In 1997, Western Economic Diversification (WED) created a targeted loans fund for persons with disabilities starting or growing small businesses. Named the Entrepreneurs with Disabilities Program (EDP), this fund is unique and only available in Canada’s four western Provinces. The EDP loans program recognizes that individuals with disabilities or chronic health conditions may experience barriers in accessing conventional business financing.
Since 1997, the Community Futures network has delivered the EDP loans program to rural Western Canadian entrepreneurs who self disclose a disability or ongoing health condition. In the Province of BC, 32 independent Community Futures Development Corporations deliver the EDP with support provided by their membership organization, Community Futures British Columbia.
As a grass roots membership organization, Community Futures British Columbia works with the 34 BC Community Futures offices to respond to the actions they identify as important and access the resources they require to be effective in their local community economic development initiatives.
When the EDP was created, Community Futures British Columbia assembled a stakeholder task force to support the BC Community Futures network in delivering EDP; the purpose being to promote a shared committment to help bring about greater participation of people with disabilities through small business development. This taskforce of Community Futures staff, volunteers and Provincial Disability partners has guided the delivery of the EDP since inception.
In 2005, the rural BC EDP Program was enhanced through centralized coordination provided by Community Futures British Columbia. The Program grew to include pre and post loan support to assist people who may need additional services and supports to effectively launch or expand their businesses. Through EDP support, more individual and localized assistance became available to entrepreneurs with disabilities and the Community Futures offices working with them.
Over time, the EDP has benefited the BC Community Futures network by increasing awareness and addressing perceived and apparent barriers faced by entrepreneurs with disabilities. EDP support has enabled the network to:
- provide assistance and access to business development advice, training and loans for entrepreneurs with disabilities
- deliver research and marketing initiatives
- offer specialized disability awareness training to the people of the Community Futures network
- facilitate creative partnerships and initiate regional projects
- gain community involvement and access adaptive/assistive equipment and resources