Social entrepreneurship is a relatively new title for Fire-ED Chief Inspiration Officer and Founder Tracy Last

As a daughter of an entrepreneur father I grew up with a sell sell sell motto like dad, though always questioned things. As a young adult, working by the seat of my pants, there was no time, in our downtown Vancouver bustling Yaletown warehouse district office, for business school (I left fashion design college to work with dad). While I certainly learned the tricks of the trade I also learned social entrepreneurship…. “by osmosis.”

At the age of 26 I had my first child at which time I gave up the commute to set up home office in the suburbs. The trouble was I also took a cut in pay only being able to work part time for dad. I wound up finding myself in a job as a letter carrier for a few years, while raising two boys, and still running my own business that I eventually formed called Last Logos Promos Inc offering customized promotional products for businesses and public safety agencies looking to build PR and rapport with employees, valued clients and the general public. 

Social entrepreneurship is the attempt to draw upon business techniques and private sector approaches to find solutions to social, cultural or environmental problems (Wikipedia).

For my entire adult life I have been an entrepreneur “flogging my wares” and tapping into niche markets to sell promotional products to various corporations as well as public service agencies like forestry, fire services, and law enforcement. Smokey Bear, Police Pals, Firehall Swag & Displays, Fire Safe Kids, and Armadillo Merino Head to Toe Base Layers are just some of our exclusive product lines we still sell.

Laura, Smokey Bear, Tracy, Monica

Though safety awareness campaigns have a heavy emphasis on material distribution, for me it wasn’t just about the product sales as much as it was the final outcome for the person receiving that pencil, sticker or pretty balloon. It would take two decades to realize the path I was paving in my business had all the markings of true social entrepreneurship.

It was 1989 when I officially joined my father’s business. Straight away I was given the title manager of the Smokey Bear division. Dad became a licensee in 1979 and provided promotional products for wildfire prevention campaigns across Canada and the US. A real ah ha moment for me was while travelling, attending tradeshows, and meeting public educators, I started to learn more and more about their business and saw ways on how we could help improve on their safety programs for the public. Eventually I found myself in what was more of a consulting role.

Across the board, between forestry, fire services and community policing it was very clear there was no continuity or standardization to any of their community outreach campaigns. Evidently, the public safety education system is lacking the manpower, resources, statistical data, risk assessment and funding to do the job right. I guess I just stayed the course, finding myself completely immersed in my own free willed campaign to further investigate and create solutions to a great deal of the public education challenges that are not being addressed at the agency level.

Transitioning From Entrepreneur to Social Entrepreneur…

Social entrepreneurship signals the imperative to drive social change. It encompasses a lot of things, some of which are fully dedicated to affecting change, while others address issues through indirect means, such as paying equitable wages to vulnerable or underserved groups or providing volunteers to help with local projects. It is a sustainable business model with its lasting, transformational benefit to society, that brings the field and its practitioners together.

By all intents and purposes, I proudly consider myself a social entrepreneur and as I fully embrace it I am finding more support from fire service professionals praising my efforts for changing paradigms.

burnaby-bc-firefighter-with-tracy-last-and-the-fully-involved-home-safe-system-by-prevention-connectionMostly through the course of 25+ years observing this landscape, what I have been learning is that much of what I sell for public education campaigns—coloring books, pencils, plastic fire helmets—is not what those departments, or the communities they serve, truly need. The products I was creating, and that they were buying, aren’t truly teaching kids the life skills they need to be not only fire safe but aware and engaged with society. And hundreds of millions of dollars are spent on these so called “educational materials.” It’s catch 22 as I say this, as while I do appreciate and need the business, we are constantly reinvesting profits into Fire-ED, which in a round about way, is our Last Logos corporate social responsibility for giving back to community.

Tracy is seen here assisting firefighters using her newly designed teaching tool, the Fire-ED “Fully Involved” Teaching Tool. Kids, from two elementary school classes, were attending a traditional fire station tour in Burnaby BC when we brought in our Teaching Tool to show the firefighters how teaching fire safety can be as much fun as it is for the kids interacting with the Fire-ED System.

….Kids still dying in home fires!!

To keep kids engaged in their safety lessons, and to keep public educators at the top of their game, the teaching tools (visual aids) really are the deal maker or breaker. Realizing the critical need Fire-ED developed an innovative teaching resource for public educators to use, that is also designed for anyone to use, not just fire officers. At the same time we are structuring a social business model and social enterprise.

Fire-ED is the product of the parent company Last Logos Promotional Inc.  doing business as Prevention Connection International  with the expressed purpose of becoming an open source of training, teaching tools and new technology for Firefighters, Fire and Life Safety Educators, and Community Safety Facilitators (everyday citizens).

Bringing Modern Solutions to Today’s Public Education Challenges

Having a clear understanding, of challenges that fire departments face in delivering fire and life safety education, we came to the conclusion, that what is universally lacking, is a consistent and standardized method for teaching that capitalized on the learning style that suits most children best—hands-on learning that involves the child, giving them something to do, see and hear all in one lesson. And a system that also involves older children, adults and seniors too, who learn through participating in Fire-ED’s Community Direct Teaching Model.


My name is Robert Avsec, I am a retired Battalion Chief doing freelance writing work for various fire service publications. Tracy Last, whom I’ve had the pleasure of working and collaborating with since 2013, is a true social entrepreneur with 25 years experience in the area of promoting public fire & life safety. Throughout my fire service career, and well into retirement, I’ve never found a person–especially someone who’s not an actual fire service professional by trade–who’s as passionate and committed to public education. I took some time to interview Tracy to learn more about “what makes her tick” as a social entrepreneur.

What makes Tracy Last a social entrepreneur? An entrepreneur creates a product or service that meets a willing consumer’s need. It might be a need that the consumer didn’t even know that they had; or it might be a better solution to a known need. A social entrepreneur sees the opportunity to change the paradigm with tools or technology that meets a need in ways that make people wonder afterwards, “How did we ever do the job before?” You could say that social entrepreneurs are “game changers.” What a game changer it was when Steve Jobs introduced the PC, yes?

Changing the Game as a Social Entrepreneur is not for the Faint of Heart

Last Logos at Fire Chief tradeshow as Official NFPA Licensee from 1998 – 2005 CLICK IMAGE TO VIEW

Last’s initial efforts at being a social entrepreneur, in a fire and life safety educator’s space, met with great resistance. Rather than fire service organizations endorsing, adopting, or promoting the “PC” that she’d developed for the industry experts to use, namely, the Fire-ED Interactive System, Last found an uphill struggle.

“It’s a little archaic” said Last “meaning the interactions that we are having with those heading the associations, or government agencies, who say they care about fire and life safety education. In reality, some of those, in positions of authority, seem to be  narrow sighted and resistant to change. Especially involving new ideas or concepts for reaching people, particularly children….”

One of the governmental entities chose to get into  the entrepreneurial space by purchasing the same fire prevention and promotional items as those marketed by Last Logos.

“In 2005 we lost our NFPA contract that we had for developing and distributing Sparky The Fire Dog materials and that cuts deep when we worked so hard for 7 years (1998-2005) to build this up and we were the only  licensee in Canada. This arm’s length government entity in Ontario Canada got into selling “educational materials.” They contacted me to talk about partnering and asked me to send samples. They did not partner with us at all, they started a distribution center of grand proportions. Promotional product distribution is a profitable business yet with those profits we do not see them actually developing sound educational resources , like we are, for properly educating kids and families.”


PPPC Code of Ethics

“The Legitimate distributor company whose only form of income is selling promotional products having to compete against an arm’s length organization such as a government body or another Association as the end user raises the concern of unfair competition in the marketplace.” Read More


“Tragically my first business (Last Logos) took a “tailspin”, going from steady incline of growth, to grave loss when the Ontario Fire Marshal ‘s Public Fire Safety Council (aka Fire Safety Canada) formed its Distribution Center, that was the turning point. The clear indication was that I could not compete on an uneven playing field, while Last Logos still exists, we have lost 90% of our clients to the new “competition” so I had no choice but to venture on.”

Venturing on requires Tenacity, Time, and Constant Reinvesting

Tracy Last Colorado Rockies Public Educator ConferenceRealizing that the critical need—teaching children to avoid becoming victims of fire—still exists, Last decided to work against the odds, and to reinvest, recreate, restructure, build a network and be fully prepared to address the issue. “I believe with every fiber of my being that The Fire-ED Interactive System can be that ‘game changer’ for fire and life safety education,” said Last. “I believe that because it’s more than just a box with colorful and well-designed teaching materials. The system includes a community involvement strategy that revolutionizes the way fire and life safety education is taught to kids all around the world.”

Last is currently building upon the successes that she’s had in selling the phase 1  Home Safe Teaching System. Fire departments across Canada have purchased this resource in its original form. Those communities include: Burnaby, Victoria, Qualicum Beach, Charlie Lake, Port McNeill, Malakwa, West Kelowna, Parksville, and First Nations’ Emergency Services Society in BC; Airdie in Alberta; Middlesex Center and Six Nations in Ontario; and Nunavut. “Even Greenwood, the smallest city in BC has the kit,” said Last.

Now Fire-ED is gaining traction in international markets. “Recently we’ve supplied fire departments in the USA,” said Last. “Mammoth Lakes Fire Department in California and the Elko Fire Department in Nevada.”  Fire Rescue TV helped out too and created a kids training video using the Fire-ED Teaching tool. Fire-ED broke ground in Florida where  Fire Marshal Aaron Johnson “The Code Coach” teamed up to collaborate on the Community Safety Facilitator Curriculum. Read this article Developing Public Education Programs.

What’s next for this social entrepreneur?

Last is hopeful to soon add CCC to the end of its name by incorporating Fire-ED Interactive as a Community Contribution Corporation (C3), a relatively new organizational structure under Canadian business law. The C3 provides a vehicle with the potential to inject investor capital from the private sector into areas normally dominated by government and charity.

Part regular for-profit corporation and part non-profit organization, a C3 is required to contribute 60 percent of its profits to qualified charitable causes. “By making Fire-ED a C3 entity we can then readily donate our teaching tools to fire departments and communities that don’t have the funds to purchase the resources on their own,” said Last.

Any sponsor of Fire-ED is going to help develop an impact business that’s revolutionizing the way fire and life safety education should be done. We’ve got a Direct Teaching Model–of which the Fire-ED “Fully Involved” Teaching Tool is central–that will bring prevention education to more people, more often, and for less money than traditional teaching methods.

Social Entrepreneurship to solve the Fire Problem

Public Sector Lacks Critical Competencies — Turns to Social Business Models

Social Entrepreneurship to solve the Fire Problem

Social Entrepreneurs partner with fire services to propose sustainable social business models to solve rapidly increasing fire safety problems.

Fire is crucial to the development of human society, and it has become an important part of human civilization. Among different types of disasters, fire constitutes a significant threat to life and property in urban and rural areas. Fires are the accidents which occur most frequently, whose causes are the most diverse and which require intervention methods and techniques adapted to the conditions and needs of each incident. There is a better way forward with social business models.

With adequate fire prevention, most of the fires nowadays are preventable. Fire prevention, and life safety education, can be defined as a system for reducing poverty and providing citizens with activities that raise awareness of fire risks by analyzing patterns of fire causal factors to achieve a reduction in fire incidence within the constraints of budgeted resources.

Poverty

Poverty, new dynamic lifestyles, new materials, community, and fire brigade budget costs increase fire risk to communities. Lower income families are more likely to live in older, wood frame housing; less likely to have working smoke alarms; less likely to have a family escape plan and to practice it; more likely to use less safe alternative heating sources; more likely to have malfunctioning wiring or appliances, and more likely to have barriers to escape or rescue.

Traditional Approaches Failing

It seems that as the number of fires, fire deaths and casualties is increasing on the global scale, fires are an alarming global concern and a potential social problem. It seems that all existing methods have failed. From the broad perspective, we have three sectors potentially dealing with fire safety problems: private sector, public sector, and the non-profit sector. Traditionally, each of the three sectors has maintained the distinct roles and approaches —with the private sector focused on profitable markets, the public sector solving market failures, and the non-profit sector engaging citizens in meeting societal needs.

Shrinking Resources

Since the 1990s, several trends have reduced these distinctions, increasingly blurring the social and economic roles that businesses, government agencies, and nonprofits are playing. Governments are stepping out and deregulating the codes, closing fire departments. The private sector is shrinking resources and is forgetting on the important role of fire prevention when seeking for competitiveness. And the nonprofit sector is constantly facing with funding problems and increased social problems such as crime and opioid crisis, poor access to healthcare facilities and nevertheless poverty.

New unavoidable trends are increasingly blurring the social and economic roles that businesses, government agencies, and nonprofits are traditionally playing. The above-mentioned trends have expanded the overlapping space between the sectors and created ample opportunity for social entrepreneurship to emerge and grow. Solving social problems like fire safety requires holistic approaches with the participation of several actors or stakeholders (Masri, Mohd, & Sh, 2015).

Stakeholders

Stakeholders in the public or private sector and non-governmental or non-profit organizations often seek to collaborate because they lack critical competencies that cannot be developed on their own or in a timely fashion (Child & Faulkner, 1998) and because their environments are more uncertain. Within the collaboration, two or more organizations from different sectors link or share information, resources, activities, and capabilities to jointly achieve an outcome that could not be achieved by a single organization or by organizations collaborating within one sector (Das 2000; Bryson et al. 2006). They form so-called cross sector collaboration (“CSC”).

Social entrepreneurship

Social entrepreneurship seems to exhibit characteristics of all three sectors. It seems that social entrepreneurs can find and propose sustainable solutions to rapidly increasing fire safety problems. Social entrepreneurs might be capable of building financially sustainable models with gaining efficiency by relying on volunteers. They combine social problems with private sector funding sources and identify products and services, customers are willing to ‘hire.’ It seems that in the future we will see fire risk reductions through social entrepreneurial opportunity recognitions which can inspire us to bring fire safety to a higher level and this is yet to be explored in any detail.

Interest in, and activity around, social entrepreneurship is growing as influential individuals and organizations work to fill the gaps left by government and business in addressing social needs (Bielefeld 2008; Dacin et al. 2011). Leading foundations in the field like Ashoka, the Skoll Foundation, and the Schwab Foundation actively promote social entrepreneurship by highlighting the achievements of individual social entrepreneurs (Seelos, Mair, Battilana, Dacin, & Dacin, 2010). Also, governments have started supporting social entrepreneurship by establishing new organizational frameworks in order to encourage the formation of new social entrepreneurial initiatives and by providing funding to these initiatives.

Correspondingly, the management and nonprofit literatures are increasingly focused on entrepreneurial activities that are motivated by social concerns, such as sustainability, poverty, and social equity (Dacin et al. 2011; Murphy and Coombes 2009). Unlike conventional (or commercial) entrepreneurs, social entrepreneurs “neither anticipate nor organize to create substantial financial profit”; instead, they aim for value in the form of societal benefit (Martin and Osberg 2007, 34) by developing innovative solutions to social problems. This mission may be addressed through creating new ventures or innovating within existing organizations (Zahra et al. 2009).

Dees (1998) defines social entrepreneurs as people who play the role of change agents in the social sector, by:

  • Adopting a mission to create and sustain social value (not just private value),
  • Recognizing and relentlessly pursuing new opportunities to serve that mission,
  • Engaging in a process of continuous innovation, adaptation and learning,
  • Acting boldly without being limited by resources currently in hand, and
  • Exhibiting heightened accountability to the constituencies served and for the outcomes created.

The central driver for social entrepreneurship is the social problem being addressed, and the particular organizational form a social enterprise (SE) takes should be a decision based on which format would most effectively mobilize the resources needed to address that problem (Austin, Stevenson, & Wei-Skillern, 2006). Thus, social entrepreneurship is not defined by legal form, as it can be pursued through various vehicles. Indeed, examples of social entrepreneurship can be found within or can span the nonprofit, business, or governmental sectors (Austin et al., 2006).

Social entrepreneurs have gained attention due to their promise to alleviate social problems (Estrin, Mickiewicz, & Stephan, 2013). The desire to make positive social change motivates social entrepreneurship (Shane, Locke, & Collins, 2003).  Social enterprises have emerged as significant organizational players in market economies (Di Domenico, Haugh, & Tracey, 2010).  The number of SEs have proliferated to address a growing number of social problems, like increased fire risks. An increased demand for their services  seems to be an important factor that motivates collaboration amongst stakeholders and SEs (Sakarya, Bodur, Yildirim-Öktem, & Selekler-Göksen, 2012).

Stakeholders in the public or private sector and non-governmental or non-profit organizations often seek to collaborate as they lack critical competencies that cannot be developed on their own or in a timely fashion (Child & Faulkner, 1998) and their environments are more uncertain.

Collaborations for social business models enable organizations to assemble, mobilize, and deploy resources necessary for social entrepreneurship—including financial assistance, expertise, and cultural and institutional resources (Mair and Marti 2006; Tracey, Phillips, and Jarvis 2011). By tapping into social networks and linking across sectors, social entrepreneurs can collectively expand capabilities and reach and significantly advance solutions to social problems (Dees and Economy 2001; Drayton 2010; Guclu, Dees, and Anderson 2002).

The question is: How do local social entrepreneurs foster and sustain valuable collaborations? Notably, the establishment and maintenance of collaborations is difficult, and partnerships vary in the extent of partner engagement, resources involved, scope, complexity, and strategic value (Bielefeld 2008).

Training Firefighters Social Entrepreneurs for Prevention

In North America hundreds of people die in preventable house fires every year. Diminishing fire dept budgets affect public education programs causing a “fire problem”.

Tune in for universal lessons on working with your heart, not taking no for an answer, and discover the good fight firefighter social entrepreneurs fight in order to change the public education landscape CLICK HERE TO LISTEN IN

It takes quite a passionate influencer for social change to truly impress upon me but this mission to eliminate preventable fires needs a world of change agents to make a difference, so let’s do this together starting now! There is no denying the passion firefighters have for saving lives and property. In my career I’ve met changemakers who are doing good all over the world but the potential for vastly restoring community life safety begins with the combination of social entrepreneur mentors for firefighters.

Whether on my podcast The Voices Of Social Change, through my work with startup social entrepreneurs, or consulting work with social ventures, I’ve seen firsthand what it means to be on the front lines of social change. In this podcast we unravel the meaning behind this mission to bring social change and social entrepreneurship into the way our communities teach kids how NOT to become victims of fire through Fire-ED.

Follow the Fire-ED Community Podcast as we take a no-holds-barred approach to creating a new wave for the way prevention education is delivered to communities. To request an interview Contact Us.