Making everyone into a social enterprise

At the Centre for Social Innovation last week, a unique event took place designed to match people looking for services with people who could offer them.

“Who wants to learn yoga?” “I’ve got Indian cooking over here!” “Can you teach my kid how to play drums?” People ring out with their requests at this “Skills Drive” organized by social enterprise and MaRS client, Well of Change.

Well of Change is devoted to raising money not by tapping into people’s wallets, but by exploiting their skills and hobbies.  At the beginning of the evening, participants network and brainstorm all the skills they have, whether borne of professional training or basement tinkering.

They then put a dollar value on their skills and participants bid on them: $40 for pilates lessons, $90 for a good carpet cleaning.  The lesson takes place and the money goes straight to a charity of your choice.  As a buyer, you’re paying for a service and as a skills provider you’re donating with your time instead of your money.

Well of Change has already raised funds for the Mount Sinai Hospital Foundation, Schools Without Borders and a host of other charities. Their business model is based upon the fact that people enjoy sharing their expertise and are more eager to become engaged when meeting people face-to-face than through an anonymous donation.

Next week, I’m going to teach someone how to write a blog post, which will net the Young Social Entrepreneurs of Canada some funds. (I’m also going to be leading a session tasting different beers from around the world, but that’s another story altogether).

In turn, I bought lessons from a government worker on HTML coding, something I don’t mind paying for, but with the added benefit of my money going to charity.  91% of all funds collected make it to the charity, with 9% kept by Well of Change to cover costs.

Although the driving force behind this model is philanthropy, such business models have the potential for making a lot of money. The platform Well of Change created online is easily scalable and if companies pick up on this model for their Christmas parties or yearly United Way drives, both the charities and the Well of Change founders stand to make a healthy buck.

Many companies are using the Well of Change platform as a way of offering their services as a trial offer. A web developer might hook a client by offering the first two hours of any project through Well of Change website. The developer works for two hours for free and the money goes to charity, but encourages repeat business. This turns every participant into a social entrepreneur and serves to do good for the community as well as getting your brand and yours services into the minds of potential customers.

Check out and search for someone who can teach you how to fix a bike, or write a social media plan, or knit a sweater, or whatever it is you’re looking for…

Joseph Wilson

Joseph was an education advisor at MaRS Discovery District. He writes on topics of science, culture and city issues for NOW Magazine, the Globe and Mail, Spacing and Yonge Street. He is the Executive Director of the Treehouse Group, dedicated to fostering innovation by hosting cross-disciplinary events. See more…