Action is delightful
By Elisa Birnbaum
See Change Magazine
March 28, 2010
For those of us closely watching this dynamic space we call social entrepreneurship, it’s always exciting to see movement. Chatter is easy, after all, but action, get-your-hands-and-feet-dirty-type-of-action…..well now, that’s simply delightful.
Those thoughts swirled in my head during a recent SiG@MaRS information event. Designed to provide an overview of the goings-on in the area of social entrepreneurship and social innovation at MaRS, the four-hour session was chock-full of insight and inspiration.
Take the Social Venture Registry, for example. An online database of Ontario social ventures, it has three main goals: the first is to allow the self-identification of social entrepreneurs and the ability to meet others; the second is to connect ventures to potential customers; and the third is to connect to potential investors. Still in its infancy, the registry’s potential is self-evident and we’ll be watching it closely.
There’s also another exciting initiative, in partnership with the Ontario Association of Food Banks, the TSX, and SiG at MaRS called Social Venture Exchange. The pilot is only expected to roll out in the fall so it is still outside our realm of scrutiny, but the mission is impressive – at least in writing. The hope is to provide a platform to assess and attract sustainable financing, connecting investors and ventures for social impact. It’s a mouthful but we’re strong believers in reaching high, so kudos to those making the effort.
Which brings me to another prospective project that got my heart beating a bit quicker – a school for social entrepreneurs in Ontario. Nothing is happening just yet, but what’s exciting is the action-oriented discourse the idea fueled in the form of a feasibility study conducted by MASS LBP, commissioned by SiG@MaRS, and funded by the Ontario Trillium Foundation.
The story in a nutshell: ten years ago a visionary named Michael Young founded the School for Social Entrepreneurs (SSE) in the UK. Today there are ten locations, including one in Australia and one in Ireland. Each location has eight to twenty students and roughly 600 graduates now make up a strong alumni network. The school runs for 35 weeks and costs approximately $20,000 CDN. Um…no, really. Students come from diverse backgrounds and age groups – some as young as 19, others as “less young” as 75. But what they have in common is a passion for social entrepreneurship, a viable idea, and readiness to undertake the program and pursue their business.
The school is hailed as a true success story – 85% of all social enterprises established while at SSE are still in existence (how many would be around without the school, no one knows), however the question is would a franchise in Ontario be equally successful. The answer? Maybe. Bottom line, it seems the general support and desire is there but some obstacles still need to be addressed. For one thing, the project wouldn’t be sustainable without the support of government. For another, $20,000 a head may be a bit steep; in the UK, private donors cover the cost but it’s doubtful that model would work here. And just because something works in the UK doesn’t compel its viability somewhere else.
Granted, there is still much to ponder, but the general appetite is there for a school in Ontario focused on preparing emerging social entrepreneurs. What’s more, the desire is fueling action. And action is delightful.