Hamilton social service reps get intrapreneurial
Time is ripe for social enterprise, they understand
Friday June 15, 2012 -- Michelle Strutzenberger
A city’s greatness is manifest in her people being confident in their ability to take risks; to encounter; to share with each other; to speak with each other in the casual grace of citizens not self-conscious of norms and predictability: Pier Giorgio Di Cicco
HAMILTON, Ont. - Turning into the venue of a discussion on social enterprise yesterday, I was intrigued to note I was coming off a street lined with mom and pop shops, their colourful fronts proudly reminding passersby of the business they had to offer, promising better things for both themselves and their customers.
I was about to step into a room where a group of about 40 social service representatives would be looking to understand what a version of that very tool — goods and services in exchange for a fee — might do to strengthen their organization’s sustainability as an auxiliary source of funds, while helping to create meaningful change in the lives of marginalized populations they work with.
Social enterprise is not new. Ontario has a mature social enterprise ecology, with almost half the non-profits engaged. One in five has been operating for over 25 years, and one third of non-profits plan to start a social enterprise in the next three years.
What is new is the environment.
As the first speaker for the day’s discussion, Adam Spence of the Toronto-based Social Venture Exchange, noted, it used to be we could depend on charity and government to take care of the bulk of our system’s most pressing social concerns.
Today, the likelihood of both those entities being our main benefactors is way down. Government debt worldwide is at 44 trillion dollars, in Canada it’s at one trillion. Finance minister Jim Flaherty’s newly announced austerity approach, including its five to 10 per cent cuts across programs is another factor to consider.
There is also a continued downward trend in contributions to charities.
On the other hand, impact investing is seeing an increase. More foundations and government are interested in social finance. They want to see business models that are able to generate financial return and impact. Canada currently has two billion dollars in assets in social finance. This is projected to grow to more than $30 billion in the next 10 years.
Another element likely to increasingly influence the social services sector: the work of Bishop William Lawrence University Professor professor Michael Porter, who is pioneering a framework for businesses to deliver shared value, not just economic return.
Spence noted as businesses answer this call in practical terms, non-profits could find themselves with new allies in those businesses, not just teams that come for a day and help deliver canned goods, for instance, but companies that can be part of driving a larger change agenda from their own aligned core missions.
The heightened interest in social enterprise in Hamilton also stems from the growing number of people accessing social services. Amongst other reasons, the city’s increasing reputation as a strong social service hub appears to be attracting transient populations from nearby communities, most notably Toronto.
Given all these realities, the more than 40 social service representatives in the room yesterday have recognized the need and opportunity to be innovative and creative like never before, and social enterprise as a tool to do that.
In the one-day event they got a snapshot of social enterprise assets and resources to tap in the province. They also heard insights from executive director Jennifer Hope of the Toronto-based charity non-profit, the Common Ground Co-operative Inc, which provides administrative and on-the-job support to five separate social enterprises.
Trivaris CEO Mark Chamberlain contextualized the day’s discussion from a community transformation perspective, noting this work must always be considered in light of our greater vision for our communities, taking into account it’s not just economic and physical infrastructure but also cultural, social and human capital that makes for “happy” places.
Social enterprise offers a great opportunity to lead the way to thriving communities, he added, especially given the inherent passion and sense of mission social service organizations already have, as well as their experience grappling with limited budgets. Both realities can incite innovation.
Convened by Community Living Hamilton and Homestead Christian Care, the gathering was intended to spark ongoing connection and joint efforts to advance social enterprise in Hamilton. A closing discussion was held to explore how that might happen.
To join this discussion and learn more, contact Courtney Lilak, manager of social enterprise for Community Living Hamilton: clilek [at] clham [dot] com
Feel free to comment below, or e-mail michelle(at)axiomnews.ca.