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.

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