Western Economic Diversification Canada
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Executive Summary

Introduction

The Entrepreneurs with Disabilities Program (EDP) and the Urban Entrepreneurs with Disabilities Initiative (UEDI) was created in 1997-98 in response to the Access to Business Opportunities project and the 1996 report of the Federal Task Force on Disabilities which identified employment as a major issue that can alleviate the high incidences of poverty among people with disabilities. Both the EDP and the UEDI were consolidated into one program during the 2005-06 renewal process based on the recommendations from a 2005 program evaluation study.

The EDP provides western Canadians with disabilities with access to business information, training and development, mentoring with one-on-one counselling services, and financing in their pursuit of self-employment and entrepreneurship.

The EDP is delivered in both rural and urban communities in Western Canada. Since the initial loan funds were established at the beginning of the program, continued funding from WD has mainly been in the form of operating funds to third parties to assist in the delivery of the program. Collectively, the Community Futures Organizations currently have a balance of approximately $8 million in funds available to lend; theUrban Delivery Agents were not required to report their balance of funds available to lend. In rural communities, services for EDP clients are provided through the Community Futures Organizations. Provincial Community Futures Associations receive operating funds to help the Community Futures Organizations deliver on their EDP commitments. In urban areas in Vancouver, Victoria, Edmonton, Calgary, Saskatoon, Regina, and Winnipeg, the department works with a number of organizations by providing them with operating funds to deliver the program. Clients are provided with specialized counseling and support, as well as access to small business loans.

Under the five year agreement, the department provided a maximum $7.7 million dollars in operating funds to the urban and the Provincial Community Futures Associations to help administer the EDP. The EDP program was evaluated in 1999 and 2005. The scope of the current evaluation was from 2005-06 to the third quarter of 2010-11 fiscal years and covered both urban and rural models of the program. This evaluation focused on the EDP’s relevance and performance (efficiency, effectiveness, and economy) with regards to its activities, outputs and outcomes. The evaluation methodology included document/literature review, file and database review, comparative analysis, 51 key informant interviews, 86 client surveys, and a focus group in each of the 4 western provinces.

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Relevance

The 2010 Federal Disability Report stated that many people with disabilities have to overcome work-related barriers and challenges that people without disabilities do not. The report concluded that despite the Employment Equity Act and a growing need for skilled workers, the statistics reveal that many people with disabilities remain underemployed and discriminated against.

Key informant interviews defined the need for the EDP mostly in terms of the extra supports for people with disabilities, beyond what is available to non-disabled entrepreneurs. The need was attributed to a number of factors such as people with disabilities not always well-served by mainstream commercial services, and the decline in the economy which supports an increased level of interest in the feasibility of the entrepreneurial option. Several key informants however questioned whether additional loan funding from the EDP was needed considering other sources of funding and financing available. Key informants viewed EDP-funded services as likely to help reduce the number of business failures, either by discouraging a start-up that is likely to fail, or by providing business supports as the start-up grows and stabilizes.

The 2005 evaluation of the EDP noted that the total number of EDP loans issued by the Community Futures Organizations since 1999 was 615 and the annual number of loans declined from 152 in 1999-00 to 88 in 2003-04. Over the period of the current evaluation (2006 to 2010), the total number of loans issued by the Community Futures Organizations was 385, with the average annual number of loans issued being 77. About 48% of all the Community Futures Organizations did not issue any loans in 2009 and most of the Urban Delivery Agents reported carrying low or no loan portfolios. This could reflect either: 1) a declining trend in the use of the EDP loan service, although there is approximately $8 million in Community Futures Organizations available for lending; or 2) high level of losses. Key informants indicated that there was a fairly high level of referrals, but a small portion of clients continue past an initial formal or informal screening to apply for loans and other business related services.

The EDP was seen as the only service that specifically target entrepreneurs with disabilities by key informants. In providing EDP services, key informants indicated that there was some potential for duplication and overlap with other initiatives. Duplication and overlap exists with parts of the EDP (some disability organizations support entrepreneurship; many small business-serving organizations serve people with disabilities), but not directly with the EDP as a whole. The EDP also overlaps to an extent with WD’s micro-loan program; and with other sources of financing and business support that could be available for entrepreneurs with disabilities (e.g. Women’s Enterprise loans; Youth loans; Business Service Centres; Incubators; many web-based resources). Other areas of duplication and overlap mentioned by key informants included: (a) BC’s two funded credit unions overlap geographically with each other and with the Community Futures Organizations; (b) urban and rural delivery organizations may overlap when clients cross geographic boundaries. These situations were not viewed as problematic, because organizations coordinate to achieve efficiency and continuity in client service. In addition, internet-based resources for entrepreneurs with disabilities are increasingly available.

The EDP falls within the departmental program activity of Business Development under the sub-activities of Improve Business Productivity and Access to Capital. The EDP priorities are also linked to federal priorities as outlined in the Government of Canada’s document, “Advantage Canada: Building a Strong Economy for Canadians”. The goal of the program reflects the Government of Canada’s longstanding commitment to uphold and protect the rights of people with disabilities and to help them participate fully in society.

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Performance

In general, the interview data indicate that entrepreneurs with disabilities are benefiting from the program, are satisfied with the program and are achieving success as a result of the program. After the 2005 evaluation of the program, a series of performance indicators were developed to assess the results of the program. The link between some of the unique performance indicators and current departmental Program Activity Architecture (PAA) outputs and outcomes is unclear (e.g. the link between the PAA and # of partnerships or # of events sponsored). Indicators, such as number of business created/expanded/maintained, are lacking consistency in how they are reported between Urban Delivery Agents and Community Future Organizations. In addition, the EDP has been integrated into the normal operations of the Community Futures Organizations and the Urban Delivery Agents in most areas. These issues affected the data on performance that could solely be attributed to the EDP. For future renewal or extension of the EDP, the department should develop a comprehensive Performance Measurement Strategy with clearly defined performance indicators and explicit protocols for reporting.

Overall the EDP issued a total of 5751 loans from 2006 to the third quarter of fiscal 2010. Reliable data on loan default rates were not routinely collected; however, key informants and focus group participants indicated a high default rate of approximately 60%. Only 39% of survey respondents expressed a positive opinion that the EDP prevents client’s businesses from failing. Some key informants questioned the value of continuing the loan portfolio under the program.

Overall, the EDP was estimated to have created 1,614 jobs over the period evaluated. The majority of client survey respondents who started a business reported employing at least one person in addition to themselves, with the average being 3.4 employees. The majority of those who expanded their business through the EDP were able to employ at least one additional person, with an average of 4.9 employees.

The Urban Delivery Agents reported about 270 businesses created/expanded as a result of the EDP. The client survey respondents indicated that over 40% of respondents were unemployed or derived their income from other sources prior to accessing the EDP. Following participation in the EDP, roughly half of survey respondents indicated that they either started or expanded on a business which continues to operate. 37% of survey respondents indicated the EDP had a significant impact on their business.

The most significant result of the EDP was described as the “pre and post care” services offered by the EDP; the program reported almost 11,000 hours of counselling services. This service was viewed by almost all key informants as a very valuable aspect of the EDP supported advisory/training/ business services. Focus group participants supported this and further stated that as a result of this service, a high number of clients that applied for loans and went through with their applications were able to receive the loans. The approval rate for loans, as indicated by client survey respondents was quite high at 91%.

The EDP does not consume significant departmental resources for oversight or program management; the program was described as being efficient. Key informants indicated that the best feature of the program design was its flexibility. The most frequently identified challenge of the design, identified by key informants, was the lack of clarity around expectations, performance management, and inconsistency of program delivery from region to region. In comparing the EDP to other initiatives, the program was seen as a small program, with an annual overall budget of approximately $1.6 million. The comparative analysis concluded that the EDP has limited resources, and a fragmented service delivery network compared to other initiatives. It does not have a strong identity as an independent program due to the integration with other core services offered by the Community Futures Associations and the Urban Delivery Agents.

The EDP was found to be economical from several perspectives; it capitalized on the existing departmental network of Community Futures Organizations, and enhanced capacity to serve people with disabilities by way of the support and funding. The use of operating funds to support EDP activities was generally viewed as an effective use of resources by key informants.

Based on the decline in the loans service of the program and the continued need for business services, the department should determine its continued support and focus for the program. Although the findings question the need for the loan fund, the qualitative interview data indicates there is a need for the business services and support available only through the EDP. However, better performance measures are needed to quantify the utilization and impact of these business services.

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Recommendation

The following recommendations have been made based on the findings from all lines of evidence utilised in the evaluation.

Recommendation 1: The department should determine the extent and focus of any future renewal of the Entrepreneurs with Disabilities Program.

Recommendation 2: If the department plans to renew the Entrepreneurs with Disabilities Program, then the department should develop clear quantitative performance indicators for the program.