People, Profit and the Environment: Social Enterprises Lead the Way

By Geoff Cape, CEO and Founder, Evergreen

Geoff Cape, founder and CEO of Evergreen, oversees the idea development and relationship building that advances Evergreen’s mission to create flourishing cities. Working with the Board of Directors and Executive Team, he sets overall strategic direction, goals, and priorities while maintaining financial health and program quality. Geoff comes to his work with a forward-looking systems approach, developing innovative plans that move the levers of urban sustainability, inclusivity, and resilience across Canada.

Jan 8, 2014 | Smart Cities | 0 comments


Who will you meet?

Cities are innovating, companies are pivoting, and start-ups are growing. Like you, every urban practitioner has a remarkable story of insight and challenge from the past year.

Meet these peers and discuss the future of cities in the new Meeting of the Minds Executive Cohort Program. Replace boring virtual summits with facilitated, online, small-group discussions where you can make real connections with extraordinary, like-minded people.


 

From the traditional banking structure, to microfinance, to bartering, there are many financial and economic tools and systems all operating together to drive our economy and well-being.

In Canada, governments at all three levels have woken up to the multiple benefits social enterprises deliver, from skills training to jobs to addressing poverty reduction and delivering societal needs. The Ontario government for example has recently released their social enterprise strategy called: Impact – A Social Enterprise Strategy for Ontario.

In the document, they observe that there are over 10,000 social enterprises in Ontario that serve more than 3.4 million unique customers per year in Ontario. As articulated in the accompanying video (above) profiling a number of social enterprises in the province – from math programs for students, to IT start ups, to social innovation collectives – the collective energy and opportunities to address the needs of a community and build off each-others’ learnings are limitless.

These, often grassroots, initiatives are getting more and more noticed in the international business community as well. Studied at business schools such as Schulich and INSEAD and through organizations like the Schwab Foundation for Social Entrepreneurship, the Skoll Foundation’s social entrepreneur challenge with Huffington Post and the Financial Times Ingenuity Awards. This ‘mainstream’ recognition of the multiple benefits social enterprises deliver means that it is a model whose time has come.

Social Enterprise Defined

A social enterprise is a business that generates income for a social purpose. For example, a restaurant in a community centre that employs youth and puts its profits into programming, or a single mom who has assembled an army of home chefs to prepare and deliver lunches to the workplace. The social enterprise harnesses the entrepreneurial spirit and re-invests it back into the community.  This is not a new idea but the approach has gained significant momentum in recent years thanks to the work of groups like Ashoka, the Schwab Foundation, the Skoll Foundation, and a long list of innovators who are pursuing ideas with a purpose that go beyond making money for self-gain.

Social Enterprise Applied

Many people know of Evergreen Brick Works in Toronto as a tourism destination and for its weekly Farmers’ Market. Its popular food events, bike programs and wonderful parklike setting make it a go to destination for friends and family. What many do not know is that the 42 acre site with 16 buildings is run by a charity as a large scale social enterprise.

Evergreen as a Social Enterprise

Evergreen launched plans for the Brick Works back in 2002 with the intent of creating a large scale social enterprise that would manage a handful of mission-driven enterprises on the campus, the Garden Market being a clear storefront example. Through the income Evergreen generates on site, from the garden market, office space, parking lot and event rentals, Evergreen is able to support the long list of community programs and services we deliver on site, such as school visits, exhibitions, and a range of family activities.

All told, Evergreen has 8 income streams on site at the Brick Works. All of these activities are mission driven enterprises and revolve around themes of local foods (the Farmers’ Market), connecting children and nature (camps), nature in cities (garden market) and promoting an active and outdoor lifestyle (skating, hiking and bikes). Event rental space is also mission focused as we influence the sector to be more sustainable by, for example, sourcing locally. As well we are building community on site as we engage with like-minded organizations as tenants and as we participate with events onsite that relate to urban environmental issues (United Nations gatherings, Leadership forums, product launches for water membrane technology, car sharing strategies, sustainable supply chain industry meetings, etc). Even the most transactional initiative, parking, supports the shuttle bus and is priced to mirror the cost of a round trip on public transit.

These business’ not only contribute to Evergreen’s financial stability ensuring a sound and sustainable organization, but the extra income allows the Evergreen to expand our programing, most notably to underserviced communities.

As a Platform for Other Social Enterprise Ventures

Evergreen Brick Works is a campus and a venue for exploring innovations and ideas. With that in mind we have positioned ourselves as a platform for others, a stage to help us celebrate the best ideas and innovations of others. To this end, we are always engaging community partners to present their own socially driven enterprise ideas. For example, the farmers market each Saturday celebrates the produce and production of over 100 artisan farmers and food producers. We are creating room for social entrepreneurs in the farmers market and last year the cumulative sales totaled well over $6m in combined sales at the market. We are also the hosting events such as, the up-cycling Junction Flea Market or the innovative food festival the Toronto Underground Market (the social food event designed to give budding food entrepreneurs, chefs and home cooks a platform to test new food ideas to an eager market) also make the site a platform for their own ambitions as social entrepreneurs. We also work with the arts for street involved and homeless youth organization Sketch and their work on site managing a clay studio.

An excellent example of a symbiotic relationship between social enterprises is St John’s Bakery as a vendor at the Farmers’ Market. What started with a small bakery in the basement of a church in Riverside has expanded into a storefront that specializes in fantastic handcrafted, organic breads. Employing people from all walks of life and backgrounds, the results of the bakery go well beyond bread to benefit the workers – through confidence and skills building learning the craft – and the community itself.

What It Takes to Build a Successful Social Enterprise

A social need, a great idea, creativity, vision, a strong business plan and community are key to realizing a successful social enterprise. Also, we learn to walk by falling, so learning from failed avenues is also a key.

Being a Social Entrepreneur Means Being In It Together

When talking about the future of the sector as it gains traction, Bill Young, President of Social Capital Partners says it best when he states: “I would hope that 10 years from now, a young person being a social entrepreneur will replace their parents’ dreams of their children becoming doctors and lawyers.”

Discussion

Leave your comment below, or reply to others.

Please note that this comment section is for thoughtful, on-topic discussions. Admin approval is required for all comments. Your comment may be edited if it contains grammatical errors. Low effort, self-promotional, or impolite comments will be deleted.

0 Comments

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Read more from MeetingoftheMinds.org

Spotlighting innovations in urban sustainability and connected technology

The Pandemic, Inequality, Housing Affordability, and Urban Land

The Pandemic, Inequality, Housing Affordability, and Urban Land

Since the Great Recession of 2008, the housing wealth gap has expanded to include not just Black and Brown Americans, but younger White Americans as well. Millennials and Generation Z Whites are now joining their Black and Brown peers in facing untenable housing precarity and blocked access to wealth. With wages stuck at 1980 levels and housing prices at least double (in inflation adjusted terms) what they were 40 years ago, many younger Americans, most with college degrees, are giving up on buying a home and even struggle to rent apartments suitable for raising a family.

What makes it hard for policy people and citizens to accept this truth is that we have not seen this problem in a very long time. Back in the 1920s of course, but not really since then. But this is actually an old problem that has come back to haunt us; a problem first articulated by Adam Smith in the 1700s.

Multi-modal Transit and the Public Realm

Multi-modal Transit and the Public Realm

More than ever, urban transit services are in need of sustainable and affordable solutions to better serve all members of our diverse communities, not least among them, those that are traditionally car-dependent. New mobility technologies can be a potential resource for local transit agencies to augment multi-modal connectivity across existing transit infrastructures.

We envision a new decentralized and distributed model that provides multi-modal access through nimble and flexible multi-modal Transit Districts, rather than through traditional, centralized, and often too expensive Multi-modal Transit Hubs. Working in collaboration with existing agencies, new micro-mobility technologies could provide greater and seamless access to existing transit infrastructure, while maximizing the potential of the public realm, creating an experience that many could enjoy beyond just catching the next bus or finding a scooter. So how would we go about it?

Cross Sectoral Partnerships Can Fight Human Trafficking

Cross Sectoral Partnerships Can Fight Human Trafficking

Dedicated anti-trafficking actors across the nation are trying to build better systems in big jurisdictions like New York, San Francisco, and Los Angeles, and in smaller but scrappy jurisdictions like Waco, Texas and Boaz, Alabama. They all share the same need, for stronger interconnectedness as an anti-trafficking field, and more collaboration.

The Forging Freedom Portal is a one-stop shop where a police officer planning a victim-centered operation can connect with their law enforcement counterparts, and the right service providers ahead of time, collaborating to make sure they’re planning for the language skills, social services, and legal support that victims may need. The portal is a place where the people who care most about ending human trafficking, who are doing the hard work every day on the ground, can learn from each other and share best practices to raise the collective standard of this work.

The Future of Cities

Mayors, planners, futurists, technologists, executives and advocates — hundreds of urban thought leaders publish on Meeting of the Minds. Sign up below to follow the future of cities.

You have Successfully Subscribed!

Wait! Before You Leave —

Wait! Before You Leave —

Subscribe to receive updates on the Executive Cohort Program!

You have Successfully Subscribed!

Share This