Sunday, September 9, 2012

Why Social Enterprise??

I get this question quite a bit. Why would a nonprofit look at doing something that is risky, increases their workload and challenges the way the system works? Well, quite frankly, it is to make things better.

Tradition tells us that a nonprofit leader needs to spend copious hours writing grants for smaller and smaller pots of money in order to simply maintain their status quo. In fact, many executive directors I speak with tell me that they are barely staying afloat. Fundraising and donations are more challenging to acquire and the cost of doing business continues to rise.

What social enterprise allows for is a creativity to look at the gaps in our services and the problems within the system we work and figure out how to solve them using a business model.

Examples in our community are strong.

These three examples are businesses that were started by nonprofits and are helping them achieve more than they could before.

Yes, it is a lot of work, and it is risky; however, it is proving to have amazing outcomes for the people in our community.

Pillar is excited to be working in partnership with Dr. Oana Branzei from the Ivey Busienss School. HBA and MBA students have been helping our nonprofits through the exploration of social enterprise and it has proved to be a successful way for nonprofit leaders to get ahead. 

Dr. Branzei recently wrote an article about the work she is doing globally where she is teaching business models to solve social problems. 

In “Hope in Hopeless Settings”, she explains that “business opportunities help individuals and communities imagine and bring about a new, different, better future”. I highly recommend you read her article…it is truly inspiring.

For more information about how social enterprise can help your organization and the people you serve, contact Chris Moss today.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Recent Trade Show

On June 15th some of London's social enterprises participated in the multi-chamber event: diSTRICTLY business.

The event was an exceptionally well run networking event/trade show where our social enterprises had an opportunity to practice marketing and promoting their products and services, connect with local vendors and display their business to the general public. Present was EcoLiving London, Cleanworks, Youth Opportunities "You Made It" Enterprises, Habitat for Humanity's Restore, Women's Community House's "Mine 101",  London Fuse,  My Sister's Place and Impact Junk Solutions.

By all accounts this was an incredibly successful event, fun for all involved and hopefully beneficial for the business aspects of their nonprofit's initiative.

Some discussion that occurred across the tables was that of the presence of nonprofits running businesses. I often get asked, is this 'fair market competition'? How can a small business compete with a nonprofit and how is it fair. A nonprofit gets tax breaks and a small business doesn't have grants and start up funds available to them in quite the same way. How is an entrepreneur going to compete with that?

It is actually harder for a nonprofit's business (their social enterprise) to succeed. These social enterprises employ clients whom, in many cases need support services to help them throughout the day. These services are very expensive and a cost a traditional business person wouldn't' have to pay (often where the grant money is allocated). The leadership challenges that come with this workforce is also very challenging; high turnover, high sick days, a required deep understanding of issues/challenges and patience to tolerate what would not be traditional human resource practices. One reason nonprofits are starting businesses is to help the marginalized populations become employed with a goal to eliminate their need for social assistance which in the end helps all tax payers, but most importantly gives these employees increased dignity, self respect, confidence and elimination of poverty in their lives.

It is our goal that social enterprises are partners with small businesses. That there are ways to collaborate, team up, work together and change our city. Social enterprise has a positive impact to our local economy and the evidence was present at the Chamber's trade show event. It was a very productive evening.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Becoming Intentionally Focussed...

As many of you know, in February 2010, Pillar, United Way of London & Middlesex & the Ivey Business School began a learning journey about how social enterprise could be used as a tool in nonprofits to improve sustainability.

As we have worked through year one, getting to know what social enterprises exist in our community, and into year two as we engage and create awareness with nonprofit organizations in London and area, we now begin the process of business planning. 
  • What does it look like to create a business model within a nonprofit? 
  • How could that change the landscape of charity and fundraising? 
  • How do we challenge long-held beliefs to make real changes to large social problems? 
  • How to we work with other sectors (government and business) to collaborate in unique and innovative ways to further the missions of the nonprofits in our community? 
These questions are just some of what have been challenging us through this process. We are excited to learn from our partners in Ottawa and Sarnia as well as from local entrepreneurial leaders like yourselves. As we move forward, we will be taking a strategic and intentionally focussed approach to combining social enterprise to the needs in our community. Great work is being done in our community that nonprofits could support. To name a few:
What if nonprofit's looked at their work a bit differently? What if we considered how implementing social enterprise concepts could bring resolve to the recommended outcomes listed in the different strategic plans in order to create positive change? What would that look like? What if we didn't look at how to get funding, spend time writing grants, waiting for the money to move ahead, but rather...took action now, using business concepts? 

In "The End of Charity: Time for Social Enterprise" by Nic Frances he challenges us by saying "If we can make a market case for these goals and for developing ways to achieve them, we will be on our way to lasting change" (p. 11)

If you would like to be a part of a dialogue considering this change please let me know as I plan for a possible change lab or community conversation around what this might look like.