Homegrown Business: Annalee Sawiak, CEO and Founder of Furniture Link Inc., is fueling the circular economy by connecting communities in need with furniture.
As a former accountant and passionate advocate for women in business, Annalee is unstoppable. Having worked in international tax and private equity, to teaching part-time at the University of Toronto, she is living proof that the sky is the limit when it comes to forging a career path for yourself.
The impetus for her most recent venture came after volunteering for five years at Furniture Bank in Toronto. It was here where she saw a missing link – and opportunity – to the poverty reduction strategy in Canada. Here, she talks about her business, Furniture Link Inc., and the important role that we all play in fueling the circular economy.
On the important role that Furniture Link Inc. plays in poverty reduction:
There are over 120 furniture banks in Canada and the United States that are working to address furniture poverty. Furniture banks are organizations that refurnish unwanted furniture before redistributing to families in need. Furniture Link Inc. hosts the Furniture Bank Network, an online community of these furniture bank charities. As part of the circular economy and zero waste initiative, we act as the facilitator that helps connect unwanted furniture from both homes and stores, with families who live in poverty.
Individuals and businesses are already paying for the removal of this unwanted furniture. Yet, without a proper system in place, this furniture goes directly to the landfill. With over 44 million people in North America living in poverty, we facilitate corporate partnerships for the furniture bank network in support of those assembling furnished homes. We are effectively making these relationships contractual so that charities can rely on a certain flow of goods and a certain cash flow from accepting these goods to pay for charity overheads.
Furniture Link is creating disruption in the charitable furniture space by allowing charities to deal with business in a way they haven’t been able to until now. This creates a flow of funds through fee sharing and a flow of goods that lets furniture banks operate like social enterprises. If you can’t predict your flow of goods, then it is becomes impossible to make a real impact.
On the Circular Economy and the Role Furniture Link Inc. Plays:
Furniture Link Inc. advocates for treating furniture as a separate waste stream, like plastics or food. As a member of the City of Toronto Circular Economy Working Group we have received great support from the Unit of Innovation Research and Circular Economy. I am also a member of the National Zero Waste Council. By striking deals with removal companies, such as 1-800-GOT-JUNK?, we are working towards a zero waste and complete circular economy. Ikea is leading the way in this sector with bold goals for circularity and sustainability and I am very excited to be collaborating with them.
Most recently, we have formed a collaboration with local government, transportation partner, Redwood Park Communities and Furniture Bank Toronto to launch a furniture bank in Barrie this August. Recent trials in Toronto with a local moving company since March 2019 have already diverted over 2,700 pieces of furniture to Furniture Bank Toronto helping furnish over 172 families in the Toronto area. Working with 1-800-Got-JUNK? in trial in 2018 we diverted 2,395 items of furniture and supplied over 165 families with furniture within 5 months.
We are also proud to be partnering with several Aboriginal organizations partners. Their value systems are very much aligned with ours; respect for the environment, and respect for the dignity of those who receive this furniture.
On the advice she would give other entrepreneurs who are trying to address important issues:
From my experience, I have learned that it is more important to listen more than you speak. I have always been a firm believer in surrounding yourself with smart, informed and passionate people. It’s important to be authentic, and to never compromise your personal integrity. For once this is lost, it is impossible to recover.
Always be respectful. It is the best brand you can build.