A community fragmented


A community fragmented

A few months ago when I began speaking to nonprofit social enterprises, it became apparent they felt disconnected from the broader social enterprise sector.

A few days ago when I spoke to an impact investor, it became apparent they felt disconnected from the broader social enterprise sector.

What is the social enterprise sector? Who’s a part of it, and who isn’t? Why is this something we’re still not sure of?

This uncertainty is astonishing, but not entirely surprising. It echoes another of the challenges that Social Enterprise Toronto members have mentioned – confusion about who the different sector stakeholders are. While there are many stakeholders in the world of social enterprise, it’s not always clear how they fit together and what their roles are. For a social enterprise manager who is struggling to deliver a high quality product while managing employees and trying to reach new customers, it can seem like a lost cause.

This fragmentation is neither new nor hidden – it’s a topic that has come up in both public and private conversations for years. There have been several attempts to address it, too – most significantly, in the form of funders rewarding collaboration. However, there are still too many gaps between different actors.

Social Enterprise Toronto is trying to bridge these gaps by building partnerships, whether in the social services sector (the topic of our last blog post) or in the social enterprise sector. We recently had a great conversation with the School for Social Entrepreneurs – Ontario, which runs learning programs and helps develop leaders in social enterprise.

You would think we are already work together.

You would be wrong.

There is rich irony that there is precious little community to be found amongst organizations that work for the community. And it applies across the board if actors from both the non-profit and for-profit sides of the aisle are feeling disconnected. Let’s look to the future and think about how we can get to a community un-fragmented.

The first step? Building relationships and making connections. And what better place to do it than the Social Enterprise Toronto Conference 2016?

Get your tickets today to connect with over a hundred likeminded champions of social enterprise. 

This post is part of the Sector Dialogue series, supported by the Metcalf Foundation.

Photo credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/nvbr11/20733518066/


Social enterprises act as trampolines, not just safety nets


Social enterprises act as trampolines, not just safety nets

Remember what you can’t see: 1 in 3 children in Toronto are below the poverty line.

That means that if you’re in grade 2 and look left and right, one of you is suffering from poverty and food insecurity. It’s part of the shameful reality that we don’t recognize for most of the year – which also includes issues like Toronto’s affordable housing waitlist and abysmal access to child care.

This week is a little different because Toronto’s 2016 budget hearings are underway, and so there is an opportunity for citizens to urge City Council to meaningfully invest in the issues they hold dear. This ongoing budget process is a good opportunity to look at how social enterprises connect to social services and can make a real difference.

Social services in Toronto play a critical role but remain deeply underfunded and the fraying safety net has been struggling to meet community needs for a long time. The level of need has grown even as resources grow scarce – all levels of government face budgetary challenges. We have to confront the reality that a safety net is not enough. Helping people survive poverty shocks and other challenges provides temporary stability but not the source of income that is needed for real security.

Jobs and training provide the mechanism through which people can get back on their feet. They reduce reliance on publicly funded welfare and build community wealth. This is why access to employment and decent work are such critical issues. It’s why all politicians in Canada talk about creating jobs.

Pottery from Inspirations Studio

Pottery from Inspirations Studio

Social enterprises link the poverty reduction agenda to the job creation agenda.

Social Enterprise Toronto members likeHawthorne Toronto, run by the Hospitality Workers Training Centre, provide training and employment that build real resilience in communities. They take advantage of the market – in this case, by providing delicious local food – and help governments consider alternative funding options. The Inspirations Studio and Spun Studio sell beautiful handcrafted pottery and clothing produced by marginalized, homeless and low-income women. A-Way Couriers provides meaningful employment for survivors of mental health challenges.

These social enterprises are providing a trampoline – not just a safety net. They’re helping people bounce up and share the growing prosperity in Toronto through providing an income. This is why it’s so important to link social services and social enterprises – funders can realize multiplier effects through doing so.

A safety net is not enough. Community resilience is like a trampoline – that’s what’s needed so that all children in Toronto enjoy regular access to food, shelter, and opportunity.

If you’d like to get involved in the city budget process, this week is the best time to get involved. Learn more by watching the video below:


The first line is from Jane Mercer of the Toronto Coalition for Better Childcare, and the metaphor of community resilience as a trampoline is from Adriana Beemans of the Metcalf Foundation.
If you’re interested in a humorous conversation about welfare and charity, you might enjoy this talk from Slavoj Zizek at the RSA a few years ago: First As Tragedy, Then As Farce.
While there are a number of initiatives addressing unemployment, we especially love the work ofSocial Capital Partners, which works on addresses Canada’s employment challenges by harnessing social finance and social enterprise.

This post is part of the Sector Dialogue series, supported by the Metcalf Foundation.

Photo credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/barbourians/6710541783/



My one wish for social enterprise in 2016


My one wish for social enterprise in 2016

Here’s my one wish for social enterprise in 2016: that community is at its heart.

What this means is that all of the work done by and for social enterprises should be centred around “the aspirations and assets of a community”, as a SET member so wonderfully put to me recently.


It may seem like an unnecessary wish – aren’t social and environmental goals at the heart of social enterprise work anyway? Isn’t this work all about improving the lives of people today and tomorrow?

In theory, yes. But only rarely in practice, when we look at the daily reality of much of the work that falls under ‘social enterprise’. Most conversations around social entrepreneurship and social innovation are conducted without any sign of people who really face the challenges we seek to address. To a lesser extent this is true of social entrepreneurs as well, particularly those who choose to focus on social return over financial profit.

There are many reasons for this exclusion, but one in particular is worth mentioning. That is the lack of definition around what we mean by social enterprise. This has been hotly debated and has been helpful in growing the field – but lack of clarity hurts both enterprises and investors when making key decisions. A nonprofit board member and potential impact investor both see risk in fuzziness, and as a result promising ideas die because of lack of support and funding (often a cyclical relationship).

This trend has also led to a patchwork quilt of social enterprise support initiatives that is bewildering for even experienced professionals to navigate – all too frequently, people don’t know who to turn to for advice, funding and other support. (Poor collaboration is a different, although equally pressing, topic altogether.) The marketplace has steadily evolved in sophistication, with social enterprises and intermediaries addressing (almost) all kinds of needs and at every level. But how many industry associations can we point to?

Who speaks for social enterprise?

Who speaks to social enterprises?

Who speaks to the people who are supposedly benefiting?

We already know social enterprises can and often are already fighting poverty, providing decent work, fostering dignity. Arguably, inclusive prosperity is not just a local but also global challenge and we can make real links between marginalization and widespread dissatisfaction. “Social enterprise” is not and should never be thought of as a silver bullet, but it holds the promise to make a real difference. That promise is let down when we think social enterprise is just about revenue generation, and also when we make our conversations so inaccessible that they are closed to all but a rarefied segment.

So here’s my one wish for 2016: let’s make our work about the lived experiences of those we seek to support.

This post is part of the Sector Dialogue series, supported by the Metcalf Foundation.

Photo credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/astrid/18478601531/


Persistent challenges for social enterprises: takeaways from the Social Finance Forum


Persistent challenges for social enterprises: takeaways from the Social Finance Forum

At the Social Finance Forum last week at MaRS, we had the opportunity to bring together a number of social enterprises to reflect on Enterprising Change and talk about the challenges they face, as well as their strategies for addressing them. Here are some of the highlights from the session organized jointly by SET and CCEDnet.

Access to capital

Dan Kershaw, Executive Director of Furniture Bank, led a roundtable of social enterprises and impact investors that discussed the following topics:

  • The pros and cons of incorporating as a nonprofit social enterprise – it really depends on the business model. Some organizations find it helpful to remain a nonprofit, while others find that the for-profit model opens up more doors.
  • Despite years of field-building work by a number of organizations, we still can’t take it for granted that enterprises and investors would understand each other – they’re often ‘speaking a different language’
  • Social enterprises find that investors often have very traditional thinking. Non profit enterprises, in particular, have to keep telling the story to find non-traditional thinking
  • Investors have found that emerging social enterprises would benefit from greater financial expertise; for example, some enterprises don’t know how to do valuations properly

Tools & resources

The last point on expertise was echoed on the second table, where Ellen Martin, Co-founder of MySojo, facilitated a large group of social enterprises and intermediaries that shared the following:

  • Capacity remains an issue for social enterprises, especially if there is poor succession planning. Managers get promoted because of their strong work with communities, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they have strong governance, financial management or marketing skills.
  • Professional development and credentialing for social enterprise managers would be helpful – a number of people would be interested in a six-week program that provided business management skills.
  • There is a dearth of mentors and coaches for social entrepreneurs
  • While there are a number of resources available, such as the Social Entrepreneur’s Playbook, they need to be more accessible and adapted as enterprises might use them in a wide range of contexts.
  • Getting to know the jargon of social enterprise can be challenging – and when you’ve done so, ensuring that all the stakeholders are using ’shared language’ is critical.

Sales & marketing

Robert Meinzer of Options Mississauga was leading the conversation around sales and marketing, which took a slightly different tack.

  • The social mission doesn’t always play well – potential supporters, partners and investors sometimes think that you’re bringing up the social mission to compensate for a poor business. So enterprises have to be careful when speaking about their work.
  • At the same time, SEs are not always great at capturing their success and presenting it to the outside world. Past SET research has shown that few SEs have marketing staff, and up to 50% don’t even have a marketing budget
  • An interesting takeaway was that SEs don’t always understand their customers – and it is important to distinguish between the communities they serve (which for SET members often means the people they train and employ) and their customers.
  • There is a need to develop strong, relevant industry partnerships that can overcome entrenched thinking about social enterprises.

Readers, what are other challenges you are aware of? How can we work to address them? Share your comments!

Sector Dialogue series supported by the Metcalf Foundation.


Social enterprises in Ontario: Opportunities abound


Social enterprises in Ontario: Opportunities abound

Ontario’s social enterprise sector is dynamic and growing rapidly, as described in Enterprising Change: Report of the 2015 Social Enterprise Survey for Ontario.

597 social enterprises (SEs), both non-profit and for-profit, reported to a team of researchers creating significant economic and social impact across a diverse range of industries. The report finds a great deal of momentum, but also highlights challenges that are worth considering.

Creating jobs, contributing to the Ontario’s economy

Social enterprises in Ontario employed at least 12,000 people in 2014, more than half of which were full-time equivalents. They earned over $380 million dollars of revenue through the sale of goods and services alone.

These are just cold, hard, numbers. But they don’t even begin to capture the vibrancy of what these sales lead to, the importance of what this work means to so many people. The overwhelming majority of SE work in, and draw from, the local community. They engage with tens of thousands of volunteers and provide training and employment to people from marginalized backgrounds. Half of them have a focus on poverty. These organizations are doing work that matters.

Uncertainty amidst opportunity

Despite the increasing success of SEs across the province, challenges persist that need greater attention.

Access to capital remains a significant barrier to development, although the growth of the social finance ecosystem has clearly made a difference. Only a quarter of non-profit SEs receive loans (although this number has gone up by 150% since 2012, indicating greater risk tolerance from both SEs and impact investors). For-profit SEs are more able to use loans, with 68% of them reporting loans in 2014. Even more promisingly, most of these loans came from banks, credit unions and corporations, not private investors. This indicates greater institutional investment flowing into social enterprises.

Brand recognition and awareness is another area of concern – one that 40% of nonprofit SEs and 65% of for-profit SEs battle with. A common perception is that social enterprises have inferior products, but organizations lack the marketing muscle to change the image. The lack of a common understanding around social enterprise also poses challenges when it comes to recruiting skilled staff and accessing funding.

Finally, many SEs feel like they lack the human and technological resources with which to make things happen. When it comes to human resources, the challenge is not just finding high-quality workers but also finding funding to pay salaries and succession planning. As technology requirements change, SEs are increasingly concerned about having up-to-date infrastructure and information technology. Many SEs have highlighted the need for more capacity building resources, such as online manuals and offline workshops.

Join us this Thursday at the Social Finance Forum at MaRS Discovery District as we discuss these challenges. In an interactive session led by and for social enterprises, we’ll develop recommendations for enabling growth. We look forward to your insights!

This session is being organized by Social Enterprise Toronto and the Canadian CED Network

Note: Originally posted on SocialFinance.ca: http://socialfinance.ca/2015/11/10/social-enterprises-in-ontario-opportunities-abound/

Sector Dialogue series supported by the Metcalf Foundation.


Let’s talk about the social enterprise sector


Let’s talk about the social enterprise sector

Remember, remember the Fifth of November,
The Gunpowder Treason and Plot,

I know of no reason
Why the Gunpowder Treason
Should ever be forgot.

Social enterprises have a good reason for remembering the Gunpowder Plot: it’s a well known example of a time when someone was dissatisfied with the status quo (immortalized by Hugo Weaving, even if the movie had it’s share of flaws). Now I’m not suggesting for a moment that social enterprises should instigate a revolution – although some might be interested in it, and others yet may be peeved at the notion that they are not, in fact, revolutionary. But even as social enterprise enters the mainstream, maybe it is time to shake things up a little bit – to step back and question where we are going.

Social entrepreneurship has steadily grown in popularity around the world over the last two decades. The idea of leveraging the market to deliver social value and community benefit is neither new nor uniform – a thousand iterations have bloomed, varying in scope, scale, purpose, sector and approach. The lack of clear definitions and boundaries has helped fertilize broad and diverse growth.

As always, though, this growth has not been coordinated, and the fruits have not been distributed evenly. For all the funding and efforts of so many, it’s hard to see an integrated social enterprise ecosystem in place, a set of institutions that work together to enable a marketplace. It’s a core challenge that social enterprises today face, and something Social Enterprise Toronto is interested in exploring.

So today, with this post that you’re reading right now, we’d like to invite you to a conversation about social enterprise in the Greater Toronto Area. Where are we today? What’s worked, what hasn’t? Where do we go from here, and how do we get there?

This is not a call to rehash old debates. It’s our call for an open dialogue, with blog posts being just one of the many ways we want to talk to you.

We’re interested in learning from a fairly broad group of social enterprises, even though most SET members have a focus on providing employment and training. Has the movement lived up to its hopes and dreams in establishing social enterprises that achieve a social mission? How many successful enterprises do we have that truly support low-income and marginalized people, those who face the greatest barriers in our society?

There is history to honour here. Several Social Enterprise Toronto members have been using market-based mechanisms for decades (think of A-Way Couriers, established in 1987 by survivors of mental health challenges and sometimes referred to as the first social enterprise in Toronto). And they’ve evolved over the years, just as SET itself has (with its name change from Social Purpose Enterprise Network being only one example). We want to listen to those who’ve been around for a while…and we want to listen to those who are just joining us.

(Fun fact: the 2015 Social Enterprise Survey from CCEDNet notes that poverty-focused enterprises account for much of the growth since 2012.)

With your input, we want to voice a vision for the sector that can serve the needs of social enterprises in a cohesive manner.

If you’re a social enterprise reading this, you’re leading this conversation (through the SET Steering Committee). Expect to hear from us soon. Or feel free to reach out directly. If there’s one thing we want to do over the next six months, it’s amplifying your voices.

If you’re interested in the sector – whether as supporter, funder, cheerleader – we’d love to hear your perspectives.

We want you to be a part of this conversation. Tell us what you think in the comments, be part of our Tweetchats, come to our events. Follow us onTwitter, like us on Facebooksign up for our newsletter – whatever you prefer.

Remember, remember this Fifth of November. We’re plotting our way to a better social enterprise sector. Fireworks await.

This is the first post of the Sector Dialogue series, supported by the Metcalf Foundation.

Photo credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/bradrobb/20071703471/



The Social Procurement Intermediary: The State of the Art & its Development in the GTHA


The Social Procurement Intermediary: The State of the Art & its Development in the GTHA

The Learning Enrichment Foundation has released a research-based report that critically examines the state of social procurement in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area (GTHA), through the lens of global social procurement movements. Researchers Cameron Revington, Robyn Hoogendam and Andrew Holeton specifically study the potential role of a social procurement intermediary – a broker or matchmaker between suppliers and purchasers. How might social purchasing progress if there were an intermediary connecting the purchasing power of businesses, governments and nonprofit organizations with the productivity of social enterprises in the GTHA?


The findings show that social procurement intermediaries in other parts of the globe increase opportunities for social enterprises to engage in larger contracts and tenders. They also increase the visibility of the social enterprise sector. The report maps out the features that are essential in an intermediary. Finally, the report identifies challenges relating directly to the social procurement intermediary and the local sphere
in which the intermediary would operate, and makes recommendations to address them. The issues and considerations identified are specific to the GTHA but have transferable learning to others studying similar goals.

This report was made possible by the generous support of the George C. Metcalf Foundation’s Inclusive Local Economies program.

Full Report

Executive Summary



The Social Purchasing Project

Note: This blog post from February 2015 is now out of date. Visit the Social Purchasing Project website at http://socialpurchasingproject.org/.

social Purchasing Project

The Social Purchasing Project aims to build capacity and elevate the profile of social enterprises within the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area (GTHA) by connecting enterprises with public and private sector purchasers.

Currently, the Project is working to develop a set of criteria that will allow social enterprises to be recognized as diverse suppliers. The Project is now in consultation with corporate partners to identify the requirements social enterprises must meet to become certified diverse suppliers.

Concurrently, the Social Purchasing Project is developing a capacity assessment tool that will help social enterprises evaluate their operational and organizational capacity and identify their strengths and areas that need improvement. The assessment tool includes a tender-ready component, which will assist enterprises in preparing for tender-ready certification.

When successful, the two-pronged approach of supplier diversity, along with the tender-ready certification will open up doors for social enterprises to do business with larger businesses, corporations, and the public sector. These include opportunities with the Pan Am/Para Pan Am Games and the Metrolinx Eglinton Crosstown LRT construction.

Over the coming weeks, the Project will be working with SET members and other social enterprises to test out the tender-readiness checklist. Any social enterprises interested in further information, including testing out the tools and helping to develop the final product are encouraged to get in touch with us. Please email Jon Harstone at jonharstone@sympatico.ca or Alexandra Djukic atadjukic@lefca.org.

Social Purchasing Project is a joint initiative of United Way Toronto, the Government of Ontario and the Government of Canada to support the social enterprise sector.


2015 Canadian Conference on Social Enterprise


2015 Canadian Conference on Social Enterprise


Social Enterprise Toronto and the Social Purchasing Project will be attending the 2015 Canadian Conference on Social Enterprise, the fifth annual social enterprise conference to be held in Canada.

SET members are strongly encouraged to join us in London, Ontario for three exciting days of training and work sessions, networking opportunities, speakers and dynamic, interactive events. Don’t miss local social enterprise tours and stories, opportunities to learn and share, government and private sector engagement models, and workshops on governance, scaling and measuring impact!

Jointly presented by the Canadian Council on Social Enterprise and Pillar Nonprofit Network, the conference is set to take place April 22-24, 2015.

Register Now

Register As An Exhibitor

Read the Agenda

If you would like to organize ride-share opportunities with other SET members, please contact Mehnaz Rahman at mrahman@lefca.org.



Customer Service & Social Customer Relationship Management for SPEs Presentation

Interpreter Services Toronto (IST) received a professional development grant from TEF  to take 2 courses. They are now presenting their learnings to TEF members, and they would like to invite SET members as well. The presentation is free. If you are interested in attending, please RSVP with Shannon Giannitsopoulou at s.giannit@schliferclinic.com.

Please see below for details:

Customer Service & Social Customer Relationship Management for SPEs Presentation

Date: Friday, February 6, 2015

Time: 2:00 pm -3:00 pm

Address: 489 College Street, 5th floor

Room: #503 Group Room

Summary of the Presentations:

Social Customer Relationship Management

As digital marketing management is at the center of a revolution in marketing, fostering customer engagement is more important than ever.  Social CRM (Customer Relationship Management) is a business strategy that utilizes the active participation of customers via social media services, techniques and technology. Learn how Interpreter Services Toronto improved its marketing effectiveness and increased profits with efficient use of limited resources through social CRM strategies.

Customer Service

Excellent customer service skills are required to succeed in today’s business environment. Providing service that consistently exceeds the customers’ expectations is both challenging and rewarding. Learn the skills, steps and strategies Interpreter Services Toronto implemented to achieve high levels of customer satisfaction!

About Interpreter Services Toronto (IST)

Interpreter Services Toronto (IST) is committed to interpretation and translation of the highest quality, because we know it changes lives. With a roster of 300 interpreters and over 200 languages, IST provides exceptional, professional interpretation and translation services to health, legal, business, government and other organizations in the GTA 24-hours a day, 7-days a week. IST offers Immediate Over-the-phone Interpretation as member of the R.I.O. Network.  IST is a social purpose enterprise, and therefore we focus on two bottom lines – business performance and social outcomes. Our intensive training process equips immigrant and refugee women with the skill, certification, confidence and independence to become professional Language Interpreters and vital members of the community.


Thriving or Surviving – Social Enterprises in the GTA


Thriving or Surviving – Social Enterprises in the GTA

This is a comprehensive study on social enterprises in the Greater Toronto Area. The research covers key areas of interest to social enterprises practitioners, including marketing practices, an overview of food-based enterprises and opportunities for collaboration, and start up stories.

The study findings are based on in-depth surveys of 32 social enterprises in the GTA. This initiative was designed to deliver practical findings and facilitate actions to strengthen the work of the sector.

To read the report, please click on the individual section of the report. The full report is also available below to read or download.

Executive Summary – Provides the key survey findings

Introduction – Describes overview of social enterprise sector, research initiatives, definition of a social enterprise, methodology, process, and comments on results

Setting the Context – Includes analysis on age, mission, business sector, population served, desired outcomes, business planning, and growth needs

Marketing Practices – Includes analysis of marketing goals, budget, marketing/communications planning, utilized tools, competition and customers, and best practices.

Food-based Enterprises – Includes analysis on employees and participants, skills training, business operations, growth needs, and collaboration opportunities

Start-up Stories – Includes discussion on key people who started and/or took the social enterprise off the ground, funding and growth challenges, and needed types of support


Full Report – Entire 79 page report (includes all of the above sections)