““With scant help from Queen’s Park and less from Ottawa, 10,000 social enterprises have sprung up in Ontario.
These business-charity hybrids make money to do good. They build affordable housing, create jobs for people who are normally excluded from the workforce, and produce everything from clean power to micronutrients for kids in the world’s countries.
They don’t qualify for tax deductions because they are profit-making organizations. They can’t borrow from banks because they don’t adhere to traditional market principles. Yet they have survived — in many cases, http thrived — because of the talent and ingenuity of a new generation of entrepreneurs.
Now the Ontario government seeks to take the lead. “Social enterprises are the rising stars of the global economy,” Eric Hoskins, minister of economic development, said Thursday as he released his government’s social enterprise strategy. “Together we can ensure that they have no better place to grow than here.”
Hoskins set two goals: to make Ontario the North American leader in spawning social enterprises and create 1,600 new jobs.
The minister’s support is welcome. But this sector does not need government leadership. It has leaders. The risk-taking entrepreneurs who created a business model that didn’t exist found their own financing and created a network of like-minded, digitally savvy innovators.
Nor does it need a master plan. It has blossomed without targets or timelines. It has grown in uncharted ways and invented new tools such as crowdfunding and social impact bonds. It has changed the urban landscape; think of the Evergreen Brick Works,Bullfrog Power, Eva’s Phoenix Print Shop or the Centre for Social Innovation on Spadina Ave. (it has two offshoots in Toronto and one in New York).
In Hoskins’ defence, he championed the movement before he was elected in 2009. And he has been a strong proponent in government, keeping the file when he moved from the ministry of citizenship and immigration to the ministry of economic development.
He believes deeply in giving back as he demonstrated that in his life before politics, working as a doctor in war-torn countries and co-founding War Child Canada, which helps bring stability, healing and hope to children in communities ripped apart by armed conflict.
But his government is a latecomer to the social enterprise sector — about 10 years late. At this stage, it is better equipped to facilitate than steer.
Setting aside the politics, Hoskins’ policy paper — a year in the making — is clear, thoughtful and contains good ideas:
· The government will launch a $4-million Social Enterprise Demonstration Fund to support start-ups in the sector.
· It will use its purchasing power during the PanAm Games to strengthen and showcase social enterprises.
· It will explore legislation recognizing social enterprises as legitimate businesses, enabling them to get funding and compete freely for clients and contracts.
· It will consolidate the programs and services of all provincial departments in its four-month-old Office for Social Enterprise and create a single web portal for social entrepreneurs,
· It will raise awareness of the role and importance of the social enterprise sector as a job creator, investment magnet and vehicle for improving people’s lives.
· And it will hold a round table early next year to identify and resolve administrative and regulatory burdens that are preventing social enterprises from starting up and scaling up.
All of these measures dovetail nicely with what’s happening on the ground and signal a reassuring shift from one-off efforts — a social finance task force in 2009, a social innovation summit in 2011, a microloan program in last spring’s budget — to a sustained commitment.
The only discordant note is the packaging. It jars against the collaborative nature of the social enterprise sector. No one is in charge. No one seeks credit. No one imposes expectations.
Hoskins is right to hail the growth of business-charity hybrids as one of Ontario’s success stories. But it does not belong to the Liberals. It does not belong to anyone.”