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Niagara Social Enterprise Forum Co-Creation Sessions

Check out the list and summary of the topics that emerged from the Co-Creation sessions.

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Forum aims to cultivate a social entrepreneurial ecosystem

On Saturday, January 30, the Niagara Social Enterprise Forum brought together current and aspiring social entrepreneurs, and the organizations which support them, who learned about social entrepreneurship and resources to support the successful development of social ventures, and were inspired to take action.

Over 140 individuals registered for the Niagara Social Enterprise Forum, including students from Niagara College, Brock University, and DSBN Academy, and a variety of non-­‐profit, for-­‐ profit, government, and community leaders. Keynote speaker, Sean Campbell, Director of Scaled Purpose, will provide context for social entrepreneurship. The facilitator, Angela Carter, will engage participants in the co-­‐creation of a learning experience that will cultivate a social entrepreneurial ecosystem in Niagara.

The Niagara Community Foundation and Niagara Prosperity Initiative, funded by the Niagara Region, have provided leadership and coordination support to convene the Forum. “The Niagara Community Foundation believes in the power of individuals and organizations working together to effect positive change in our communities. We encourage projects that promote self-­‐sufficiency and long-­‐term sustainability”, said Liz Palmieri, Executive Director, Niagara Community Foundation. “We recognize that innovation, creativity and entrepreneurialism are key contributors to success.”

The Niagara Social Enterprise Forum marked the beginning of Social Start-ups 2016 which will include a series of learning opportunities and events sprinkled throughout the year. The vision for Social Start-­‐Ups 2016 is to to build a social entrepreneurial ecosystem in Niagara that will stimulate economic development and positive social/environmental impact.

“The Niagara Region looks at the growing “sharing economy” as a great opportunity for growth, attracting talent and economic prosperity. Social enterprises support not only innovation and entrepreneurship, but also combine business with the need to contribute to the overall good of the community”, said Regional Chair, Alan Caslin. “We were thrilled to participate in and sponsor the first, of what we hope to be recurring, Social Enterprise Forums for Niagara.”

A variety of community partners have come together to provide financial, promotional, and organization support for this initiative. These partners include: Niagara College Canada, Enactus Niagara College, Ontario Centres of Excellence, Ontario Network of Entrepreneurs, Brock University BioLinc, Niagara Youth Entrepreneurship Network, Niagara Region,
Niagara Prosperity Initiative, Niagara Community Foundation, Cowork Niagara, Chimpanzee, St. Catharines Enterprise Centre, Niagara Falls Small Business Enterprise Centre, Leadership Niagara, United Way of St. Catharines & District, Business Education Council of Niagara, Niagara Workforce Planning Board, and the Greater Niagara Chamber of Commerce.

The Niagara Social Enterprise Forum was funded in part by the Unleash Your Inner Entrepreneur program, a grant supported by RBC Foundation, Futurpreneur Canada, the Foundation for an Entrepreneurial Canada, and secured through EnactusNC and ncTakeOff*. “It is no surprise that students have embraced the opportunity to get involved, early on, in Niagara’s conversation about social enterprise,” said Rachel Crane, manager of
ncTakeOff*, Niagara College’s On-­‐Campus Entrepreneurship Activities project. “Entrepreneurial thinking and social consciousness are some of the virtues that Niagara College embeds into its programs. And, as a result, a growing number of student startups that ncTakeOff* supports are building upon social entrepreneurship strategies.”

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Summary of Niagara Social Enterprise Forum 2016

Nearly 140 participants attended the Niagara Social Enterprise Forum on January 30, 2016.  The participants were varied and came from government, non-profits, businesses, educators, students, and other community members were in attendance.  50 (1/3) of the participants were students, including representatives from Niagara College, Brock University, Mohawk College, and the DSBN academy.

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Potential for Social Enterprise to Boost Niagara’s Economy

Social Startups Niagara FlyerIn Niagara we enjoy an abundant quality of life. In recent years our local economy has seen some major transformation. We’ve shifted away from jobs provided by large manufacturers, to jobs with small to medium sized firms, many of which employ 10 people or less.

Many well-educated Niagara citizens struggle to find jobs that pay above minimum wage. We’re competing globally to attract new employers and retain top talent in our labour force.  New technologies are transforming the notion of what it means to have and keep a job. These developments bring exciting opportunities as well as upheaval.

Community service organizations are stretched to meet the complex needs of vulnerable citizens in our midst, and as consumers we’re growing more socially conscious. In the wake of the loss of what were traditionally deemed ‘secure jobs’ in Niagara, there’s a movement to bring back business with a purpose. This is driving a conscious shift to support local, environmentally responsible, sustainable businesses that value people along with profit.

One Solution: A thriving social entrepreneurial community

The social enterprise movement presents a solution. Social enterprises are businesses that:

  • Create community impact and social values
  • Have a defined social, cultural or environmental value while selling their products or services to customers (they can’t continue to operate if they don’t fulfill their mission)
  • Limit or don’t distribute profits and assets to individual shareholders

— Social Enterprise Canada

Social Enterprises in Ontario

To give you an idea of the impact of social enterprises on Ontario’s economy alone, here are some facts from Ontario’s Social Enterprise Strategy 2016 – 2021:

  • Ontario is home to about 10,000 social enterprises
  • Across the province, our social enterprises generate an average of $1.2 million in revenues, including $0.9 million in sales
  • Those social enterprises employ an average of 38 staff
  • 68% of Ontario’s social enterprises have a poverty reduction focus.

The next five years will be critical for social enterprise – the Ontario government has committed to invest more than $6 million in the first year of its renewed Social Enterprise Strategy.   The province’s vision is to be recognized as a global leader in social enterprise and social finance by 2021.

What We’re Doing in Niagara

A passionate local group of social entrepreneurs, educators, civil servants and others is on a mission to educate, raise awareness, build community and to connect people interested in  establishing a social enterprise to the necessary resources.  We’ve declared 2016 as the Year of Social Enterprise in Niagara. We’re just beginning to lay the foundation of our region’s social entrepreneurial community. In January, the Social Startups forum brought about 145 people together to begin co-creating what social entrepreneurship and enterprise training in Niagara will look like. By the end of the day, forum participants had identified some of the gaps and opportunities to be  collectively addressed,  and began planning meaningful next steps. (Read a wrap-up of the forum here.)

Since then, we’ve  hosted monthly meetups to connect with social entrepreneurs and stakeholders in Niagara, as well as meet people in communities across Ontario who are just as passionate about social entrepreneurship as we are. Within the next few months, we’ll be launching a website – a community hub where Niagara’s social entrepreneurs can find updates, explore resources and join the conversation.

Our Challenge to You: Get involved today

We’re open to anyone who wants to learn more about social entrepreneurship and how they can contribute. You are invited to join the conversation.

Attend a Meetup

We host  monthly Social Startup Meetups  at Mahtay Cafe in downtown St. Catharines. Each event features a speaker with valuable knowledge and experience in the area of social entrepreneurship. Past guests have included Jeff Sinclair, community builder, and facilitator Jasmine Olah; Trevor Twining, president of the co-operative coworking space Cowork Niagara; and successful social entrepreneurs such as Trivium Industries (David D’Angelo) and Loop Recycled Paints (Jillian Berswick). We’re always looking for more advocates and community builders to share their perspectives.

Look for upcoming Social Startup Meetups, or other related social enterprise learning opportunities, such as this Social Enterprise Opportunity Identification Webinar and this Social Enterprise Workshop posted on the Niagara Knowledge Exchange Community Calendar

Connect with Social Enterprise Niagara

We would love to stay in touch! Join our Facebook group to connect with active social entrepreneurs, receive updates about upcoming events and learn more about social entrepreneurship and its impact.

Share with Others

Download this Social Enterprise in Niagara Postcard and share the information with people in  your networks.

This is the first of many blog entries that will bring you the latest news from Niagara’s social entrepreneurial community. Stay tuned for more!

About Allison Smith

Allison is a community-minded content developer at ae smith writing working with small to medium-sized businesses and non-profits to tell their stories. She is member of Cowork Niagara’s board of directors and an active participant in Niagara’s social enterprise community. Find her on Twitter on @aesmithwriting

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