I am currently making my way to the MaRS Discovery District in Toronto bright and early this morning, for the second day of the Canadian Conference on Social Enterprise. It seems that this is the second day in the row that I get to see the sun rise, although today looks like it will be mainly overcast with light rain. At least it is not snowing… yet.
In any case, to recap from yesterday, the “Business Skills for Social Enterprise ” workshop I attended was interesting and well structured, with a good mix of workshop presentations on marketing strategies, environmental scanning and analysis, financial forecasts and budgets, grass-roots marketing, as well as measuring performance indicators for social enterprise ventures. What was great about these presentations was the fact that they were mostly delivered by students enrolled in the business program at George Brown College. Of course, these young presenters got some help from Mark Simpson, the lead presenter of the workshop and director of the newly launched Centre for Entrepreneurship and Community Innovation at GBC.
Though I was already familiar with most of the information at hand, it was good to get a refresher on marketing research techniques as well as engage in a discussion around what constitutes measurement performance indicators for non-profits, for-profits and the blended value social enterprise; even the very definition of social enterprise was discussed, as is reflective of the broader dialogue taking place in the social entrepreneurship sphere right now.
The Use of Social Media in the Workplace
There was also some discussion around the (organizational) use of social media tools such as twitter, facebook, blogging, etc. and the value they bring to fostering a sense of community with customers and stakeholders alike. Some people in the workshop asked if there were any social media policies that their organization could adopt, and yes, there are certainly some guidelines, or at the very least recommendations, that exist out there. I would recommend reading this: Creating a Social Media Policy for your Nonprofit, Social Media Usage Guidelines as well as Your social media strategy won’t save you for some important insight into the use of social media in the workplace.
A section of the workshop yesterday also focused on hands-on skills and organizational assessment to determine how ready one is to adopt a social enterprise model, and there was certainly lots of time for unmoderated open discussions. The open discussions, were in my opinion, the most valuable aspect of the day as this allowed people in the room to create personal connections while discussing their respective organizations/projects, as well as ideas for potential social enterprise ventures.
Children’s Mental Health
On a more personal level, I may have had a shift in mindset after meeting a rather remarkable person working in the field of children’s mental health. Catherine Dyer works with an organization called The New Mentality based in Toronto, and after speaking with her for an extensive period of time, I now realize that I may have been limited in scope when it comes to my understanding of young people having the power and opportunities like never before to affect positive change in the world. I now realize that I have only ever considered “young people” to be those who are able-bodied physically and mentally, AND fully capable, without ever giving a thought about young people who are facing mental or physical challenges, and yet, are still fully capable in affecting positive change in the world. Not because I do not care, far from it. Rather, it is perhaps as a result of the context through which I live my life and not being exposed to this reality. We’ll see where this chance encounter takes me.
End of Day One
Following the full-day workshop session at GBC, we headed to the Centre for Social Innovation for the evening ‘networking’ event, where we heard from a number of speakers, including Julie McDowell of ClearlySo, who will be participating as an ‘Angel’ later today in the Social Enterprise Angels – Social Investing in Action session. Four social enterprises will have the opportunity to pitch and compete for $40,000 of seed funding from angel investors in a format similar to the popular tv show Dragon’s Den, but with a social enterprise twist to it. Tonya Surman and Sonya Pouyat, members of the Social Enterprise Council of Canada, also discussed how far the social enterprise sector has come along in Canada these past few years. However, what is clear is that much work still needs to be done in order to create the enabling governance policy framework that would allow a culture of social enterprise and social innovation to thrive in Canada, a topic that Paul Martin touched on as well.
To round off last night, I headed over to Sprout Up Toronto to meet up with some friends, as well as meet with other like-minded entrepreneur-type individuals. Matthew Corrin, founder of Freshii, was the keynote speaker at the event, and the quote of the night that really stuck with me is: “You have to create a killer culture, not a culture that kills your business“. Wise words.
Overall, Day 1 of the 3rd Canadian Conference on Social Enterprise went well, and I am looking forward to the Policy Forum for Day 2 & 3 of the conference, where we are looking to set a national agenda and policy framework for social enterprise and social finance in the country.
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