Top Ten Takeaways from the Social Enterprise World Forum

Last month Calgary hosted the annual Social Enterprise World Forum. Here are Charmian Love and Tim Draimin’s top 10 takeaways from the conference.

1.   System Change. The Next Frontier.

While “entrepreneurship is about the creation of tangible value,” says the godmother of social entrepreneurship, Pamela Hartigan, “in the case of social entrepreneurship, it is about creating systems change.”

 2.   The Social Enterprise Movement Is Tax Status Agnostic.

Calgary was the sixth SEWF and the first to be tax status agnostic. For example, the competition for TRICO Foundation’s Enterprizes were open to for-profits and nonprofits. “Social entrepreneurship,” said Pamela Hartigan, “… is paving the way toward a much larger transformation of capitalism where the creation of positive social change through markets will be the key to success rather than the result of a special kind of business.” The corollary is that blended value can produce change regardless of its tax status. Ultimately the biggest impact of social enterprise will be its ability to help kick-start the shift from traditional capitalism to Capitalism 2.0, or what John Elkington calls Breakthrough Capitalism, or Umair Haque’s constructive capitalism.

pamela hartigan

Pamela Hartigan spoke at the Social Enterprise World Forum

3.   Heroes Welcome. Teams Required.

Not everyone can be a social entrepreneur, says Pamela Hartigan, if it doesn’t stand for “promoting disruptive business models” and transformational change that addresses root causes.  At the same time, visionaries require teams to make change. While Pamela highlighted that only a few are social entrepreneurs, many people can be involved in the entrepreneuring (Pamela’s term) efforts to make societal change happen.

4.   Disruptors Need Bridging and Receptive Innovators.

Al Etmanski, the co-founder of Planned Lifetime Advocacy Network (PLAN) and social entrepreneur behind the Registered Disability Savings Plan (RDSP), described entrepreneuring systems change roles slightly differently. He says that “it takes three distinct types of innovators or entrepreneurs to achieve broad systemic change: Disruptive, Bridging, and Receptive.” Al’s Disruptive Innovator is the social entrepreneur. Bridging Innovators excel in identifying big ideas and leveraging their connections, reputation and resources to make the value of the disruptive innovation clear to the system. Receptive Innovators are the institutional entrepreneurs or intrapreneurs, who are skilled at advancing the big idea throughout the system. All are required.

5.   Events Can Kick off the Conversation.

MaRS Centre for Impact Investing and TRICO capitalized on the unique character and size of SEWF by hosting a half-day lead-up event: Canada’s first gathering of impact investors. The event began with an update from Sir Ronald Cohen, video-conferenced in from Washington where he had just hosted the G-8 Impact Investing meeting. Also joining this landmark event were federal and provincial ministers and their delegations from across Canada who also attended Canada’s first-ever national social enterprise gathering by government policy makers.

6.   Labs, Labs, Labs.

It appears there is a huge push in Canada to develop labs to support multi-sector collaboration in solution generation and scale up.  How these activities happening across the provinces stay connected to each other – and learn from one another’s successes and failures – will be instrumental in making sure this movement transcends the fad-ism that some fear will consume their activities.

Stickynotes

The Social Enterprise World Forum hosted several Finance Solutions Labs that generated plenty of ideas

 7.   Top-down support from across party lines

From Federal Minister Jason Kenney to Ontario Minister Eric Hoskins to Alberta Premier Alison Redford, intergenerational and cross-party support signal growth for the social enterprise sector. Whether through an openness to explore addressing the needs of the sector through policy reform or through investment funds or tax credits for social enterprises – the bottom line is that very senior levels of government are watching and ready to do something different. The question will be how to make their interest leap from conceptual conversations to practical and pragmatic action.

8.   Community capitalism.

Dr. Wanda Wuttunee has devoted her research to understanding how Aboriginal values interact with capitalist values. Opening the conference alongside Dr. Ilse Treurnicht of MaRS and Mary Gordon of Roots of Empathy, Wuttunee asked attendees to reflect on the unique lens indigenous experience provides to enterprise and economic opportunities. The term “community capitalism” reflects her emphasis on the need for economic development to be in sync with Aboriginal communities. There are under-valued benefits in seeing the economy through this perspective.

9.   Resiliency Required.

The SEWF taking place in Calgary was a metaphor for the change needed. This is about resiliency and an ability to pick up when times get tough. This was most pointedly drilled home by the Mayor of Calgary indicating that only 52 days earlier the venue for the evening rodeo was under water due to mass city-wide flooding. As he pointed out, responsive community cohesion led to a quick recovery.

 10.   Value – for whom?

One of the most re-tweeted one-liners from Ilse Treurnicht, CEO of MaRS.  Harvard’s definition of innovation is invention with value.  But Ilse rightfully asks – “value for who?”  This is a powerful reframing of the role of innovation and how it must be leveraged as a force for good.