There are few social enterprises that can claim the success of WIN. Seventeen years ago, Charlotte Semple, who had herself experienced abuse, decided to create an organization that could support the efforts of other women to remake their lives.
After asking around for donations, she and some friends, among them Carole Fast and Michelle Young, incorporated the nonprofit Victoria Women In Need Society. With a small personal loan, WIN opened the doors of its first resale shop in April 1991. Charlotte, Carole, and Michelle became the managers and “Leadership Team.”
They learned and grew along with the venture over the next 16 years.
In 2005, after much thought into the future of the organization, the Victoria Women In Need Community Cooperative was incorporated as a nonprofit, worker co-operative association.
WIN’s original Leadership Team became the Cooperative’s founding members, giving it time to establish and train new members. The Society donated to the Cooperative a significant portion of the equity of one of the Society’s two buildings. In these ways, the Society has incubated the co-op and strengthened its ability to carry forward WIN’s vision and mission.
Since then, three WIN stores in Victoria’s downtown neighbourhoods have come to be known for the quality of the merchandise they provide. WIN is also known for creating employment for women and providing many kinds of programs and support for women in the transition process.
WIN has never relied on government or any other funding body to cover the costs of operation. From the beginning, it has been a priority for the Board of WIN to remain a self-sustaining organization.
WIN has partnered with women’s organizations and with retailers and other community organizations to promote their work and to encourage a steady supply of high-quality donations (clothing, accessories, household items, linens, furniture, books, collectibles, jewellery, etc.), mostly from Victoria residents. The first priority for the donations is to meet the needs of the clients. What remains is sold in WIN’s resale shops. The revenue generated by loyal store customers sustains the community programs and services:
- New Start Program: the WIN Society has provided over 1500 women with the furniture and household items they needed to set up their own home as they left a transition house in the Greater Victoria Area.
- Gift Certificate Program: enables women and their children who are residents or outreach clients of transition houses and second-stage houses to receive essential clothing, household, and children’s items.
- Community Gifts in Kind Program: provides essential items to other organizations to support their program development. (Individual Victoria residents can also gain support from this program on a walk-in basis.)
- Bursary Program: an annual $500 bursary has gone to graduates of an employability program to help them in their educational and vocational pursuits.
Creating employment in supportive working conditions has always been a priority. Over the last ten years, WIN’s stores have employed an average of 25 women in any given month. WIN has also created volunteer opportunities for hundreds of women over the years.