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Low-Income Entrepreneurs Can’t Do It Alone

Blog posts reflect the views of their authors.

Part II of a series on using entrepreneurship to alleviate poverty. You can read Part I here and Part III here.


For the business of a person living in poverty to be successful, the entrepreneur needs a strong support system.

We have two professional support systems here in Halifax that are focused on helping those living in poverty who are interested in wanting to start their own business.

Labour Market Agreement for Persons with Disabilities
The Labour Market Agreement for Persons with Disabilities program is a self-employment opportunity offered by the Nova Scotia Department of Community Services to those on Income Assistance and who have a disability.

Participants get 18 months to develop a business plan, and get their business up and running. The proposed business has to represent an ‘improved employment’ plan, and the participant has to be involved with an employment support worker plus a third party agent. A third party agent is usually a person who works outside the department who helps and supports the entrepreneur. Entrepreneurs with Disabilities Network often acts as a third party agent for clients who are going through this program.

Entrepreneurs with Disabilities Network
This local, not-for-profit organization has helped persons with disabilities start their own businesses free of charge since 1995. It offers support, networking and learning opportunities. It currently reports having about 600 members.

I spoke with Archie Gillis, the organization’s business counseling co-ordinator, to find out how many of Entrepreneurs with Disabilities Network’s members had successfully come out of poverty thanks to opening their own business.

Gillis said it is difficult to provide exact statistics on how many EDN members have moved from poverty to non-poverty. However, he added, it is very common that when they first approach EDN to try and set up a new business that they are living below what most would consider the poverty line.

Because of confidentiality agreements, Gillis couldn’t describe specific local businesses that were started by people who once lived in poverty. But he did offer these successful business ‘categories’ as examples: web development, construction, maintenance repair, graphic design, candy, cleaning and fitness.

Many times, businesses in the arts have less success at getting people out of poverty. These include: crafts, jewelry, photography and fine arts.

One such businessperson is Nancy Marshall.

Marshall is wheelchair-bound and living in poverty on Income Assistance. She had tried working in the regular job market for a very long time. She ended up turning to opening her own business because after she had applied to lots of places for work but no one would hire her. She is now a member of the Entrepreneurs with Disabilities Network. She makes greeting cards and writes poetry books.

Unfortunately, she has not been able to get out of poverty thanks to her business. Still, she keeps at it and remains confident. I think her example should encourage others to not only try starting a business but to stick to it despite difficulties.

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