The rise of the social enterprise

In October, The Toronto Star published Mediacorp’s  Honour Roll of GTA’s Top 90 Employers for 2010. While there were some encore appearances from companies such as KPMG LLB, Bayer Inc and Ontario Power Generation,  what was particularly interesting was the number of non-profit organizations that made the list. Particularly notable was the increase in this number from 2008 to 2009. Of the 90 companies who made the cut, 22% are non-profit organizations with a few operating social enterprises.

The Toronto Star publication emphasizes that more and more social enterprises (defined as “a not for profit organizations with a primary social or environmental mission and an intent to generate revenue in the market economy by providing a good or services”) are being compared on the same standard as traditional for profit businesses. In this study, operations and HR practices were compared.

What was the selection criteria used? Mediacorp editors graded each of the applicants on eight key areas:

  1. Physical workplace
  2. Work atmosphere and social
  3. Health, financial and family benefits
  4. Vacation and time off
  5. Employee communications
  6. Performance management
  7. Training and skills development
  8. Community involvement

Based on these categories, the YMCA of Greater Toronto and the other non-profit organizations chosen all scored high enough to make the cut.

For example, take the YMCA of Greater Toronto, who made this year’s list.  They’re a non-profit/charity focused on community support and development through three core programs: YMCA health, fitness and recreation, YMCA child and family programs and camps and YMCA employment, skills, youth and newcomer programs. They generates income from membership fees for access to their services. The goal of the YMCA is to provide every individual in the community with opportunities for personal growth, community involvement and leadership.

Social enterprises are beginning to prove that, not only are they strong and important contributors to Canada’s social and economic fabric, they are also rewarding organizations to work for and learn from.

In another Toronto Star win for social enterprises, MaRS client Eva’s Phoenix was profiled in the article, “Where Purpose Trumps Profit.” Eva’s Phoenix is a non-profit youth shelter which runs social enterprise in the form of a print shop.  “The downtown shelter set up the small-job print shop 10 years ago as a way to not only raise money, but also to fulfill its mandate to help troubled youth get off the streets and lead productive lives by training them to get good jobs.”  Eva’s Phoenix is an example of the emerging “hybrid vehicle” that has resulted as a response to the growing interest around social entrepreneurship. Doing good and making money are not negatively correlated. “At the Phoenix Print Shop, the need to raise money for the shelter never comes before the imperative to train the shelter’s youths to move on to another job,” they work hand in hand.

Social entrepreneurship and social enterprise is on the rise. This new hybrid space has begun to prove itself as a sector that can contend with the others. This has sparked significant interest in Canada. Compared to other G8 countries, Canada is lacking at the federal level. Consider particularly the UK which has appointed a minister for the third sector.  In the US, Obama has launched an office of social innovation. Our federal government has yet to see the importance of this hybrid space. Yet organizations like MaRS continue to act as a catalyst for social enterprises in Canada. Social entrepreneurship is an extension of our advisory services provided to traditional entrepreneurs. In terms of operations , HR, business plan development, marketing and strategy there is no distinction to between the two

Another example of how social entrepreneurship is being held to the same standards as any other company… and on the rise.