Cap­i­tal­ism With A Cause: Ris­ing So­cial En­trepreneur­ship in Canada

Ris­ing So­cial En­trepeneurs in Canada

Policy - - Before The Bell | From The Editor - BY DALE SMITH

There is a grow­ing trend to­ward cre­at­ing small busi­nesses that make a pos­i­tive dif­fer­ence in the com­mu­ni­ties that they serve. So­cial en­trepreneur­ship has been de­fined as the use of com­pa­nies to de­velop, fund and im­ple­ment so­lu­tions to so­cial, cul­tural or en­vi­ron­men­tal is­sues in a way that of­ten blends for-profit goals with a pos­i­tive “re­turn to so­ci­ety.” Be­fore the Bell hosts Catherine Clark and David Akin each hosted pan­els of stake­hold­ers and ex­perts, in­clud­ing Min­is­ter of Small Busi­ness and Ex­port Pro­mo­tion Mary Ng (Markham–Thorn­hill, ON), to dis­cuss these new busi­ness mod­els.

Dur­ing the Pulse seg­ment, Katharine Corn­field, founder of am­biSHEous, said that so­cial en­trepreneur­ship de­fines value dif­fer­ently than con­ven­tional con­cepts of profit or share­holder re­turn.

“When you’re work­ing with young peo­ple, they de­fine value dif­fer­ently,” said Corn­field. “In Al­most ev­ery single case, the busi­ness ideas they’re com­ing up with have em­bed­ded in their busi­ness model a so­cial or en­vi­ron­men­tal im­pact, or a com­mu­nity ben­e­fit or a po­lit­i­cal mes­sage that they want to sup­port.”

Corinne Pohlmann, se­nior vice-pres­i­dent of na­tional af­fairs and part­ner­ships with the Cana­dian Fed­er­a­tion of In­de­pen­dent Busi­ness (CFIB), said that when so­cial en­trepreneurs look at a prob­lem to be solved, they see en­ter­prise as a solution.

“At the end of the day, we all need to have an in­come, so it has to be done in a way that you can make some money out of it, and that’s the part that’s still in de­vel­op­ment,” said Pohlmann. “More con­sumers are ask­ing what you’re do­ing to help out the com­mu­nity or the world.”

That de­mand has be­come a brand­ing con­sid­er­a­tion, with many busi­ness seek­ing B-Cor­po­ra­tion cer­ti­fi­ca­tion to iden­tify them­selves as so­cially re­spon­si­ble. Cer­ti­fied B-Corps have been as­sessed and ap­proved by B Lab, a global non­profit or­ga­ni­za­tion, as en­ter­prises that bal­ance pur­pose and profit and are legally re­quired to con­sider the im­pact of their de­ci­sions on their work­ers, cus­tomers, sup­pli­ers, com­mu­nity, and the en­vi­ron­ment.

Elisa Birn­baum, the pub­lisher and edi­tor-in-chief of SEE Change Mag­a­zine, said that the mar­ket has played a role in the rise of so­cial en­ter­prises be­cause con­sumers are savvy about the busi­nesses they’re pa­tron­iz­ing.

“So­cial en­trepreneurs are the ones re­ally ris­ing up to re­spond to those de­mands and those ques­tions, and the quest for more trans­parency, sus­tain­abil­ity, so­cial re­spon­si­bil­ity,” said Birn­baum. “That mar­ket de­mand will keep spurring more so­cial en­trepreneurs to re­spond to it.”

Birn­baum adds that there is a lot of “green­wash­ing” in the mar­ket right now but that con­sumers can dis­cern a lack of au­then­tic­ity. She said there needs to be a leg­isla­tive frame­work to spur move­ment in the space by as­sur­ing le­git­i­macy.

Dur­ing the Pol­icy seg­ment, Matthew Hoar, the CFO of Flow Wa­ter Inc., an al­ka­line spring wa­ter com­pany, said that while it’s more ex­pen­sive to op­er­ate than an­other wa­ter com­pany would be, Flow’s prac­tices al­low them to have a deeper con­nec­tion with their cus­tomer base.

“The cost of do­ing busi­ness as a B-Corp [ben­e­fit cor­po­ra­tion] is real, but the ben­e­fit is also real, and we’re see­ing that,” said Hoar.

Hoar added that the “ta­ble stakes” for any busi­ness in­clude hav­ing an en­vi­ron­men­tal mind­set, and that there is no other way for them to re­ally op­er­ate.

Craig Ryan, di­rec­tor of so­cial en­trepreneur­ship at Busi­ness De­vel­op­ment Canada, said that the grow­ing trend of en­trepreneurs who aren’t act­ing as “profit-max­i­miz­ing ro­bots” is why BDC has taken such an in­ter­est in the so­cial en­ter­prises, and that they’re suc­ceed­ing be­cause they’re op­er­at­ing dif­fer­ently.

“What gives me the con­fi­dence in the strength of this move­ment is the fact that it’s way big­ger than en­trepreneurs,” said Ryan. “It’s a broad so­cio-cul­tural change de­fined by peo­ple’s use of money. This is a big move­ment that is not a bub­ble, that is past the ex­per­i­ment stage.”

Min­is­ter Ng said that with her port­fo­lio, she needs to help small busi­nesses re­al­ize that there are mar­kets with 1.2 bil­lion peo­ple un­der the three ma­jor trade agree­ments that the gov­ern­ment has signed onto — the USMCA, the Trans-Pa­cific Part­ner­ship, and the Euro­pean trade agree­ment — that they can grow into, and that there are pro­grams to sup­port them.

“We’re the only G7 coun­try that has trade agree­ments with ev­ery other G7 coun­try, and that is bil­lions of cus­tomers abroad,” said Ng. “We have ser­vices and sup­ports for our com­pa­nies in­clud­ing so­cial en­trepreneurs, in start­ing, grow­ing and ac­cess­ing new mar­kets, and I’d love to get more of those com­pa­nies ex­port-ready.”

The busi­ness ideas they’re com­ing up with have em­bed­ded in their busi­ness model a so­cial or en­vi­ron­men­tal im­pact, or a com­mu­nity ben­e­fit or a po­lit­i­cal mes­sage that they want to sup­port.” — KATHARINE CORN­FIELD Founder of am­biSHEous

Left to Right: Catherine Clark, Min­is­ter of Small Busi­ness and Ex­port Pro­mo­tion Hon. Mary NG, and Craig Ryan, Di­rec­tor, So­cial En­trepreneur­ship, BDC

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