From Nov. 17 to 19 in Vancouver, 150 social entrepreneurs gathered to develop a framework for creating a more supportive environment for social enterprises throughout BC, reports CED Planner Kim Hardy.

Social enterprises are businesses that sell goods or provide services in the market for the purpose of creating a blended return on investment, both financial and social. Their profits are returned to the business or to a social/environmental purpose, rather than maximizing profits to shareholders. Ecotrust Canada is itself a social enterprise. Social enterprises:

  • fill niches that the market does not meet
  • promotes innovation
  • enhance the delivery of social, environment and cultural services
  • support the sustainability of non-profit organizations
  • stimulate local job creation and skill development
  • promote economic growth and neighbourhood revitalization
  • support an inclusive economy that provides employment and training opportunities for marginalized individuals

Joel Soloman, of Renewal Partners, set the tone for the summit with a key note address outlining the importance of social enterprises in building the next economy, a solution-based economy. Pat Conaty of the New Economics Foundation kicked off the first day by presenting innovative practices that have been adopted in Britain where social enterprises account for five percent of all businesses and contribute $8.4 billion per year to the UK economy. With these messages in mind we set out to identify what is required in BC to better support existing social enterprises and assist in the development of new social enterprises.

When you get a room full of people who have successfully created businesses out of gaps left behind by the mainstream economy, innovative, creative ideas abound. There was a steady buzz in the room as social entrepreneurs came up with ideas and strategies around how their mission-driven businesses can have a bigger impact as a whole. The thoughts and solutions generated over the two days were rich and fell under four key themes;

  1. Encourage awareness and demonstrate the value of social enterprise
  2. Enhance enterprise skills
  3. Ensure access to capital and investment
  4. Expand market opportunities

The Summit closed with not only a strategy to create an environment more supportive of social enterprise in BC, but with stronger connections and strengthened networks among participating social enterprises.