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: