Realizing the Social Enterprise Dream

by Janet Kranz

I had the great good fortune to be at the Canadian Conference on Social Enterprise (SE) in Gatineau July 8 -10, 2019. It was a blast. I attended on behalf of Women’s Economic Council and was blown away by the loyalty, commitment and passion in the room.  We got up close and personal with community economic development (CED), met SE movers and shakers, shared WEC’s heart for women-centred CED, and discovered why SE is now an international movement.

Participants were there to ask questions, topple idols and dive deeper into the sticky stuff that attaches to any new idea. And it was a great way to learn about successes in SE. By the end of the conference I was pumped, one of many wondering what my organization could do to help social enterprise become the change it needs and wants to be. 

As I mull it over, here are my top five takeaways from what was essentially a marathon CED and SE brainstorm:

1. EDI

To really reap the benefits of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) the sector must develop rigorous EDI tools and processes. That way EDI will be integrated into each new initiative as it’s being developed. To be truly innovative and impactful – and make space for women and others facing barriers to access – social enterprise needs be disruptive at every stage in its evolution. And for women especially, that includes storming the finance, impact investing and scale-up barricades.

2. ROI

 The business case for social enterprise is powerful, but in the short-term costs are expected to be high. In the long run though, the return on investment (ROI) will be higher. There is powerful evidence that in communities where social enterprises already have a stronghold, people’s lives are changing for the better. Social and financial benefits are spread more equitably across the community, and more citizens reap benefits when economic growth is rooted in community well-being. 

3. Amalgamation

How do we find the amazing tools already out there? Along with the need to grow the sector’s digital capacity, SEs need a central place where tools are freely available.  (I’m searching for Ethel Coté’s free online guide for women-centred SE. Google isn’t getting me there!). 

4. Evaluation

many smart people are working to develop a common culture of evaluation for Canada’s social enterprise sector. Count me in! Definitions too. Everyone wants to nail them down because without a common understanding of what we’re talking about, we can’t evaluate progress. The other elephant in the room was values, as in whose values inform the way we look at social enterprise. Whose values are building the common evaluation framework we are so eager to have?

5. Common ground

None of us gets where we’re going without support. Funders help social enterprises grow. But funders, practitioners and social entrepreneurs are apparently meeting their own benchmarks and reporting back in different ways on disparate outcomes. This is where the rubber hits the road. How to reach common ground? What are the shared ideas, beliefs and practices that will build trust and move social enterprise forward as a holistic game-changer in Canada’s social economy? 

These are big questions and there’s no doubt we’re capable of finding solutions. 

Meanwhile, I want to acknowledge the progress we make now, thanks to the support we currently receive. Women’s Economic Council was able to attend this conference thanks to our funder, Department of Women and Gender Equality (WAGE).