Community, Featured, Projects, Social Change, Social Entrepreneurship, Social Innovation & Change

Social Entrepreneurship – A Movement Towards Building Better Business

I attended a talk given by Tal Dehtiar of Oliberté last week on Thursday, hosted by Capacity Waterloo Region as part of their Change Agent Series. Oliberté is the first company in the world to market premium urban-casual footwear that is exclusively made in Africa, from the natural rubber found in Liberia and leather from Ethiopia, to local workers manufacturing shoes in factories built to ISO 14000 (environmental management) standards, where workers are paid a fair wage and no child labor is used.

Tal is certainly an accomplished individual, having founded MBA’s WIthout Borders (MWB) several years ago prior to Oliberté, which he then eventually sold (the rights) to CDC Development Solutions.

From my perspective, it seems that a lot of his motivation comes from seeing business as the biggest change agent in the world. Perhaps this point of view was shaped by his family history and struggles as new immigrants to Canada a couple of decades ago, a story which he shared with the audience. Similar to many familiar new-immigrant stories that you hear today, Tal’s parents were highly educated back in their home country, but either due to a lack of English-speaking skills or education credentials not being recognized here, they had to make do with whatever job was necessary in order to survive. And similar in outcome to many immigrant stories, Tal’s parents ended up starting their own business, becoming successful in turning a profit, while in the process, employing hundreds of people to work for them.

With this in mind, Tal views his for-profit company Oliberté, as a social venture or social enterprise. And he does so because at the end of the day, he believes that he is charting a much more sustainable way of life for people living in countries like Ethiopia and Liberia, by providing them with a stable means of employment and fair income. Tal has also heard many local people say that they do not need any more direct aid or charity (in the traditional sense of the word) in Africa. What they do need are jobs in order to provide for their families themselves, with sustained economic growth and investment in order to build a middle-class in Africa, which currently does not exist. This is something that Dambisa Moyo argues in her book, Dead Aid: Why Aid Is Not Working and How There Is A Better Way For Africa.

That being said, Tal made the point that although Oliberté is a social enterprise, it is a footwear company first, competing with the likes of Lacoste, Roots, Nike, etc., in the premium footwear market in terms of price point and quality of the product. They are not necessarily focusing on selling the ‘social good’ aspect of the company, although it does provide a great backstory to the company, and I completely agree with this approach.

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Community, Featured, Podcasts, Projects, Social Change, Social Entrepreneurship, Social Innovation & Change

The 100 – Episode 2 on Social Entrepreneurship

Jennifer King (of Capacity Waterloo Region) and I, joined local community animators Hilary Abel and Brock Hart last Sunday, March 14 to record Episode 2 of The 100 podcast.

The 100 is a podcast on local events, politics, cafes, food, technology, arts, the music scene and a whole lot more, in and around the Region of Waterloo.

Jennifer and I were invited to discuss our views on social enterprise and social venture organizations.

Would love to get feedback and comments on our segment, especially when it comes to our perspective on social entrepreneurship and social innovation. Enjoy!

Featured, Social Change, Social Entrepreneurship, Social Innovation & Change

The Open Book of Social Innovation

Having worked for Social Innovation Generation at the University of Waterloo for close to two years now, and immersing myself deeply into the emerging field of ‘social innovation’ and social change, I regularly come across many .pdf white papers, e-books, handbooks and reports on ‘how to change the world’, in a manner of speaking.

As you can imagine, these documents are piling up, currently tucked away in a folder labeled ‘Resource Documents’ on my laptop, and are calling out to be shared online. I didn’t have a way to share these documents in an effective manner, or at the very least, in an aesthetically pleasing manner – I suppose there is always Scribd or DocStoc, but both platforms still leave me with the feeling that I am reading a ‘document’ rather than a much more comfortable ‘book’.

In any case, I’ve come across this amazing online tool called issuu, that allows you to embed a .pdf document onto your blog/website – much like the Open Book of Social Innovation produced and published this month by NESTA in the UK, which I have embedded above – allowing readers to scroll through the document as they would a ‘regular’ book.

I suppose this is where an Apple iPad comes into play. I’ll be sharing the majority of the documents that I have accumulated over the past couple of years in the next little while, hopefully some of the documents and resources will prove useful to many of you who read my blog and follow me on Twitter.

As for the Open Book of Social Innovation produced by NESTA:

This volume – part of a series of methods and issues in social innovation – describes the hundreds of methods and tools for innovation being used across the world, as a first step to developing a knowledge base.

It is the result of a major collaboration between NESTA (the National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts) and the Young Foundation – two organisations that are committed to the role that social innovation can play in addressing some of the most pressing issues of our time.

The Open Book presents a varied, vibrant picture of social innovation in practice and demonstrates the vitality of this rapidly emerging economy. It is fantastically rich, and demonstrates the diversity of initiatives being led by entrepreneurs and campaigners, organisations and movements worldwide.

Together with the other volumes in this Series, we hope that this work provides a stronger foundation for social innovation based on the different experiences and insights of its pioneers.

Like the social ventures it describes, we want this work to grow and develop. Your comments, thoughts and stories are welcome at the project website:

Dr Michael Harris, NESTA

Mission Statement
Social Entrepreneurship

Fast Company: How to Write a Mission Statement That Doesn’t Suck

By Dan Heath

Use concrete language. Check out this mission statement from SonicBids, a fast-growing small business: “We want to help musicians get gigs, and promoters book the right bands. … We’re a bunch of people who think that music can truly change the world and make it smaller and better. … We believe that independent music belongs everywhere: on festival stages; in video game consoles; on film screens; in college theaters; on the radio; in advertisements; on club stages and at sporting events.” Wow. It gives you a picture of what they do and tells you why it’s worth doing.


Talk about the why. Most mission statements are all statement and no mission. The whole point is to say why you’re doing what you’re doing. What makes you care? Look at the start of Johnson & Johson’s famous credo: “Our first responsibility is to the doctors, nurses, and patients, mothers and fathers and all others who use our products and services.” Well, okay, that’s worth getting out of bed for. Compare that with ExxonMobil’s. Did you feel that? A little part of your soul just died, reading that.