Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Social Innovation Shared Space: Great things are afoot!

Guest Blogger: Sean Quigley, Executive Director, Emerging Leaders

Sometimes an idea comes up and fades away and comes up again and fades. But some ideas have too much pull, are too good, not to continue working on. Such is the case for a shared space for social innovation. 

What is a shared space for social innovation? Well one example of this is Toronto’s Centre for Social Innovation. From their website : “The Centre for Social Innovation is a social enterprise with a mission to catalyze social innovation in Toronto and around the world. We believe that society is facing unprecedented economic, environmental, social and cultural challenges. We also believe that new innovations are the key to turning these challenges into opportunities to improve our communities and our planet. CSI is a coworking space, community centre and incubator for people who are changing the world. We provide our members with the spaces, relationships and knowledge they need to turn their ideas into impact.”

Pillar Nonprofit Network (Pillar) and Emerging Leaders (EL) have recently begun working on a feasibility study for such a space in London. Through generous funding from the London Community Foundation, Ministry ofCitizenship & Immigration and United Way of London Middlesex, and with partners such as Web.isod.es, and the Centre for Social Innovation, we are exploring how to make this sticky idea a reality in London.
Pillar and EL have been hosting a series of design jams to tap the brilliant energy and great ideas of our partners and the wider London community. We have asked questions about whether London needs a social innovation shared space? Who are the people and organizations that would be a good fit? Where should this space be located? How can it be sustainable? Should it be only nonprofits or should it be a mix of social entrepreneurs, social enterprise, start-ups, and established businesses?
On March 19th, EL hosted one of these jams at the Goodwill Centre and there was a coming together of ideas fueled by our seeders. The Seeders are people who have a strong vision of what this space could be. We have heard from entrepreneurs, nonprofits, community leaders, and Londoners who create impact in our community. There was open, honest, and respectful discussion about what this space needs to be, combined with a palpable excitement about the need for such a space.
Pillar and EL will continue to carefully work through the process of understanding the feasibility of this kind of space and continue to engage the community in helping us to shape these ideas into a concrete plan that can be honestly evaluated. We are truly excited by the potential of this space and all signs are pointing towards this dream becoming a reality.
As we continue along this path and explore this potential, we will share our progress both here and on social media. In the meantime, stay tuned. Great things are afoot!

Sunday, March 24, 2013

The word IS out here in London: social enterprise can be a tool for making our community great.

Guest Blogger: Lina Bowden, Volunteer Advisor for Social Enterprise for Sustainable Communities

London, Ontario has been getting an education in social enterprise, thanks to a Trillium-funded initiative called Social Enterprise for Sustainable Communities. In January 2010, Chris Moss joined the Pillar team as Manager, Social Enterprise and leader of this project, which has two important goals.
  • First, we wanted to be able learn from the cross-sector engagement process of three cities: London, Sarnia and Ottawa and share these learnings with other communities. Our project partners, Ottawa’s Collaborative for Innovative Social Enterprise Development (CISED) and the Sarnia Community Roundtable, are part of a dynamic community case study that Oana Branzei and Marlene LeBer are compiling on behalf of the Richard Ivey Business School.
  • Second, we wanted to create a made-in-London-for-London support system for social enterprise. What would this look like? Well frankly, when we set out to do this, we didn’t really know! Yes, there were some solid social enterprises already in our community; the likes of Youth Opportunities Unlimited (YOU), Goodwill, YMCA of Western Ontario and Pathways Skills Development. But, to stimulate and support social enterprise in London we knew we needed a grassroots approach. We needed to listen carefully to what our community was telling us it needed, while learning, learning and learning about other models in other places that brought positive results. Now that we are two years into this project, I see incredible insight in Trillium’s interest in a project that focuses on awareness, engagement and conversation, exploring how social enterprise becomes part of the fabric of a community.
This past week, our team took pause to reflect on the impact this project has had on London. After numerous hours dedicated to running events, workshops, networking breakfasts, tours and most important of all coaching and connecting, we asked ourselves: what difference are we making in the lives of Londoners?
  1. Our support to the newly formed, successful Impact Junk Solutions operated by WOTCH is one significant and exciting milestone for our team.
  2. We have also brought a number of groups together to collaborate. For example, YOU Café and Meals on Wheels, two social enterprises that now are partnering to provide 200 meals a day to seniors.
  3. Many other nonprofit organizations have benefited from the supports provided by this project, and they continue to move forward with ideas and possible plans for expanding their toolkit to include social enterprise as a means to achieving their mission.
  4. In my own view, an unintended and important impact of this project on the community can be best described as nurturing the social entrepreneur. Before this project, there was no home for social innovators, people who call themselves change-makers, community activists, people who challenge status quo and see an opportunity to use a business model to solve a pressing issue or enhance our city. These people might represent an existing nonprofit or they may be individual citizens or groups of citizens who want to make a difference and do it sustainably.
With one year left for this project, we are pleased that we are already ahead of schedule in meeting our expected outcomes that were identified in our project proposal.
  1. We have most certainly “increased awareness and conversation of social enterprise and its value”.
  2. We have demonstrated an “increased cross-sector collaboration between nonprofit, business and government sectors”.
  3. We are starting to visualize the social enterprise support system we want to design for London.
  • It is welcoming, nurturing and non-judging so that social entrepreneurs have the freedom and confidence to express themselves and their social enterprise.
  • It demands sweat equity, passion and perseverance on the part of the entrepreneur and of course, we challenge with the question “is it sustainable?” (Chris gives homework to everyone.)
  • It is primarily a one-on-one model, coaching and inspiring individuals to design a viable social enterprise around their dream for a better London.
  • Making connections across sectors, sourcing experts, advisors, supply chains and potential partners is one the most important role that Chris plays. Each relationship is different, but nearly always, she is able to match-make in order to accelerate the social enterprise planning.
  • We know that raising capital to seed these ventures is a significant need and we are working with important community partners (across the nonprofit, government and business sectors) to consider the possible frameworks to enable a social finance framework
  • We have significantly leveraged tools and resources that already exist. For example, we have used Enterprising Nonprofits(enp) resources almost exclusively as our workshop materials and coaching tools to help nonprofits and social entrepreneurs in the idea generation, exploration, readiness, feasibility and business planning phase. We have also been fortunate to be part of a provincial network called the Ontario SocialEconomy Roundtable (OSER), that has helped us stay plugged into what is happening in the area of social enterprise and social finance across the province. OSER also provides us with an opportunity to play a role in shaping policy and practice in this new field.
It has been immensely rewarding to be involved in this project that has significantly stretched my own thinking about community development. While we have questioned over the past two years ‘who’ might be the target recipient of our efforts, it seems pretty clear to us today who that target is.
  1. We need to be ready to motivate existing charities and nonprofits in exploring whether social enterprise is right for them. At the organization level, we can support them in preparing to execute on a social enterprise plan, if it is right for them and there are numerous resources at our fingertips, thanks to groups like Enterprising Nonprofits and other support systems that we leverage.
  2. We need to be ready to nurture social innovators and change makers. We have witnessed increased interest in social entrepreneurship, particularly with youth. The floodgates have opened as many of these caring citizens are streaming to Chris’s door asking for someone to listen to them. The possibilities are endless if we feed this passion and energy with a process that helps these individuals move their ideas along. If we choose not to help them, they may give up on their dream or leave London to find a city that offers the right kind of supports.
Thank you Pillar, United Way and Ivey for the chance to be engaged with you on this project. I look forward to the next year as we continue to stimulate and support the social enterprise conversation in London and Middlesex.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Social Enterprise Exchange

 Guest Blogger: Shannon Cross, Pillar Intern, Western University MIT program

As a Pillar intern, I had the pleasure of accompanying Program Manager Chris Moss to her monthly Social Enterprise Exchange (SEE) meeting hosted at the WOTCH office in London. Going into the meeting, I was unsure of what to expect, as I had very little experience engaging in collaborative meetings in the past. However, I was pleasantly surprised by the wealth of information I learned.

As a recap, following are some of the strategies discussed in a round table format pertaining to the promotion of social enterprise projects and their growth in the community.

Strategies for Promoting a Social Enterprise Model:
  • Utilize all free resources available in the community to get the message out about your organization or project (social media, booths, word of mouth, and signage)
  • Collaborate. Align yourself with larger organizations in a collaborative effort (which provides access to their networks, clients, resources, and methods of marketing)
  • Persevere. Communities are often resistant to change, so you must prove yourself first, then enable the community to adapt over time
  • Let the community own the idea. Pitch the idea to them and allow the members to collaborate as a group, rather than running the project yourself
  • Be open to change. By opening up an idea to community collaboration; new ideas and challenges are likely to arise, so be open to incorporating them

With a great turn-out of approximately a dozen social entrepreneurs, discussion focused on continued development of social enterprises. Those who attended had the opportunity to share challenges, positive strategies, success and failure stories, as well as exchange contact information in a process of networking to develop future relationships.

For more information regarding social enterprise opportunities or future monthly SEE meetings, you are welcome to contact Chris Moss at Pillar Nonprofit Network at socialenterprise@pillarnonprofit.ca

The Move towards Greater Corporate Social Responsibility (CRS)

Guest Blogger: Shannon Cross, Pillar Intern, Western University MIT program

Through my time as a Pillar intern, I have enjoyed ample opportunity to research common themes and trends popping up in the nonprofit sector. One specific area of interest is the concept of corporate social responsibility and the ways in which business/the private sector can begin to align itself with the nonprofit sector in order to achieve this goal. They do this by positively impacting the community through environmental, societal and workplace accountability. 

Why Consider Corporate Social Responsibility?
  • As a method of increasing consumer brand loyalty for the company’s products and/or services 
  • As a “win-win” means of creating long term benefits and diverse partnerships for both the company and the community
  • As a way of enhancing the company’s existing socially responsible or “green” values, therefore leading to a more active approach
There are many ways in which a company can go about improving its social presence and corporate image. Following is a list of changes a company may choose to make in order to achieve this goal: 
  • Reduce environmental footprints at the office by encouraging staff to reduce energy usage, bike or use public transit on their way to work, and recycle paper and file folders
  • Check products from suppliers to ensure they meet the company’s ethical standards and not just specific cost criteria
  • Screen new potential employees for their views on environmental sustainability and CSR to ensure they fit with the company’s vision and to see if they might provide further insights on ideas not yet discussed
  • Review what other companies in the field are currently doing to reach these same goals and to then match or improve upon these efforts in order to help your company stand out
  • Alter marketing campaigns to link CRS and environmental awareness to products/services to ensure the company is recognized for undertaking these initiative

Research by the Network for Business Sustainability (NBS) suggests consumers are more likely to buy green products when they are connected with status, linking them to upscale events and celebrities. Still, consumers must also be reassured that a “green” product is just as good or better than leading products/services that do not carry this designation.

For more ideas on going green or implementing CSR strategies, please visit