Thursday, April 28, 2005

The State of Social Enterprise in Vancouver

In this country, a growing interest in Social Enterprise culminated in the inaugural Canadian Conference on Social Enterprise, held in Toronto in November 2004. One of the results of the conference was a clear sense of how regional infrastructure colors the development of enterprising social initiatives. A snapshot of British Columbia quickly reveals how ‘goodwill’ has not equaled sector capability. In fact, Social Enterprise ambitions are meeting capacity issues.

Since 1997, the Vancouver Foundation, the United Way of the Lower Mainland, Coast Capital Savings, and the VanCity Community Foundation have partnered in the Enterprising Non-Profits Program (ENP) to nurture regional capabilities. The ENP has explicit goals:

    · To support non-profit organizations to develop enterprises that are linked with their charitable mandate and contribute to organizational stability.

    · To increase the capacity of non-profit organizations to improve socio-economic conditions in their communities through the creation of employment or training opportunities and/or enhanced program provision.

Of the partners in the ENP, the VanCity Community Foundation, and its parent VanCity Credit Union, proactively seed Social Enterprise in British Columbia by pitching a ‘big tent’ that includes non-profits, co-operatives, and businesses with significant social or environmental objectives. VanCity’s efforts are resulting in an early stage infrastructure that aspires to resolve the challenges of organizational scale and capacity.

A key element of this early stage infrastructure is VanCity Capital Corporation (VCC). VCC offers repayable financing to facilitate new growth and sustainable expansion of successful operations. Derek Gent, VCC Investment Manager, uses the term ‘groans’ to describe hybrid financing that combines grants with loans to underpin the financing many Social Enterprises will need to achieve sustainability. These facilitating debt structures exist to allow participating organizations to generate operational surplus. In essence, practices familiar in the field of ‘asset building’ are being applied at the organizational level.

VCC also serves as a link between ‘investors with values’ and Social Enterprises. There are a growing number of investors, influenced by Jed Emerson’s ‘Blended Value’, who believe their capital should be applied to organizations that combine financial, environmental, and social impact. By partnering, VCC is working to bring strategic long-term patient capital to the table.

VanCity anchors the Social Enterprise movement in British Columbia by bringing capital and consultation to those organizations demonstrating capacity and capability. VanCity is interested in working with smart, growth-focused organizations with a firm grasp of their enterprise opportunity and want to strategically increase their success.

It remains for the Social Enterprise community to embrace the opportunity created by VanCity and its ENP partners. The community needs to encourage, support and celebrate enterprises that fully express organizational mission and demonstrate innovative solutions to challenges faced in British Columbia and communities across the country.

In the afterglow of the Canadian Conference on Social Enterprise, organizations like the Vancouver Social Enterprise Forum and the Canadian Social Enterprise Network have an opportunity to encourage significant strides in Canadian adventures in social enterprise.

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