Despite dramatic advancements in science, human rights, and technological innovation, many of Canada’s top social programs and services have remained out of reach to the residents who need them most. For social policy expert Alina Turner, the inaccessibility of social services in Canada was apparent early on.
When she was 12 years old, Turner and her family arrived in Canada as refugees. Her parents had divorced, her brother was in the criminal justice system, and for a time she experienced homelessness. Turner was in dire need of support, but she found it very difficult to find.
“There’s a lack of clarity on eligibility criteria,” said Turner. “There are all these transparency issues of end-users not knowing how to navigate [the system], or only getting the help that they need by accident because they happen to know somebody.”
In the decades that followed, Alina Turner pursued a career in social policy research and secured a PhD in socio-cultural anthropology. However, it wasn’t until she started working at the United Way of Calgary and the Calgary Homelessness Foundation that Turner saw a gap between social service seekers and the programs being offered;
“I knew we were funding all of these social programs, so why weren’t they showing up when people searched for them?”
Inspired by this question, Alina Turner and her husband, Travis Turner, launched HelpSeeker – a social technology B Corp that helps people find the support, resources, and services they require. The organization currently serves more than 200 municipalities in Western Canada and the Greater Toronto Area, connecting homeless and at-risk Canadians with local social agencies.
Through HelpSeeker’s free app, Canadians who need support get targeted and geo-located recommendations for more than 280,000 social assistance services and resources across the country, including shelters, daycares, and mental health services, to name a few.
As Co-President and Co-Founder of HelpSeeker, Alina Turner leads the HelpSeeker team in developing and implementing social technology solutions to complex and intersected social issues like addictions, homelessness, mental health, safety, and violence.
With the company’s data-dashboard, funders and social policy researchers are also able to access real-time information about how their residents are accessing community services — and where resources are needed most.
A new partnership spurs rapid growth during the pandemic
When the pandemic hit, thousands of Canadians were forced out of work and many more were seeking access to new social programs and support. To meet the increasing demand for the app’s resources, HelpSeeker needed to invest in significant research and development to continue to service both users and social policy makers.
This is when HelpSeeker’s relationship with Vancity Community Investment Bank (VCIB) was born. To support HelpSeeker, VCIB provided a $500,000 line of credit to provide capital for growth, research, and development.
“We’ve worked with other banks, and this process was super-quick, super-efficient. This was one of those processes where we just moved through in weeks,” said co-founder Travis Turner.
As a Schedule 1 values-based bank, VCIB supports organizations that share a commitment to positively impact the communities where they live and work.
“We always try to do business with like-minded folks,” Alina Turner continued. “As a B Corp business, the values that we have — growth with purpose, reconciliation, inclusion, diversity — seemed to really line up [with VCIB].”
With a line of credit in hand, HelpSeeker hired nearly 50 new staff to expand the organization’s reach across Canada. VCIB’s financing also supported HelpSeeker in adding new datasets to the company’s social policy dashboard, which helped over 200 Canadian municipalities to better target their social spending as the pandemic progressed.
In the last quarter, the platform tracked more than 200,000 unique searches for support, most of which were requests for language interpretation, suicide intervention services, and job search help. Looking into the future, HelpSeeker plans to expand across Canada and put Calgary on the map as a hub for social technology.
Click here to learn more about HelpSeeker’s services and resources.
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