How successful is Canadian social entrepreneurship?

By Lennox Farrell Wednesday September 25 2013 in Opinion
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According to the Canadian Social Entrepreneurship Foundation (CSEF), ‘the job of a social entrepreneur is to recognize when a part of society is stuck and to provide new ways to get unstuck.’


Furthermore, ‘the Social Entrepreneur finds what is not working and solves the problem by changing the system, spreading the solution and persuading entire societies to take new leaps’.


In our communities, what is not working? What is? Church is working. Regardless of the denominational base, Black churches are full of members, participation, and clout. What is not working could be a large section, especially youth and women who are unemployed, under-employed or unemployable.


In considering the possible role governments and corporations could play and are playing in the areas of social entrepreneurship, or social enterprises, much of the following is based on an article, ‘Will Canada Lead In Fostering Social Entrepreneurship?’ It was written, April 2013 by Craig and Marc Kielburger in the Huffington Post.


They cite successful social entrepreneurship as it exists in theU.K.One of these is about the Clink Restaurant inSurrey,England. It serves a high-brow clientele with high-class cuisine. The article continues, ‘that whileCanadaspends billions annually on prison building, maintenance without reducing recidivism in its prison population, this Surrey Restaurant is staffed by convicts. These are both recently and currently incarcerated.’


This restaurant is the training centre for a social enterprise for inmates at the local High Down prison. The Restaurant trains, certifies and links convicts to full-time, post-release employment in the hospitality and culinary industries. Moreover, the Civic Restaurant is only one of hundreds of such enterprises associated with the ‘Skoll World Forum’.


This forum is an arm of the Skoll Foundation. It is a social entrepreneurship foundation based inSilicon Valley,California. Its mission is to drive large-scale change by investing in, connecting with and celebrating social entrepreneurs and other innovators dedicated to solving the world’s most pressing problems. Primary among these is unemployment and its derivatives of housing, social marginalizing, etc.


This foundation invests in social entrepreneurs through its annual ‘Skoll Award for Social Entrepreneurship’. It also makes grants to support ‘the ecosystem around social entrepreneurs’, including the ‘Skoll Centre for Social Entrepreneurship’ atOxford University,England. It connects social entrepreneurs through its online community ‘Social Edge’, as well as via the annual ‘Skoll World Forum’ on Social Entrepreneurship’.


The article written by Craig and Marc Kielburger was to mark the 2013 world forum held inOxford,England. According to the article, the performance – or lack thereof – here by Canadian elected and other officials is costly, both financially and socially.


By comparison, even theU.S., well known for its extreme rates of imprisonment and the like, is ahead ofCanadain finding ways to reduce recidivism through increasing opportunities for meaningful employment. Which is interesting aboutCanada’s relative non-involvement is that the founder, globally, of the Social Entrepreneurship Enterprise is Jeff Skoll, owner of eBay (1999). He is a Canadian.


In the U.S., given the ‘miracles in changing lives’, and as well in creating successful, self-sustaining businesses, nine states have legislation allowing for Low-Profit Limited Liabilities Companies (L3Cs). By comparison, only two Canadian provinces,British ColumbiaandNova Scotia, are developing ‘regulatory processes to support social enterprises’. These are expected to come into effect this year.


The main advantage of these L3Cs corporations in theU.S.’is the public recognition that these businesses must operate for a social purpose. Consumers increasingly seek to make a difference outside traditional charitable giving, namely through their everyday consumer choices’.


In short, setting up clear regulations tells consumers which companies are providing products or services; that is, legally investing a portion of their profits toward solving societal problems. These L3Cs enterprises can raise capital and are taxed like regular businesses. However, ‘their assets and surpluses must be dedicated to their social purposes instead of going to maximize profits.


In short, as the two writers state, ‘by not maximizing these possibilities, Canada and Canadians trail other countries in taking full advantage of this burgeoning, win-win movement that merges smart business sense with the pursuit of a better world. The ideas and the people are ready to go, but our governments hold us back’.


All is not lost, however. Social entrepreneurship and social enterprise are not an unfamiliar concept inCanada. Cities likeOttawa,Winnipeg,VancouverandTorontohave institutions dedicated to these enterprises. There is the B.C. Centre for Social Enterprise and others like the Groupe Convex. Both of these train and hire people who face ‘barriers to employment’. Another, the Atira Property Management Inc., ‘donates all its profits to organizations (dedicated to ending) violence against women.


InToronto, there is the Social Enterprise Council of Canada; the Canadian Social Entrepreneurship Foundation, the Social Entrepreneurship Consortium, Inc., Enterprising Non-Profits Toronto, etc. Many of these assist in providing funding, and/or support in finding funding, creating business plans, information on how guidelines from Canada Revenue Agency are to be used, etc. There is no lack of support and advice for anyone willing to undertake these needed tasks.


But the potential is still much greater. In theUK, by comparison, there are 7,000 of these enterprises operating sustainable businesses. In theU.S.there are more than 700. According to Craig and Marc Kielburger, ‘In addition to setting up a similar regulatory structure to those jurisdictions, the Canadian government could also give preferential treatment for social enterprises that are tackling social ills. Preferential treatment could include preferred bidding for government contracts or easier access to start-up capital or loans.’


Finally, is the area and opportunities for social entrepreneurship an area where theBlackChurchcan function? Can our Cleric, be they Christian, Jewish, Muslim and others partner with some of these institutions, or create opportunities which will both do business as well as make a difference in the lives of our marginalized individuals and communities?

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