Spotlight Series

Manitoulin Transit Group

Manitoulin Transit Group

Q: Tell us about your social enterprise. What is your purpose or mission?
A: The idea behind the Manitoulin Transit Group is to have public transit that’s affordable, dependable and safe throughout Manitoulin Island. We are in the process if completing a feasibility study and we’ve looking at various models of public transportation for the residents and visitors of the area. So far, the best option seems to be a fixed route system with a demand responsive scheduling model. We have been working on this project for almost a year and a half now and discussions started in April of 2017. I represent March of Dimes in this project and I invited a number of other entities to the join the table. It was almost like we were all stealing each others stories because our experiences were so similar. This was just further proof that public transportation is much needed for the people of Manitoulin Island. We’ve been looking at various ways for people to go to work, to educational institutions, to events and access medical services. These were the four primary areas of interest for transit destinations and we’ve determined that the only way for us to to really know the best method would be to do a feasibility study, which is nearly finished as I previously mentioned. We were looking at various business models and have been able to narrow it down to the fixed route system with a demand responsive scheduling model. While we are working with the municipalities and Indigenous communities, we are going to be an independent enterprise built of various businesses and interested parties. Once the feasibility study is complete and we have the strategic plan that will come from it, we will be able to formalize our group. It’s exciting to think that we will be among the first to develop a social transit enterprise, and certainly the first in the area. It’s important to to continue to support and understand the social enterprise model because it can do so much good.

Q:  What kind of challenges are you facing and how are you overcoming them?
A:  Getting access to capital is the biggest challenge that any social enterprise and start-up faces. Even before you start the business, you need access to working capital to host meetings, print brochures, and pay wages. As I am contracted through March of Dimes for this project and them being the lead project manager, I have been able to use their resources for the various expenditures so far. My advice to others in the early stages of establishing a social enterprise would be to make sure your leader understands what a social enterprise is and knows the ideas and concepts associated. That knowledge is fundamental in getting things going, along with the access to capital.

Q: What is your personal or professional background? Do you have previous experience in this type of work?
A: During my academic studies, I had a strong focus on social enterprises and similar models. Having this knowledge going into this project has really made a difference. Someone without the level of interest to develop their knowledge on the subject might not pursue the idea of making this a social business. It’s because of the passion that I have for the social model, that I have been able to make this work so far. Once people have a better understanding of the concept, they tend to welcome it as a solution.

Q: Tell us about an interesting fact or story about your social enterprise.
A: Our current name is not the original name. We started out as United Manitoulin Transport because we really liked the idea of using ‘united’. The word reflected what we were doing very well, a group of people and business with different mandates working together to make something happen. As people started to use the acronym UMT to refer to us, we realized that there could be some negative connotations. Putting UMT together could sound like ‘You empty’ and we didn’t want to be associated with that, or create any kind of hesitation towards our brand. Since a name can make or break a business, we decided to come up with a new name that was not to far from what we were doing. I proposed Manitoulin Transit Group and it was widely accepted by the others in the group. The acronym for this new name does not associate us to anything harmful, as MTG could be associated with the word ‘meeting’.