Posted by Vinod Rajasekaran on February 26, 2012 |
Our society is faced with intractable social, environmental and cultural challenges. In addressing these challenges, social enterprises in Canada and around the world have made a transformational impact in areas that range from volunteerism and financial literacy to access to clean water and basic nutrition.
If you’re wondering what is a social enterprise – you’re not alone. The truth is, there is no universal or agreed upon definition across Canada.
What’s exciting to see is the increasingly blurring boundaries between the business sector and social sector – both new and established purely profit-driven businesses are increasingly integrating social responsibility into their core activities and the social sector is increasingly recognizing the importance of risk-taking and being financially sustainable.
Could we have the best of both worlds? Social enterprises actually blend the world of enterprise and the world of social change. Social entrepreneurs identify a pressing social issue and find enterprise opportunity to address it.
Since there is no universal definition (which can be frustrating at times), let me offer my take on what a social enterprise is: an organization that uses business strategies and market-oriented mechanisms to generate income from sale of services or goods in order to intentionally address a pressing societal challenge.
The qualifier, in my perspective, is two-fold.
1) exchange of value through sale of services or goods is essential – as this is what makes an enterprise, an enterprise, and;
2) the intention – a social enterprise is intentionally in business to tackle a social issue. And addressing this social problem is not predicated upon sales targets or is something that happens post-profit. It is part and parcel of the business model.
Social enterprises, in my mind are “structure agnostic” – they can be structured as co-operatives (farmers markets), non-profits (Goodwill) for-profits (Participant Media) – or have a hybrid structure. There is much debate in Canada on the “ideal structure” of a social enterprise – and I would argue that all structures must be encouraged and supported equally as the end goal is driving better social outcomes – and all structures can harness the power of new ideas to solve social problems.
Contrary to popular belief, social enterprise is not a new concept. These types of “public benefit corporations” have been around for decades, and most Canadians have come into contact with them – museums, the YMCA and farmers markets are all social enterprises before the term became widely used.
However, in the last 10 years, Canada and countries around the world have seen a re-emergence in social enterprises. Networks like Ashoka and Skoll Foundation identify, mobilize and invest in high-potential socially driven entrepreneurial talent from around the world. A number of universities such as Cape Breton University, Univerisite du Quebec, University of Waterloo, and Simon Fraser University offer courses and degrees focused on social enterprise. Social innovation incubators like the Hub with a worldwide network of 35 locations, have incubated hundreds of social startups.
Enough to whet your appetite? If you’re just starting your social entrepreneurship journey, are an established social entrepreneur or just have an active interest in social innovation, these are some blogs I recommend:
- Beyond Profit (www.beyondprofitmag.com)
- Social finance (www.socialfinance.ca)
- Stanford Social Innovation Review (www.ssireview.org)
- World-changing (www.worldchanging.com)
- Social Innovation Generation (www.sigeneration.ca)
Co-Founder & Managing Director of
@HubOttawa. social ventures.youth-led change.creative spaces.dialogue.design.
Ottawa, Canada · http://www.hubottawa.wordpress.com