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Inclusion in products and services means equitable access

By | Social Enterprise, Social Impact, What we're reading | No Comments

As social enterprises and social impact organizations often have members, clients, supporters, or audiences that have different abilities and different capacities, we need to think a lot about how we make our products and services accessible to the people we’re aiming to support and serve.

And equitable access means different things in different contexts. Vancouver’s transit agency, Translink, is currently in the process of demonstrating exactly what inclusion doesn’t mean as they launch their faregate turnstile program called “Compass Card.” If you’re launching a social impact product or service, you need to make sure that it’s equally accessible to all. Read More

Let’s get some radical doing done.

By | Social Enterprise, Social Impact | No Comments

This past Tuesday, I started something exciting – and now it’s time to get some radical doing done.

I was recently names as a Fellow with the RADIUS SFU Fellowships in Radical Doing. This is an exciting, innovative program that takes people who are working on innovative projects and helps connect them to networks, resources, mentors, and boost their projects to a new level of success.

It’s tremendously exciting, for a number of reasons: Read More

Social impact: it’s what your next biggest demographic wants

By | Building Success, Impact Technology, Marketing, Social Enterprise, Social Enterprise, Social Impact, Social Impact, Strategy and Advice, What we're reading | No Comments

There’s much that’s been said and written about millenials – that demographic cohort that followed Generation X and has been roughly defined as being born sometime from the 1980s to the 2000s – but what is incontrovertible is that they are the next biggest market for any business, nonprofit organization, or social enterprise. Which is where Deloitte’s Millenial Surveys come in useful. And what’s interesting is that the surveys indicate that the vast majority of millenials want business success to be defined by more than just profits – instead, they want it defined by values and by social impact. Read More

One key question to ask when your nonprofit is thinking social enterprise

By | Social Enterprise, Social Impact | No Comments

2200500024_33038620af_oThere’s something about December that leads many nonprofit organizations down the road of thinking about new plans with new energy. Maybe it’s the idea of January being a reboot moment – we know that feeling well!

One thing that lots of nonprofit organizations might be thinking about this time of year is starting a social enterprise. It’s a big and important question: the idea of a nonprofit launching a related business enterprise to bring in additional, non-grant revenue, while also supporting the nonprofit’s mission, vision, and values is something that is exciting — and something that can be world changing!

But there’s a key question that you need to ask: what can you, as a nonprofit do, that would be a successful social enterprise?

What’s your viable business idea?

This probably seems like a ridiculously simple question – but it’s one that a lot of nonprofits struggle with. Many times, when they come up with the idea to build a social enterprise, they cast about thinking about things that they can do to make money. And sometimes there’s a massive disconnect between what the organization is good at and what it chooses to do as a social enterprise. And that can lead to some significant challenges.

Here’s an example: imagine a seniors’ organization that arranges transportation, meal preparation, check-ins, and bulk grocery purchases. Imagine they want to build a social enterprise. And they come up with an idea of selling soap. Where’s the connection between what the organization is good at? Where’s the connection between the organization’s goals and what it can do for its target clients and audience?

There isn’t one – which means the nonprofit would likely need to bring on staff to handle soap production, soap delivery, and so much more. Then when it comes to assessing the potential of the social enterprise to build the success of the nonprofit, the assessment can come up lacking.

If your nonprofit is considering starting a social enterprise, you need to ask yourself a question: what do we do well that we could build into a social enterprise?

Here’s a chart that should help you consider this a bit more clearly:


That overlap between what you’re good at  and what can make money is where your nonprofit’s social enterprise can have the most impact.

Let’s take that imaginary seniors’ organization that arranges transportation, does meal preparation, and bulk grocery purchases. Imagine if, instead of starting a soap making social enterprise, they built on what where their already demonstrated strengths: food, meal preparation, and transportation, and if they leveraged something valuable they’re already doing: bulk grocery purchases. Could they build a social enterprises that uses these strengths? Maybe one that does catering? Maybe delivered meals? Maybe they could employ some of their seniors in this business.

Asking the simple question – what do we do well that we could build into a social enterprise – is a quick way to evaluate your potential social enterprise ideas and ensure that you’re going down the best possible path.

The path to building a social enterprise isn’t always easy. But if you want to engage a team to help you traverse that path, then we’re here for you. Get in touch.

Doing Good, through Business: Social Enterprise

By | Social Enterprise, Social Impact | No Comments
Photo courtesy the Social Enterprise Network, CC-BY on Flickr.

Photo courtesy the Social Enterprise Network, CC-BY on Flickr.

Doing good, through business

You may have notices that we call ourselves a social economy consultancy firm – and we’re proud of that. We work with some really awesome organisations, like arts-based nonprofits, cooperative organizations, and community-based businesses.

Importantly, we’re advocates of the idea that we can do good through enterprise – and that leads us to being advocates of social enterprise.

But that’s a term that has a lot of currency but not a lot of definition these days – just what is social enterprise? Why is it so popular? Let’s explore. But remember – social enterprise is doing good, through business. It can also be values based business, but it can be all kinds of other things too. Here we go! Read More

A Cooperative Taxonomy: Building on the Strength of Community

By | Cooperatives Work, Social Enterprise | 5 Comments

The Cooperative Structure is StrongBuild on the strength of community with cooperatives

By now, you’ve probably seen on our site here that we’re a worker cooperative, which is a special kind of an organization. When you think about starting a business or organization, you have a number of different choices in what kind of form that an organization might take – and we chose cooperative for some solid reasons.

Importantly, we chose to build a cooperative to build on the strength of community. Co-ops, as organizations, are designed to build on the strength of community – they come out of communities, they meet community needs, and they do so through cooperative methods. You can’t build a co-op without a strong community.

Cooperatives are also strong organizations by design. When we draw what a co-op looks like – like the diagram above – we draw it in a triangle, because triangles are the strongest geometric shape. The strength of communities make co-ops the strongest kinds of organizations, too.

Here, I want to take you through the basic structure of a cooperative, and introduce you to the four main kinds of cooperatives. That way, you can learn about the different kinds of co-ops, and you can think about how you can build on the strength of community in your social enterprise. Read More

We Need Cooperatives Now More Than Ever: A Reaction to BC’s 2015 Budget

By | Cooperatives Work, Government Relations | No Comments

Provincial policy could make an impact if it engaged cooperatives

Every year, the Province of British Columbia creates a budget – just like Thumbnail_BudgetSpeechevery other jurisdiction in Canada. And each year, when the Province creates its budget, it sketches out its policy priorities for the coming year.

This year, we were disappointed to find that the Province of British Columbia did not create policy opportunities to support cooperatives and community economic development in the budget. We need cooperatives now, more than ever, and we need the Province to support their impact in communities. In reading the Province’s budget, it’s our view that there are a number of places where government could invite cooperatives into their plans and projects and make real community impacts that have a long-lasting effect.

Since the economic crisis in 2008, British Columbians and Canadians want to find ways to support their local economies rather than subsidizing businesses that move that value out of communities and out of Canada. Cooperatives are a prime and valuable way to do that. If the Province of BC were to bring cooperatives into their planning, we’d make an impact.

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Community Investment Co-ops: putting your money to work locally

By | Cooperatives Work, Impact Investing, Social Enterprise, Social Impact | 2 Comments

Wind farms, coffee roasters, chocolates, and community investment co-opsJust Us! Coffee Roasters is a worker co-op supported by a community investment co-op

What do RRSPs, tax credits, wind farms, coffee roasters, and chocolates have in common? Well, in Nova Scotia, they’re all interrelated – and each one supports the other in powerful ways. In fact, Nova Scotia is leading Canada in doing something that the rest of the country should be doing – putting money to work locally. We can start in BC by building community investment cooperatives. Here’s how, and why. Read More

Choosing a form for your social enterprise

By | Cooperatives Work, Social Enterprise, Social Impact | No Comments

Does form follow function in social enterprise?

Our friends at the BCCA have a handy map that explains business forms.

Our friends at the BCCA have a handy map that explains business forms.

If you’re someone thinking about building a social enterprise, you’ll undoubtedly have to think about the form of the organization that you want to put together. Form follows function, to a certain degree, and form is really important when you’re thinking about what your social enterprise business will do.

In British Columbia, you have three (and a half) corporate forms that you can use to build a social enterprise. A corporate form is simply the kind of organization you build – don’t worry too much about the term ‘corporate,’ even though you might immediately think of corporations… a corporation is only one of the corporate form.

You’ll likely be quite familiar with two of the corporate forms, because they’re the kind you interact with all the time. The other one and a half forms may sound a little more unfamiliar, but they’re ones you should consider as well.

So, if you’re starting a social enterprise in BC, you can choose between a company (corporation), or a society (nonprofit), or a cooperativeThe final half option is a community contribution company.  I’ll explain a little bit about each of these below, but one thing I want you to really think about: form follows function.

I hear from a good number of people on a regular basis who have heard about one of these forms and who are really excited about them – and then want to build a business around the corporate form. This isn’t always the best idea. You should have your business idea, sometimes with your colleagues and collaborators, and then you should explore the form that fits it best. Going about this the other way around can cause some challenges.

This is important because each corporate form has a different kind of purpose. When you’re setting up your social enterprise, you’ll want to think about which one suits your purpose best. Read on to find out more.

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