Have you heard about social enterprises? Or social innovation? We aren’t talking about Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. We are talking about One Big Table, Me to We, Atira Property Management, and the Registered Disability Savings Plan.  

A social enterprise is an organization setup to sell goods or services to help achieve community, social, or environmental objectives. It can be run as a non-profit, for profit, charity, co-op, or hybrid like a Community Contribution Company, but the majority of its profits must be directed at achieving social objectives. A study done by the Sauder School of Business found the number of B.C. ventures with a social or environmental mission has increased 35 percent in the past 5 years ending in 2015.

Social innovation is also about solutions that create community, social, or environmental value, but not necessarily using entrepreneurship as part of the solution. It can include shifts in things like process, policy, or attitudes.

The growing interest in purpose driven innovation has created an entirely new set of language and lingo. It’s intimidating. We’ve even been in meetings with people in the sector where we literally play buzzword bingo to see how many words we don’t understand.

Here are a few examples of social enterprise vs. social innovation to help clear up the confusion.


Social Enterprise:

  • One Big Table (Kelowna)  is a cooperatively owned grocery store and catering company dedicated to providing access to local food to its customers. Through their relationship with the John Howard Society, they also provide employment opportunities to individuals that have experienced barriers in finding meaningful employment.
  • YMCA (Okanagan, Canada) is a charity that offers fitness and recreation programs, child and family services, daycare, camps, and more. They use membership fees from fitness facilities across Canada to help provide some subsidized and free programming for people on a journey to better health.
  • Atira Property Management Inc. (Vancouver) offers building management solutions for stratas, owners, housing cooperatives, not-for-profit societies, and developers. This incorporated company is wholly owned by Atira Women’s Resource Society which provides transitional housing and support for women and children recovering from violence and abuse. All of the profits from the incorporation are donated to the society; the incorporated company also employs about 200 staff with significant barriers to employment.

Social Innovation:

  • Registered Disability Savings Plan (RDSP) is a Canadian registered savings tool, similar to the Registered Retirement Savings Plan (RRSP), that allows people who already qualify for a Disability Tax Credit to invest up to $200,000 tax-free until withdrawal. Friends and family members can contribute. This vehicle helps to break the cycle of poverty and financial instability that many people with disability face.
  • Fair Trade (Global) is a movement for traders of commodities like coffee, sugar, or clothing to certify high standards like paying living wage and respecting environmentally friendly production practices.

The idea of a social enterprise or social innovation is not a new concept. Many of the longest standing social enterprises were around before it was even thought of as being unique. When you start to look around it’s easy to see successful examples in communities across Canada including our own.


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