Social Enterprise: Community Impacts and Social Values

enpLogoSocial Enterprise in BC

Non-profits in BC have been doing enterprising activities for over 20 years. You might already be aware of this; you just might not have realized it was called Social Enterprise. Today we share with you what we learned from Kim Buksa, an expert in the social enterprise field who shares her depth of knowledge in this phenomenon. Kim is the Program Manager at Enterprising Non-Profits. She notes that the last three to five years have seen a marked growth in awareness of social enterprise.

Kim provides us a better understanding of the scope of social enterprise as it has changed over the years in that we now use a term to describe what non-profit and for-profit services are doing for our communities.

Defining Social Enterprise

Some of the issues around understanding social enterprise come from the many different definitions to describe it. So what exactly is social enterprise? According to Kim, “For our definition, we serve non-profit owned or operated businesses that are doing some kind of sales in the marketplace for the community, or to the public that is ultimately producing some dollars coming in to cover the costs of their program or possibly contributing to program activities.”

In her travels and experiences working with social enterprise businesses, Kim notes that some jurisdictions such as the UK are very familiar with what social enterprise is, and understand what she means when she tells people that she’s in town for a social enterprise event. In BC the word is still getting out; awareness about social enterprising activities has gained most traction in urban communities. “They have a general understanding that it’s something to do with business, maybe owned by a non-profit or community organization and it’s ultimately contributing back in some positive way,” Kim says of urban awareness of social enterprise.

For-Profit and Non-Profit Enterprises

There is a difference in how for-profits and non-profits view social enterprise. Each brings different knowledge about how to go about starting an enterprise.

Okanagan School of Business professor Dr. Kyleen Myrah was lead researcher/author for a case study into the success of the YWCA Vancouver Hotel/Residence, a social enterprise with a mandate to provide affordable hotel accommodation for travellers and longer-term residents, and subsidized emergency and temporary accommodation/housing for people in need. She notes that, “In my region we’re seeing lots of organizations go into the social enterprise arena, but they’re often not armed with lots of knowledge about it. (The YWCA Vancouver Hotel/Residence) has had 20 years to try to figure out this (social enterprise concept), and so for people who are looking at this area, for people struggling in this area, for people in medium growth wanting to go to the next level, this (case study) is a wonderful way to learn from people have had some battles and been there and are doing really well.”

We asked Kim how organizations can equip themselves with the appropriate knowledge to be successful. Kim acknowledges that social entrepreneurs seeking to integrate social values into business may require some guidance and education. There is definitely an opportunity for them to get education and build on their knowledge to be successful. She offers the Social Enterprise Canada website as a resource which, though mainly geared towards non-profits, is still useful to those in the for-profit sector.ENP-screengrab

A Shift in Thinking

Kim suggests that non-profits are risk adverse. “They’re still looking for funding sources that in their opinions don’t require as much time or commitment as a business would…even though a lot of the organizations, if they looked at the amount of time and resources they put into fundraising and pursuing those kind of funding contracts… it would probably be equivalent to managing a business.” But she believes non-profits need to shift their thinking to see opportunity beyond free money, donations and giving.

While those who see potential for a social enterprise within a non-profit organization may wonder why this revenue stream is not being pursued, Kim suggests that for many non-profits social enterprise sounds like something beyond their scope. “But if you talk to non-profits about generating revenue, or ask if they do fee-for-service, or if they rent out their facilities… when it comes back to their language, they realize ‘yeah, we could be doing this,’ and ‘oh actually, we already are!’”. She reiterates that it is a matter of terminology; going into “translation mode” when speaking with stakeholders and non-profits to ensure everyone is on the same page.

Social Enterprise Examples

There are countless examples of innovative social enterprises. Kim says many innovations are really iterations of existing ideas and practices. Social enterprise isn’t necessarily about being socially innovative, but it’s more about being community innovative — looking at models of enterprise that are working in other parts of the province and transplanting them in our communities.

“In smaller communities how arts and culture are utilizing the internet and capitalizing on tourism,” she says. “In the science and tech sector they’re looking at how to get youth involved in technology, or partnering with big business. science_labwork_small JPGThere’s one project where they want to do a “myth busters”-type lab that could be a social enterprise that would encourage people to explore science, or answer their problems, or figure things out, but do it in a lab where they don’t have to worry about blowing up their basement. And they could have other people to bounce ideas off of and help them explain things or test out ideas. I think it’s fascinating. I would love to have a place where I could go to figure out how a lightbulb or 3-D printing works. That was one of the more recent ones that I was really fascinated by.”

What’s Old is New Again

The food sector is another area where innovations are being seen, especially in connecting buyers with food. “The funny part is things that were being done 20 or 30 years ago are coming back today with a slight twist – and therefore are seen as innovative, whether it’s a resurgence of the barter system, ensuring food security, or farmer’s markets, or eating local. Again, ‘innovation’ is a funny definition.”

Kim spoke of an enterprise in Salmon Arm which encompasses beautification and reclamation. They put trees over their landfill and the gas that comes out is captured and sold back to Fortis. “It’s a phenomenal system. There are amazing things like that going on. It’s sometimes just looking at what you’re already doing and looking at the system that exists within it and asking if you could just take it a step further or alter it ever so slightly. Or look at the inputs and outputs slightly differently to come out with a huge outcome or impact that was never there before.”

“That’s the best part of the job — that you get to hear and see all these amazing things that people are thinking about. And frustrating at the same time because; if it’s being done there, why isn’t it being done everywhere else? There’s no excuse!”

Dragons’ Den of Social Enterprises

An example of social enterprise in action, happened at the Social Enterprise Heroes Event. Three non-profits were coached by social enterprise experts and supported, to put together their final pitch in front of four judges. The panel of “four business corporate titans” distributed over $50,000 in awards. Not only did attendees hear the journey these enterprises took, they had the opportunity to network and learn about other exciting enterprises.

The three finalists (and winners, really) were:

Richmond Youth Service Agency – Looking at childcare, utilizing youth who seek volunteer and job experience.

CleanStart truckCleanStart – Hoarding and junk removal which provides people with barriers with employment that has an environmental impact, and tackles the difficult issue of hoarding.

Shatford Centre,Okanagan School of Arts  – A social enterprise of the dedicated to enabling creative well-being in the community.

These social enterprises each presented a 10-minute pitch to a panel of business advisors and an audience of about 200 at the York Theatre in Vancouver. The finalists vied for an opportunity to be awarded up to $50,000 in consulting and grants.