December 15th, 2012

Canadian Definition of Social Enterprise

December 15th, 2012

A distinctly Canadian narrative is needed for the growing conversation around social enterprise. Canada presents a unique ecosystem to this sector. Canada has differing procurement policies across multiple market-influencers, a history rooted in a $100 billion dollar nonprofit industry and a range of different social, environmental, historical, political, and cultural factors. What are the moving forces of social enterprise in the Canadian context?

As an introduction to the question, I would argue that the concept of social enterprise serves as a representation of the failure of traditional governing structures within which organizations are forced to function to accomplish their goals. Social enterprises can be found acting as a for-profit or non-profit, as a co-operative, mutual organization, or even as a charity. This is because they focus on outcomes and not the required structures to achieve those outcomes.

Social enterprise exemplifies a paradigm-shift from measuring success by profit-maximization to a triple-bottom line, where profit, environmental and social outcomes are all treated with equal importance. Moreover, these beliefs are not only found in their mission statement, but also embodied in the management of the enterprise itself, where traditionally marginalized communities now find themselves in a position of leadership. It is an opportunity for more sustainable independence and an alternative from the almost complete reliance on traditional funding models that have been systematically eroded and continue to diminish. However, it is not a broad-stroke solution to all of society’s challenges. It should be treated more as a current necessity, rather than the romanticized wonder that has recently been percolating.

Healthy living conditions, equity and equality, the environment, clean drinking water and access to food, social supports and other essentials that affect all of us should be collectively governed, and not left to any one sector. There are opportunities for collaboration between governments, businesses, and communities to make positive impacts; and currently these collaborations need the benefits of that only social enterprises can bring. While the world slowly mobilizes on these important issues, social enterprises are acting now. They will not wait for anyone, and those embracing their benefits are already seeing them payoff economically, environmentally and socially. Canada needs to expand corporate frameworks in order to leverage the benefits of this increasingly important sector.