1993 (and validated by KPMG) determined that the net benefit to government during our first fifteen years of operation totaled $7 million.

Over the past 40 years we have operated 14 social enterprises. Stone Hearth Bakery has been in operation for 35 years, and our newest social enterprise Stone Hearth Café and Catering has been in operation for 3 years. On January 26th, 2017 Stone Hearth Bakery, received Gold in the Small Business of the Year category and Silver in the Innovative Business of the Year category at the 2017 Halifax Business Awards validating our business activities. On May 3rd, 2017, Stone Hearth Bakery received national recognition by being named a 2017 Champion of Mental by the Canadian Alliance on Mental Illness and Mental Health, validating our social activities. On October 12, 2017, MetroWorks and Stone Hearth Bakery received a 2017 Great-West Life, London Life, and Canada Life Literacy Innovation Award Honourable Mention in recognition of our appealing combination of practical and industry-relevant training with the soft skills that will be important in any line of work.


MetroWorks has persevered to create innovative solutions to close the gap between work and welfare. Our organization is a bridge and safe place for individuals from all backgrounds to access the support they need. We are a place where the general public, businesses and government can learn and understand the societal concerns we address, and that we provide services the public and private sector would struggle to maintain.  We are proud of our accomplishments, and that we have has been able to clearly demonstrate that individuals facing persistent multiple barriers to employment would rather work for a living than depend on social assistance.

Quarter, Jack, Canada’s Social Economy (James Lorimer & Company, 1982)

Stewart E. Perry, Communities on the Way: Rebuilding Local Economies in the United States and Canada (State University of New York Press, 1987) page 95

Canadian CED Network, From Dependence to Dignity – Testimony from the Trenches: 8 Canadian Stories of CED Success, page 5-6

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When I stand before God at the end of my life, I would hope that I would not have a single bit of talent left and could say, I used everything you gave me.
Erma Bombeck

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7071 Bayers Road, LL05, Halifax, Nova Scotia B3L 2C2

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