As the pandemic continues to destabilize communities around the world, the importance of local social enterprise models is emerging. The Naramata Centre and Purppl hosted an interactive discussion about the topic and participants came together from around the world for the conversation.
Co-facilitators, Dana Bass-Solomon, former CEO of Hollyhock and Entrepreneur-in-Residence at Purppl, and Andrew Greer, Managing Director at Purppl, sit down to discuss how it went.
The conversation has been edited for brevity.
Andrew – Racism, privilege, and reconciliation can’t be ignored. We began humbly with a land acknowledgement. In the Okanagan, the land we work on, the land on which many joined for round table is the unceded, unsurrendered territory of the Syilx (Okanagan) People. Dana, you joined from the traditional territories of the Klahoose, Sliammon and Homalco Territories (Cortes Island).
According to the Syilx People, learning and teaching the natural laws on the land is necessary for humans to love and to continue on. The Sylix believe that humans don’t have the instinct to know how to live in nature’s laws. They were given memory instead. In an age of global capitalism, climate change and extractive economic models, we have a responsibility and an opportunity to collaborate, learn, and reconcile with Indigenous people about regenerative economic models.
Dana – Acknowledgement is just a start and certainly is related to the discussion from the event. We were focused on the emergence of social enterprise and the roles that each of us can play in our communities, organizations, and the broader social impact movement.
We get asked all the time, ‘what is a social enterprise?’. There isn’t a well accepted definition, that’s part of why there’s so much confusion.
Andrew – We get asked all the time, ‘what is a social enterprise?’. There isn’t a well accepted definition, that’s part of why there’s so much confusion. A social enterprise is an organization that seeks to achieve social, cultural, or environmental aims through the sale of goods and services. It can be for-profit, not-for-profit, co-op, or hybrid, but the majority of net profits must be directed to a social objective with limited distribution to shareholders and owners.
A few examples include the Naramata Centre, who offers workshops, retreats, and space to help inspire individual and collective transformation. IndigenEYEZ, among other programs, runs workshops for organizations to learn the impacts of colonization, the fundamentals of ally-ship, and engage more meaningfully with Indigenous peoples. Habitat Restores, social enterprises run by Habitat for Humanity, are nonprofit home improvement stores that sell new and gently used furniture, appliances, home decor, building materials and more in order to help families purchase safe, decent, affordable housing.
It’s a distributed, grassroots movement of people using social enterprise as a tool to create sustainable, long term solutions to some of toughest challenges in our communities. While social entrepreneurs themselves are some of the leaders in the movement, there are so many roles that people can play to help create more regenerative, equitable communities.
Examples of the ‘profit’ of social enterprise are stable families, good jobs, strong schools, abundant and safe public spaces, rewilding our lands, and reconciliation and pride in local cultures and history. This movement is growing, it just makes sense.
Dana – Any organization can be a social enterprise so long as it seeks to achieve social, cultural, or environmental aims through the sale of goods and services.
At the event we also discussed how the social enterprise movement compares to globalization. Globalization usually refers to the expansion of companies into international markets. Companies search the globe sourcing efficient means of labour, production, raw materials, and distribution. Success is often measured by traditional companies in profit, production, and consumption. There are some major financial winners, and major positive advancement in some areas, but also major turmoil.
We’re seeing the devastating effects of this model on people, planet, and communities now.
The social enterprise / social innovation movement prioritizes the needs of our health, people, local economics, and the planet. Examples of the ‘profit’ of social enterprise are stable families, good jobs, strong schools, abundant and safe public spaces, rewilding our lands, and reconciliation and pride in local cultures and history. This movement is growing, it just makes sense.
Social enterprise was growing globally pre-pandemic, we expect the drift towards regenerative business models will accelerate post-pandemic.
Andrew – There is no doubt it is growing. The last three months have made it painfully clear that we need a vibrant social enterprise sector that nourishes people, the planet, and communities. Social enterprise was growing globally pre-pandemic, we expect the drift towards regenerative business models will accelerate post-pandemic.
Despite the pain and disruption of COVID, we’ve seen many social enterprises emerging from this in a stronger position than when they went in. It’s inspiring to see the changes in real time.
Farmbound, an organic grocery delivery company in the BC Interior, is growing significantly. Shift Delivery Coop is expanding as people look for increased delivery produce in Vancouver; they displace trucks with a cooperative delivery service using e-bikes. Kamloops Makerspace, and many other similar organisations, is delivering PPE to local hospitals and businesses, displacing global suppliers. Credit Unions are offering zero percent credit card debt while the big banks don’t. There are many many examples of this growing, purposeful movement.
This movement is inclusive, too. It’s not just the social entrepreneurs making it all happen. Many other roles exist in the movement like, board members, volunteers, customers, donors, employees, intrapreneurs, agitators, policy makers, and more.
Dana – This movement is inclusive, too. It’s not just the social entrepreneurs making it all happen. Many other roles exist in the movement like, board members, volunteers, customers, donors, employees, intrapreneurs, agitators, policy makers, and more.
Andrew – Right. Everyone is needed to accelerate the shifts we are seeing. So, what were some of your takeaways from the breakout questions, Dana?
Dana – Well I started off the first question by asking, “What’s the origin of your inspiration to do social enterprise / social purpose work?” And I was really moved by what we heard.
The responses were all very personal. Seeing climate change in front of their eyes and starting or joining something to try to change it was a big one. Retiring from a career and looking to apply their skills and talent in very different ways to support a positive movement was another. Feeling the effects of systemic racism and privilege and needing to find a safe space brought some people to the work. And knowing the capacity of a large organization where they worked and wanting to shift those resources in a positive direction was one too.
What about you, Andrew?
Andrew – Well, the second question was a two part question. First, we discussed challenges and barriers, and even opportunities as a participant in this movement, Then each person had a chance to share creative advice, solutions or ideas to the people in their group about their challenges.
Dana – Now, because it was confidential, I’ll just ask you then, Andrew, what are some of the more common barriers and challenges? And what was some sage advice you heard from participants?
Andrew – We heard many sharing stories of power and privilege preventing change. We heard about the complexity of systemic inequity. We heard struggles of people trying to find ways to be seen. We heard about mental health and anxiety. And we heard about the need to find new revenue and operational models that can create sustainable change.
The solutions are important not to take too far out of context. It’s hard to share them without also sharing about the person. We heard suggestions about piloting small changes that don’t get noticed by the current people in power. People talked about collaborating with other organizations who could help their ideas and solutions become a reality. We heard about building change inside of larger organizations by getting small budgets to become an intrapreneur.
Social entrepreneurship and social innovation can be lonely, frustrating work.
Dana – I think it was really beneficial to connect people trying to create positive change in their communities. Social entrepreneurship and social innovation can be lonely, frustrating work. It’s so nice for people to see and participate in a movement.
Andrew – Agreed. The changes we all want will happen because of the collective, not the individual. We finished the discussion with a few suggestions on how people can stay involved.
Of course, attending a retreat at the Naramata Centre or Hollyhock can nurture your learning. Starting or joining a social enterprise is an option for some. Starting an impactful project inside your company or organization is a good place to start. Volunteering at events, or on a board of directors is a good way to contribute. Buying from social enterprises helps create sustainability and impact. And getting involved and voting in your local, regional, and national political system is vital.
Thank you to Naramata Centre for hosting this topic as part of their Conversations that Matter. Naramata Centre is an inclusive, welcoming place to connect and deepen in mind, body and spirit. We encourage you to visit their website and online programming at www.naramatacentresociety.org