Social Entrepreneurship: Looking Back & Moving Forward

Social Entrepreneurship: Looking Back & Moving Forward

What did 2013 show us and what can social entrepreneurs look forward to in 2014?

In the past decade, the notion of social entrepreneurship – a new category of business in which for-profit organizations focus on profit AND positive social or environmental impacts – has spread across Canada and the rest of the world.

Social entrepreneurship courses are being offered by a number of business schools in Canada, the US and the UK. Many of these schools have also opened social innovation labs for undergraduate students to build and market their ventures under the guidance of professors and industry professionals.

A broad range of successful entrepreneurs from Richard Branson to Canadian entrepreneur Jeffrey Skoll are using their influence to lead by example in the field and urge leaders across sectors to support the growth of social enterprises.  For example, the Skoll Foundation annually awards five scholarships to promising social entrepreneurs pursuing an MBA degree at Oxford’s Said Business School and funds its social entrepreneurship program that draws talents from around the world.

“Business is the most important man-made force in the world,” B Lab co-founder Jay Coen Gilbert said in an interview with Bloomberg BusinessWeek.  “Our biggest social and environmental challenges are too big to be solved by governments or non-profits alone.”

Creating more social enterprises that target this generation’s problems is a major part of the solution, but more time is needed to establish effective funding platforms, clear regulatory and administrative obstacles, and bring governments, for-profit corporations and investors on board to provide the capital and support needed for social entrepreneurs to reach their goals.

The U.K. is leading the way in this movement with 62,000 social enterprises employing 800,000 people and contributing £24 billion to the economy, according to Social Enterprise UK.

In Canada, we are also beginning to make these steps in earnest. The government of Ontario, which is home to 10,000 social enterprises and strives to be a North American leader in social enterprise, has been ramping up its interest and involvement in impact investing and social finance more generally in the past year. Their Social Enterprise Strategy report emphasized fortifying the coordination of Ontario’s social enterprise sector, creating online platforms to increase recognition of Ontario’s social enterprises to the world, making social financing more accessible by introducing Social Impact Bonds and SVE, and monitoring the social return in investments to reach their goal.

September 2013 also saw the launch of the Social Venture Connexion (SVX) at the Toronto Stock Exchange. The SVX – which is the first of its kind in North America – uses an online platform to connect impact ventures with impact investors. The MaRS Discovery District alone offers a plethora of programs like Impact8, Jolt, and Studio Y to aid social entrepreneurs in various stages of their development. Through programs like these and The School for Social Entrepreneurs – Ontario, Ontario and the Ontario Trillium Foundation have invested millions of dollars in 2013 to build a new generation of social entrepreneurs.

From a worldwide perspective, the Global Impact Investing Network (GIIN) predicted in 2011 that the amount invested globally in impact investing would increase from $50 billion to approximately $500 billion (1% of all managed assets) by 2014.

With all of these important sign posts in mind, and an eye on the continuing progress of the G8 Task Force on Social Finance, it is safe to say that the future looks bright for social entrepreneurs in Canada and abroad.


Please join us on Tuesday March 18, 2014 for ImpactOntario - a landmark conference that brings world-changing Ontario ventures together with world-leading investors and intermediaries. Registration is now open!

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