Coming soon to Ontario: The School for Social Entrepreneurs (Part I)

Coming soon to Ontario: The School for Social Entrepreneurs (Part I)
SSE student at his project

Entrepreneurship is a doing word.

The best way to learn entrepreneurship is for entrepreneurs to learn from, well, other entrepreneurs—this is the type of model we use at MaRS, but it’s also the model used by the School for Social Entrepreneurs (SSE),  a UK-based organization that provides training and opportunities that enable people to use their creative and entrepreneurial abilities more fully for social benefit.

The SSE’s people-powered approach to social change enables individuals to serve their communities and pursue their passions. It supports individuals to set up new charities, social enterprises and social businesses across the UK—and, soon, it will help individuals do this type of work right here in Ontario.

SiG@MaRS first learned about the SSE and its approach to supporting sustainable social and economic change during the 2009 Social Innovation Policy Tour. SiG@MaRS then embarked on a feasibility study with Mass LBP, supported by the Ontario Trillium Foundation, to explore the potential adaptation of the School for Social Entrepreneurs in Ontario (SSE-O).

Today, four innovative local organizations are working to bring the SSE to Ontario:

In March, I visited the SSE in London. As one of the members of the collaboration working to bring the SSE to Ontario, SiG@MaRS (with the support of the Province of Ontario) sent me to the UK to immerse myself in the SSE’s programs and participate in its experiential, people-powered pedagogy. In my short time at the SSE, I learned a lot about action-based learning, social franchising and the importance of supporting the individual entrepreneur.

Here’s an overview of what I learned:

SSE as a social franchise

Over the past 13 years, the social franchise model used by the SSE has proven a huge success: the positive impact of the original SSE in London has been replicated in ten UK locations. More recently, using this tried and tested and highly replicable model, the SEE has grown to include an international network in Ireland and Australia, and Canada is next on the list.

The social franchise model will give the SSE in Ontario access to a proven model of support for entrepreneurs, as well as an established set of quality standards and an evaluation framework. But the SSE franchise model is also adaptable: local franchisees can alter curriculum and program specifics to fit with local experience—social enterprise attitudes, funding environment or cohort needs. It is a flexible but rigorous program, with supports and evaluative benchmarks built-in.

The SSE-O will follow an internationally renowned and recognized model, but will adapt to local conditions, neighbourhoods and the local entrepreneurs that participate in its programs.

Students: Supporting the social entrepreneur

The SSE is about supporting individuals who are driven to make change.

While the student cohort is typically a mix of individuals with varied levels of education and experience, the learning approach appeals explicitly to those who might not otherwise enroll in an MBA program or business course. SSE students are generally drawn from communities whose members face multiple barriers.  The students are typically local residents who have personal experiences with the issues they are trying to address. It is this type of passion, mixed with a personal drive to make change, that characterizes SSE students.

I met with several past and current participants from the London SSE program:

The SSE website tells the stories of its Fellows. All inspirational, these individuals are visionaries, striving to positively impact their own communities. A key driver for their success has clearly been their experiences with the SSE.

The most common refrain I heard from SSE Fellows and students was that the program gave them the confidence to pursue their passion. Whether it was a witness session that emphasized the importance of expressing gratitude to funders or the weekly exercise of perfecting one’s pitch, students told me over and over that without the SSE experience, they likely would not have reached the level of success that they’ve achieved, or are on track to achieve. The support network of the cohort and the lasting mentor relationships that SSE students build, carry them through the challenges of setting up a project and carrying it through to fruition.

The SSE also exposes students to systems understanding—whether it’s the way granting and funding cycles work or an introduction to the public service bureaucracy, students are able to situate their project in a larger context. This type of knowledge then trickles down through their community: students become informed experts, recognized as leaders by their communities.

The SSE isn’t one-size-fits-all, not with its learning methodology, the approach it takes with students or its curriculum. The SSE is a dynamic network of passionate facilitators and social entrepreneurs—a network that has a lot to offer the social enterprise space in Ontario.

Follow the SSE-O Collaborative as we embark on this new and inspiring opportunity. If you’re interested in learning more about this initiative or its progress, stayed tuned to the MaRS Blog. Next week, I’ll share more about action-based learning and what it looks like at the SSE.

Update: Read Coming soon to Ontario: The School for Social Entrepreneurs (Part II)

Want more info?

The most current SSE Network Evaluation has just been released. Also available is the last evaluation (1997-2007) [PDF] and the MASS LBP Ontario Feasibility Study.

And for a great video on the SSE program from the perspective of some Fellows, check this out: