SOCIAL ENTERPRISE – THE MOVEMENT
By C. Yvonne Chenier, Q.C.
In October I attended the Sixth Annual Social Enterprise World Forum in my home town of Calgary. Over a thousand enthusiasts from dozens of countries were also there. Past world forums were held in Edinburgh Scotland, Melbourne Australia, San Francisco USA, Johannesburg South Africa and Rio de Janeiro Brazil. Next year it will be in Seoul Korea. The social enterprise movement is accelerating.
At this year’s forum, the vocabulary of the movement could be heard being bandied about from the time of the initial research day hosted by the local Mount Royal University to the buzz at the rodeo social event at the Calgary Stampede Grounds. Phrases such as “social innovation”, “social entrepreneurship”; “corporate social innovation”, “public sector innovation”, “social technology”, “social purpose business”, “social finance” and “impact investing” were all used in presentations. Indigenous social enterprise, touted by a former Prime Minister of Canada as a Canadian experience, was also a focal point of the conference.
But what really is social enterprise? If someone would have attended the forum looking for this answer they would have come away with no clear cut answer, but they might have had a warm fuzzy feeling. Most of the speakers at the forum emphasized that there is no widely accepted definition of what social enterprise is and acknowledged that it is hard to get a consensus, even at such a forum, as to how to define it. There was talk of “blurred lines” (another trendy phrase among the younger generation there) where profit and social need meet. Is it a business with a social conscience or a nonprofit with an entrepreneurial focus?
Despite any navel gazing about the definition, if there was one common feeling throughout the forum it was that social enterprise is a movement, and like the wheel cannot be stopped once it has been discovered and put into motion. Many converts (apart from the academics) are beyond searching for definition. They just want to get on with doing it, whatever it is. This was evident by the case study after case study of successful social enterprises from around the world either on display in the “Eat, think and be visionary” hall or being talked about at the forum.
Many aspects of the forum could be the subject of a whole day of discussion, or a full article in a publication of interest to readers. From the academic research, to the screening of the world premiere of a documentary entitled “Who Cares?” to the messages brought to the forum by all levels of our Canadian government, these all bear closer scrutiny to understand where this movement is heading, and what it means for the non-profit and charitable sector in Canada and indeed around the world. It is also interesting to note that although there was the odd question from time to time about it, there was not much discussion about the place for social enterprise in a legal framework and tax system. Some countries, notably the UK, are way ahead of others in this respect. Perhaps future conferences will devote some time and attention to this topic. Some social enterprisers will see regulation as fundamental to how any organization fits into society, while others will no doubt see any discussion of legal and tax issues as putting up potential barriers to the good that they want to do.
SOCIAL ENTERPRISE – THE MOVIE
Those who arrived the night before the official start of the forum were invited to watch the Canadian premier of “Who Cares?”, a film made by social entrepreneurs touted as being “for those who believe that anyone can change the world”. The movie attempts to make this case and answer the question Who Cares? by travelling the globe searching for innovators who are bringing solutions to the problems faced by the world. It was a long but often heart moving documentary that showed and profiled many Canadian enterprises who are doing just that. Forum attendees were encouraged to spread the word and host a screening in their hometown.
SOCIAL ENTERPRISE – THE FUTURE
The future of the Social Enterprise World Forum is clear. It will be held in Seoul Korea next year, in October 2014. Members of the Work Together Foundation, the host organization in Korea, were on hand in Calgary to give an overview of their program. One cannot predict the future of social enterprise as a worldwide movement with such certainty, however. There are too many variables the world over, such as public policy, government intervention and economic pressures to name a few. However if the energy at this year’s Social Enterprise World Forum is any indication, none of these roadblocks will be a deterrent to a movement already well in motion, especially when the power of youth is behind it. The 60s generation had sit ins for peace and by and large we are still waiting. Perhaps this upcoming younger generation will be remembered for action for social change through their social enterprising ways. Let’s hope they don’t sellout.