Reflections on the Social Enterprise World Forum 2013

Reflections on the Social Enterprise World Forum 2013

Now, I may be a bit biased given that it was hosted in Canada, but I honestly believe that this was the best Social Enterprise World Forum I have ever had the pleasure of attending. The forum built on the tradition of social enterprise, recognizing in particular the historical leadership of the United Kingdom, and moved us to think about the links between social enterprise and the broader social change imperative—a uniquely Canadian positioning.

The organizing team worked so hard, by design, to ensure inclusion. If you were just discovering the field of social enterprise, you had the opportunity to learn the essentials from terrific leaders in the field through sessions like Social Enterprise 101, which was offered in both English and French.

For those of us who have been around this game for some time, it was terrific to see the engagement of new players. I heard an elder state that this was the first conference of this type in his memory to have a stream and keynotes reflecting the experience of indigenous peoples, and the session on rural realities was critical, especially given the increasing focus on urbanization as more and more of us move to cities.

Broad government representation

The event welcomed all three levels of government and, given the state of our federation in Canada, this is virtually unprecedented. This monumental task was achieved in part by the leadership of the Government of Alberta, who organized a pre-conference session with other political and bureaucratic staff from across the country. I am especially appreciative of the efforts of Dr. Eric Hoskins of the Ontario Ministry of Economic Development, Trade and Employment and the Hon. Jason Kenney of Employment and Social Development Canada for taking so much time out of their intense schedules to join us. Obviously the issues we discussed are resonating in political circles.

Corporate representation

It was also wonderful to see so many players from the corporate world join us. In one of the sessions I attended on corporate social innovation, the attendees were lined up along the sides of the walls and out the door. We often talk about the fact that social change requires multi-stakeholder engagement, but we spend a lot of time talking only to ourselves and to those who agree with us. With this conference we have broken down many of these silos and there is some discomfort in our wake as we transition to a broader, more inclusive approach to social change.

Social finance

One area where those silos are blurring is in the field of social finance. My colleagues in the MaRS Centre for Impact Investing worked with the Trico Charitable Foundation to bring our extremely popular Social Finance Forum to Alberta. Started in 2007, under the visionary leadership of Tim Draimin, Tim Brodhead and Bill Young, among others, we were able to engage Sir Ronald Cohen in our work in Canada, which was fledgling at the time, and to keep him engaged in that work as we moved forward. It was terrific to welcome him back to Canada—via Skype—and to have him share his deep knowledge and unique perspective with the corporate, political and social enterprise leaders at this pre-conference event.

On a personal level—and because I am privileged to attend so many of these events—I rarely expect to learn anything new. However, I, along with many other seasoned practitioners, walked away inspired by the wisdom of everyone from Al Etmanski and Mary Gordon to llse Treurnicht (more bias), the Hon. Paul Martin and Pamela Hartigan.

Allyson Hewitt with Wayne Chiu, head of the organizing committee for SEWF 2013 and chair of Trico Foundation
Allyson Hewitt with Wayne Chiu, the head of the organizing committee for SEWF

They consistently recognized a place for us all in this movement. They talked about the role of social entrepreneurs at the systems level, about disruptive, bridging and receptive innovators, and about “entrepreneuring.” They challenged our complacency, they offered hope and they offered a way forward—and that is well worth the price of admission.

To everyone on the organizing committee in general and to the remarkable leadership of Wayne Chiu and Daniel Overall of the Trico Charitable Foundation, congratulations on a job well done! As for the rodeo, well my friend, that was the proverbial tasty icing on the well-baked cake. Yahoo!