Pollster Doug Miller in his recently published book, “Can the World be Wrong?” predicts social enterprise ‘as the next big thing’ as we face “the ever-increasing pressure on business to act better in society’s interest…”[1]

His prediction just might be confirmed by the amazing shifts and developments in the social enterprise arena across Canada in 2015. We have witnessed public policy changes, market growth, increased social impact reporting and emerging new partnerships all contributed to a more vibrant social enterprise sector.

Some of what we’ve witnessed in 2015…

In government policy we saw some major steps in new supportive directions, examples include: Social Purchasing Guidelines in BC, Social Enterprise strategy policy initiatives in Manitoba, Ontario, Newfoundland / Labrador, Quebec, and Nova Scotia; and most recently five Federal Government Ministerial mandate letters supporting areas of social enterprise, social finance and social purchasing!

The sector is reaching new business and market share levels. Here are some Vancouver area achievements: CleanStart won a major three-year competitive contract with BC Housing; EMBERS Staffing Solutions is consistently employing over 150 people weekly; and Common Thread expanded their customer base to include sewing contracts with local boutique designers and is launching a training course to meet commercial sewing demand. The same stories could as well come from Halifax, Toronto, London, Manitoba, or just about anywhere.

More and more evidence of sector social impact across the country is emerging. Just take a few minutes to read through the Social Enterprise Sector Surveys. – www.sess.ca; review the stories on the enp-Canada newsroom, http://www.socialenterprisecanada.ca; or scan the recent Demonstrating Values reports, http://www.demonstratingvalue.org.

Social purchasing initiatives, like the Toronto Social Purchasing Project and the emergence of Buy Social Canada, www.buysocialcanada.ca are focusing on creating greater demand for social enterprise products and services and building a Canada based social enterprise certification program.

2015 also saw some encouraging new initiatives. To maintain and build upon the core learnings developed by enp-Canada and others the on-line Social Enterprise Institute is under construction, http://www.socialenterpriseinstitute.ca. The planning for a social purchasing partnership and marketplace between Chantier de l’Economie Sociale and Buy Social Canada is underway. ESDC issued an LOI for the potential funding of a collaborative social enterprise intermediary.

But with the hope of each 2015 advancement, comes a whole set of challenges for 2016!

Social enterprises will have to be even more business savvy and impact conscious to meet the growing demand as social purchasing is imbedded into corporate and government supply chains. Operating in the larger commercial market requires providing competitive products and pricing along with social impact!

As social enterprises grow and scale, they face financing needs along the way. Social financing tools, such as new forms of equity-like patient capital, that fit the evolving growth and needs of non-profit and hybrid social enterprises will have to emerge.

Expanding the social enterprise markets and financing requires supportive and effective intermediaries that can create and nurture new supply chain systems and relationships; mediate financing arrangements; and provide advanced business capacity.

Governments will have to move from the initial strategy and policy level of support, to implementing services that create a ‘level playing field’ for social enterprise businesses.

The private sector and government need to move further along in the process to integrate social value into their supply chains and procurement practices.

As blended value becomes the standard of business success, reporting we will need financial and social impact measurement that is simple, accessible and effective.

And finally, creating a supportive social enterprise ecosystem means greater collaboration within the community sector and externally with the public and private sectors. Collaboration like we have never seen before will be the backbone of any significant steps forward.

Here’s to hoping we meet the challenges of 2016 – which just might move social enterprise further along the path to being ‘the next big thing.’

Reproduced with permission from David LePage, President Accelerating Social Impact

[1] “Can the World Be Wrong? Where Global Public Opinion Says We’re Headed”; Greenleaf Publishing, 2016, p. 160-161