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Ontario’s Social Economy: Unleashing the Power from Within
Note: This post was written in collaboration with Jo Flatt.
On September 28th, following the Ontario Nonprofit Network Conference 2012: Policy to Practice, a number of working sessions brought together key leaders and innovative thinkers from across Ontario’s public, private and civic sectors. One of these was the Ontario Social Economy Roundtable (OSER), an affiliation of networks and organizations focused on supporting the province’s social economy.
Members of the OSER Steering Committee kicked off their Working Session by echoing a question that was central to the previous day’s proceedings: How can we, in the nonprofit sector, work together to strengthen Ontario’s communities?
The answer, it seems, lies in our own hands. The general consensus reached by those at the session suggested that promoting the understanding and ultimately growth of Ontario’s social economy is the responsibility of those within the sector. Instead of simply waiting around for someone else to do it, we must become actively engaged in the conversations surrounding our sector, pushing them forward through cross-sectoral and regionally diverse action.
For OSER, strength comes in part through acknowledging the importance of networks or constellations. These, according to Rosalind Lockyear (Executive Director at PARO Centre for Women’s Enterprise), include “collective but independent organizations that coordinate to push common interests forward”. This collaborative approach has been quite successful for OSER in not only identifying policy priorities for Ontario, but also driving them forward.
Paul Chamberlain (Program Director at the Canadian Community Economic Development Network), reflected on the concept of social finance and the key role it will continue to play in the development of Ontario’s social economy. Since its inception, OSER has published four social finance policy papers:
- Proposal for a Provincial Tax Credit to Support Investment in Ontario’s Social Economy;
- Provincial Intiative to Expand the Mandate of Infrastructure Ontario’s Loan Program to Allow Applications from all Eligible Nonprofit Organizations;
- Provincial Initiative to Create Policy Framework and Legislation to Support Community Bonds; and
- Proposal for a Provincial Tax Credit to Support Investment in Ontario’s Social Economy – Registration of Investments
Chamberlain pointed out that these efforts influenced the expansion of Infrastructure Ontario’s popular Loan Program, and that these policy papers have been used for joint advocacy in the Partnership Project. The Project is an ongoing initiative to build and strengthen the relationship between the Ontario government and the over 45,000 nonprofit organizations currently operating within the province. This collaborative emphasis has spawned more partnerships and ongoing work, including developing Principles for Community Financing, one of OSER’s current priorities.
During the working session, Joanna Reynolds (Program Manager at the MaRS Centre for Impact Investing), distributed a draft of the Principles for Community Financing for consultation and feedback with participants. Reynolds explained that a principle-based approach would create a strong platform for understanding community financing initiatives in both the nonprofit and for-profit sectors. Anne Jamieson (Senior Manager at the Toronto Enterprise Fund), expressed her belief that “principles will help smaller organizations look at all of the aspects associated with financing for emerging projects”.
This is truly important during a time when traditional sources of funding are changing and nonprofit organizations are looking to new avenues to support their work. Tonya Surman (founding Executive Director of the Centre for Social Innovation) noted the need for what she describes as “big wins” for the nonprofit sector to catalyze future investment opportunities. “Without squashing vitality and innovation, we need to make sure we are not supporting projects that are fly by night and will undermine broader goals”, stated Surman.
With increasing interest in community financing methods such as community bonds, a principle-based approach may provide the guidance and investor confidence needed to drive forward innovative projects and initiatives as organizations “buy in” to common values in the current regulatory framework.
Members of the Ontario Social Economy Roundtable are encouraging further feedback on the working draft of Principles for Community Financing (click here to provide feedback). Recommendations stemming from this session include fully fleshing out the principles, increasing clarity around important definitions, creating another guide about the current regulatory framework to complement the Principles, and ensuring continued engagement with all relevant stakeholders in the consultation process.
Before wrapping up, the OSER Steering Committee and other participants at the working session set out to develop priorities for the next 12 months. Four key areas were identified:
- Overwhelmingly, the group agreed that continuing to advocate against the ‘no profit for nonprofits’ position at the federal level must be a central area of focus over the next year.
- Creating cross-sectoral partnerships.
- Enabling pathways of entry and collaboration, especially for newer participants that are eager to engage.
- Publishing the Principles for Community Financing paper in the new year, once stakeholder consultations are completed.
It is clearly an exciting time for the global social economy. Social enterprise and social finance initiatives are increasing in prominence at all levels. As Ontarians, we must ask ourselves: How can we play a role in leading these discussions and how do we stay ahead of the curve?
If you are interested in the work that OSER is doing or you would like to get involved, please contact Heather Laird at the Ontario Nonprofit Network for more information.
Photo credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/greencolander/4412397466/