Share Your Story
We love hearing about and promoting Niagara’s new and established social entrepreneurs!
If you’re one, or know someone who is, please share your story. By sharing our successes and challenges, we can build a diverse community that truly learns from and serves its members.
We asked Social Entrepreneurs in Niagara if they could share their thoughts on sector here with the following questions, and below them are their responses:
1) What led you to become involved in Niagara’s social entrepreneurial community, and what is your present role (i.e. – current or aspiring social entrepreneur, organizational leader, board member, interested citizen, etc.)? Why is social enterprise important to you?
2) What’s the most interesting or surprising thing you’ve learned about Niagara so far, in the context of social enterprise (this could be a takeaway from the forum, something you’ve learned from your own conversations with stakeholders, etc.)?
3) What are some things you’re looking forward to seeing us accomplish as a community in 2016 (the year of social enterprise in Niagara)?
4) Why should people care and get involved in helping to build Niagara’s social entrepreneurial system? Any advice/words of encouragement on where to start, or favourite books or resources on this topic?
5) What financial incentives have you seen or received in regards to becoming a social entrepreneur?
1) I connected with some of the lead organizers of Niagara’s social enterprise community about a year ago through a shared passion of its fundamentals. They did a fantastic job of harnessing the community and bringing awareness to the cause. My role in Niagara’s social entrepreneurial community is to connect and offer my experience and assistance to any entrepreneur interested in starting a social enterprise, or looking for clarification and opportunities in this arena, especially with a focus on environmental, sustainable, and recycled products and services.
2) Niagara has an abundance to offer in terms of quality of life: close knit and engaged communities, active lifestyles, and farm to table inspirations. The businesses here mimic this lifestyle and there is a great deal of acceptance and demand for social good. I see this represented in the sheer amount of people and rapid growth of support that has rallied around the social enterprise community since its inception.
3) Innovation and education around social enterprise, of course! In an era where business at the bottom line is the measurement of success, I really hope to see the social enterprise community push success past the economics to include broader environmental and social issues as a forefront to progress.
4) When we study business in school we are told the barebones fundamentals that drive the system. Quality of life, ethics, and effects on society tend to fall by the wayside. With new generations demanding change and sustainability as an important principle, we are seeing companies respond to the demand.
My advice to building the social enterprise community is to vote with your dollar. Take a hard look at the businesses you are supporting by way of your spending habits and if they are not in line with your personal morals, I invite you to speak up, ask for change, or withhold support with your money until they do.
5) In these early stages I think there is a perceived value in starting a social enterprise which is not always easy to measure and therefor hard to promote as a practice. But when you look at companies that are able to do twofold: social and economic growth, their rate of success – building a loyal customer base, and a community rally of support – their success sky rockets! It’s looking at the tangibles but also seeing value in the intangibles.
1) I’ve come at Social Entrepreneurism from two angles. One is a supporting role related to my position in the Goodman School of Business at Brock University where I manage an Experiential Education program called Service-Learning. Goodman student provide free consulting to support growth and viability of area non-profits and small businesses. It’s a program I developed because I saw a need for non-profits to think and act more like businesses. That role is a natural for supporting Social Enterprise as well.
The other hat I wear is founding and running a social service agency called the Niagara Furniture Bank. It was built on a Social Enterprise model before the term got popular. One of the founding tenants was that we would not be grant dependent and that we would generate revenue through service fees based on the value and merit of what we do rather than how well we can beg. (not that I feel strongly about that or anything!! J) As Chief Beggar for the organization, I can brag that we have managed to generate 65-70% of our operating costs through earned revenue.
2) The most surprising thing so far is how many are quietly doing business in a social enterprise way whether they be non-profit or for profit. The most exciting thing to me is the Millennials and their seemingly fundamental need to make a “difference” as opposed to just making a “dollar”.
3) I know there is a movement afoot with some of the very big and powerful players in the region to make Niagara “Open for Business”. I’m hoping that we can galvanize interest and resources to support those who want to make Niagara “Open for Social Enterprise”. What does that mean to me? That means that we have established a noticeable “centre of gravity” for those who work in or want to start Social Enterprises… that there are so many people engaged and events/supports available that we become and irresistible force in the Region’s business framework.