Wednesday, January 23, 2013

The Cupcake Economy

Aiding and abetting the flourishment and nourishment of social enterprises should not rely on what I've coined the 'cupcake economy' yet I see a lot of examples of it.  On my personal blog awhile back I ranted on the issue. And just the other day I saw a posting for a part time job in Toronto for a sales representative to do promotion talks for a non-profit urban agriculture garden set up and maintainance service.  The advertisement indicated only that is was part time and didn't say how many hours were to be expected.  That alone was irritating.  After a demanding list of qualifications (previous sales experience being the really relevant bit) I got to the juicy cupcake-y bit:

So let's get this straight, in a city that has up to an 81 minute commute time (one way) I would be the lucky recipient of $20 if I spend a possible 162 minutes in my car and then 60 minutes presenting (or more, especially since you are itching for the $10 bonus that might cover half your gas).  Let's do the hourly wage math on that:  162 minutes + 60 minutes = 222 minutes or approximately 3.7 hours.  If we divide $20  by 3.7 that works out to a whopping $5.41/hour that will help fund the gas/insurance/capital costs of getting to these gigs. If you close the deal you'll bump that to a whopping $8.11/hr which is still 79% of Ontario's minimum wage. Benefits you ask?  We've got publicly funded health care, right? [Click here for the pdf of a thorough 2009 report that debunks the myth that the working poor having adequate health care.]

But long as your 'passionate about local food' that should make standing in the food bank line up easier and you'll have lots to talk about at the homeless shelter you sometimes shack up in because with those wages you sure aren't gonna be able to have a car, a home, AND food. The job description is pretty clear that the car is your priority if you sign up with these guys.

On a more serious note, the reality of the cupcake economy is large in a world where unemployed youth are scrambling to find meaningful work. The world wide crisis in youth unemployment and a move towards a secular western society (here's a recent American study on the growth of 'unaffiliated') are leaving large societal gaps that struggling new social enterprises are taking advantage of in droves.  If you're passionate about something it is all well and fine to volunteer some time towards the cause but be wary of enterprises that insult you with 'jobs' that are really volunteer positions that offer little to no honorarium (like most internships).

If a job doesn't at least meet a living wage, or if you are not clear about your own non-monetary benefits (as in, it would be good to do this abysmally or non paying job aka internship so I can learn how to promote my own similar social enterprise) - why would you take it? Be very wary. Cupcakes might be delicious but they are basically empty calories.

Our reliance on low paid or non paid work in the social enterprise 'industry' belittles the authority of the social enterprise movement in the long run. So, just like our bodies need good quality calories, our economy needs good quality jobs to move forward.  And just like good food costs more, good jobs do too.  Plan accordingly when mapping out your social enterprise. Ensure that employees receive a living wage from the start. Why should they invest social capital in your social enterprise otherwise?

(As an aside, I personally know the people who posted this job which is why I didn't publicly out them.  I believe they are earnest young social entrepreneurs but I am appalled at their lack of professionalism in the posting and the remuneration scheme.)


  1. I am still gobsmacked at the gall and arrogance of these profiteers taking advantage of desperation.

    Basically, they're looking at a donation. And calling it something else. Unfortunate for someone not so good with numbers.

    Cupcakery indeed.


  2. Pretty sure they aren't profiteering or trying to take malicious advantage of people.... I'm certain there's a better remuneration model for their slim resources, but knowing those involved they would not make this decision out of greed and are essentially good people. Growing a social enterprise is a struggle, and criticism on their decision should be accompanied with constructive suggestions.

    Could you recommend a better way for them to address renumeration?

    1. Thanks for your comment Evan.

      I beg to differ about the profiteering bit. If someone is getting a decent wage with benefits yet asking people to work for peanuts or free then it's pretty obviously profiteering one person in that equation.

      I will likely make this a series of posts in which yes, I will address renumeration options but for now I am delighted the conversation is starting.

      I repeat, I am not attacking any individuals or enterprises but why are social enterprises so quick to ask for volunteers instead of finding the funds for decent wages? Or costing out their offerings to reflect the value of work? There are lots of different explanations for this and I'll try to include interviews with Social Enterprise directors when I attempt to answer your very good question.

      Thanks again.


Manner alert: Don't speak with your mouth full.