It all started with a simple idea: how to combine social responsibility with a model for business. As a trained lawyer and management consultant, Richard Derham understood the mechanics of the corporate world and managing others. What he needed next was to focus on a demographic in need of extra support, thus bringing a courier company staffed by at-risk youth — known as TurnAround Couriers — to life.
“We’re a business first and we’ve got a social mission second,” says Derham of the bicycle courier company based out of downtown Toronto (although they also offer car, truck, and van deliveries around the GTA).
Staffed by young people from 18 to 29 who are all recruited from shelters, missions, or youth employment services in Toronto, TurnAround also offers its staff the opportunity to complete their high school education or pursue college courses through George Brown College.
“TurnAround puts up the tuition fees for a course and then deducts them from the courier’s pay throughout the duration of the course, and then refunds them all of their money,” Derham explains. He adds that while in essence TurnAround pays for the courses, by having employees make deposits towards them, there is a stronger commitment towards the course’s completion. While course enrolment has been a mandatory facet of working for the company, Derham says that he recently modified the requirement so that it is no longer necessary, although strongly encouraged. “We definitely weren’t always seeing the candidates we could be seeing with this educational component in place,” he says, adding that they still favour candidates who are interested in pursuing courses.
Whether or not couriers are pursuing education, the chance at stable employment can mean more than just money; it also means the strengthening of self-esteem and future goals.
Derham cites one former employee, among other success stories, who after joining TurnAround enrolled in the Royal Military College. He then joined the Armed Forces, where he is still is employed. “We have worked with 170 youth so far, with a lot of people leaving us to go work for other courier firms or high rise window cleaning services,” says Derham. Regardless of their career trajectories, TurnAround offers a chance at stability for these young people to launch themselves into the workforce.
Now the third largest bicycle courier company in downtown Toronto, TurnAround has built lasting relationships with some of the city’s largest corporations including the Royal Bank of Canada, Stikeman Elliott LLP, and PricewaterhouseCoopers Canada. Derham hopes to continue to build these connections and expand the company’s reach. “We’re not asking for favours, we’re not looking for hand-outs. You want to help us out, use our services so we can hire more kids,” says Derham.
“If we are able to offer a business edge and we align with your social values, then why wouldn’t you switch?”
Derham rounds it out by adding that TurnAround “lives and dies” on the work they get from their customers and do not receive any grants or donations. They’re a business with the bonus of aiding vulnerable young people across the community.