In many ways Quebec is a leader in developing social enterprises and its social impact sector. Attendees were able to hear lessons learned from a jurisdictional leader in the field.
This session was moderated by Peter Elson, Senior Research Associate, Institute for Nonprofit Studies, Mount Royal University, and featured:
- Johanne Lavoie, Commissioner, Social Economy Bureau, City of Montreal
- Nancy Neamtan, Présidente directrice-générale, Chantier de l’économie sociale
A special thanks to session sponsor Enterprising Non-Profits (enp) Canada.
Transcript of session (Includes Q&A):
Peter Elson: I’m going to provide a contextual overview. A lot of my research has been comparative research, related to social enterprises but also relationship between provincial governments to the nonprofit sector across Canada.
There are six points that I’d like to address in relatively short order, but the point is Québec is different. I would say that one of the first social enterprises was Samuel de Champlain, who to New France in the early 1600s. What did Samuel de Champlain do? He not only asked the people to grow their own vegetables in the small little community settlement they had but they also had communal plots, food could be grown communally. Not only that, they had an intimate and ongoing relationship with the local aboriginal communities. Samuel de Champlain actually did, like many people who came to New France, want to establish a new kind of society. He grew up in an area in Europe which was rife with political conflict. In fact, in several of his initial voyages to Canada, he brought representatives from various religions, denominations with him on the boat.
The only reason he had to stop that at one point is because they spent so much time fighting among each other that nothing was able to get settled. He said, “okay, I’m gonna cut my losses and sort of go with one group”. But he was very much a pacifist in that grade and very much a social democrat in the way that he collaborated both within the people and among the people that were there. I mention this because Nancy will likely say, as well and others, that Québec is different because its history is different.
Although we have an English Canada that dominates things, certainly the Francophone component in Canada dominates a significant portion of our history. That’s something that I think goes really unrecognized overall. Out of that cultural milieu is a difference which I think not only do we need to honor and acknowledge, but also something that we could learn from individually and collectively. Part of those are lessons that had been built within Québec particularly with respect to the economy sociale from the ground up.
Who is leading this? In 1995 the de federacion de find de Québec, and other groups, led a march on the legislature around the degree of poverty and social exclusion around the employment. The building of those lessons came from the ground up and are lessons that we all learned everywhere. I think one of the differences in Québec is the fact that they’ve held those lessons over time and those lessons, which maybe incidental and circumstantial, are passed on collectively so that there’s not a segmentation of experience of a social intervention here or social construct there, but in fact there’s an integration of saying there’s a big picture here.
Being able to hold a big picture about what is this incidence, what is this factor, what is this policy, what is this funding arrangement, what is the relationship of that to the big picture in terms of what our society is, where we wanted to go, and what is our relationship to that society? That’s one of the big differences that I’ve seen is it’s not like there are significantly different experiences that don’t occur in other provinces or in other countries, but the fact that those experiences are gathered, talked about and brought together and integrated in the degree of solidarity and non-formality.
When I’m talking about solidarity in the Québec sense, in Canada we talk about there’s Québec and Le ROC and R-O-C is rest of Canada. In Le ROC there’s a high degree of informality. In some ways the informality across the sector is to be celebrated. You know, we’re not all shirts and suits and everything else, but that informality also manifests itself in a degree of fragmentation in this lack of continuity, again of experience that people can see in terms of what’s going on.
In Québec there is a real sense of, again, not just a cultural collective but a connection and a desire by people to come together and the Chantier is an exemplar of exactly that kind of solidarity. There are examples in other provinces and certainly in other countries as well is adegree of co-creation of public policy, as distinct from co-production. Co-production is, yes, we get to be partners with government after they’ve decided what the policy is gonna be and who’s going to get funding for it and how much and where and so forth.
Co-creation is much more of an explicit engagement in the actual policy itself. You’re actually co-creating with politicians and policy makers the policy so the implications of what a public policy might look like in the communities is both recognized and examined right from the outset. It’s not something that becomes an unforeseen consequence – “oh, sorry, we didn’t really know what was gonna happen”.
There’s a way in which the social economy in Québec has matured overtime to become not only a player as it were but a real partner in terms of public policy related to the sector.
This has taken time but it’s not just about time. It’s not repeating the same lessons every year for 15 years. It’s having 15 years of experience that culminates over time and how does that experience grow? How do you move from one level of sophistication? How do you start to recognize the value of the data and the stories and the markets and the purchasing portals and procurement policies and a variety of things? It’s true, with no small part to the role that intermediaries have played in Québec to build and hold that picture over time.
Why compare? Why compare any country with another country, any province with another country? Why compare Québec with anywhere else? Probably for three distinct kind of reasons of your choice:
- to cherry pick ideas, to sort of say, “well, this looks like it’s really good and is working with Québec and we think that we want to be like that too”.
- you are looking for something to basically validate a solution that you already have yourself. We wanna do X and we want to be able to draw from many different constituencies that prove that in fact the idea or the strategy that we want to take, move forward in terms of social enterprise, will work and see it’s working with Québec and it’s working in Nova Scotia or it’s working in the US, in the UK as the case maybe.
- The third and I think the most substantive reason is “what are the questions that the people in Québec asked themselves 15, 18, 20 years ago that they continue to ask, that we need to ask ourselves?” The fact that the people in Québec continue to ask themselves “where are we going?”, “how do we want to get there?” is a very conscious, overt way of engaging in politics and being political in a very real way, rather than then segregating our self from the political process. What are the kind of questions that we need to hold ourselves to account in terms of our own integrity and purpose and direction and mission so that we can carry forward, so that we are not necessarily repeating all the lessons in Québec, although we can certainly borrow from some of them, but in fact, we’re asking ourselves the right questions at the right time so that we’re moving forward and in an appropriate and constructive way?
Nancy Neamtan: I returned to the YMCA in Pointe St. Charles where this whole story began when I was a community activist, working with anti-poverty and all kinds of stuff and I was hired by the YMCA and they said “okay, well, you know, we’ve got to do something about all this poverty.” This was the old industrial heartland of Canada, factories were closing down. We said, “we’re trying to deal with social problems and it’s the same basis that we’re still talking about today. We can ask government or charities to take care of it or we can look at what’s creating marginalization. We can look at the lack of employment. We can look at the way economic development is excluding people and start doing things differently.” That’s basically what we decided to do which was a hard one at the time because we’re at the beginning of Reganism and Thatcherism where it was the trickle-down effect and George. We were 10 minutes away from downtown and nothing was trickling down so we said that’s not gonna work for us so we have to do something different.
The reason I say that because yesterday you may have seen George and he’s from Trico Homes but he hasn’t always been with Trico. He was at the CN Yards in Pointe St. Charles which was big, 1,600 workers were there, and we start to do economic revitalization and it was the company at the time with a team of managers and he was part of it. This guy named Fostele Vivet is running this big industrial company and said we have a commitment to community. We started to work together and actually in a certain period when the CN said, “you’ve got to become a commercial operation”. It was called AMFM, I was actually appointed to the board of this manufacturing facility of 1,600 workers to represent the community.
I haven’t heard of any other examples of that inn Canada to tell you the truth, and I did it for a while. Unfortunately, we were not able to save that many jobs but the community economic did well in the corporation and it’s still there 30 years later. Recently an announcement was made that they’re re-developing that whole site around public transit and all that kind of stuff. It took a while but you’ve got to be patient.
The vocabulary is not always the same, but the basic idea is there is that we can’t just wait for the others to solve problems that include employment, include the way development is taking place. We have to become economic actors. When we talk about the social economy today in Québec, what are we talking about? It refers specifically to social enterprise. It’s an economic force that’s producing goods and services and contributing to the wealth creation but also contributing in the process of wealth creation to the sharing of wealth. It’s enterprises, but it’s more than that.
It’s also, and it was even referred to earlier, a social movement that’s working to transform our development model in favor of a more inclusive in democratic economy. As Peter mentioned, it’s a movement of civil society and we’ll get back to definitions, but working in partnership with government and the private sector, for its own development.
We have as definitions of the social economy, and I don’t wanna get into a long story about this because every country and every place and every person just about every researcher has their own definition, but we came together on a common definition. Basically, the social economy is an enterprise but its final objective is to serve its members of the community instead of simply striving for financial profit. It can make a profit, but that’s not its main mission. It’s autonomous of government. Its statutes and code of conduct establishes certain democratic decision-making process that can employ workers, users, community, but there’s some form of participation. It prioritizes people and work over capital in the distribution of revenue and surplus. Its activities are based on participation, empowerment, and individual, we’re not denying individual responsibility, and collective responsibility as well.
What that means in Québec is cooperates, mutuals, nonprofits, socially responsible enterprises. When we talk about social economy we concentrate mainly on cooperatives, mutuals and nonprofits, but they represent all kinds of sectors, historically from agriculture to financial services. Alfons of Dexia Bank who was with the founder of Dexia Bank, which is the biggest financial institution in Québec, was the member of the social economy group of Montreal in 1900.
Home care, social insurance, social insertion of the marginalized in health daycare, I mean name it. We have social economy sector enterprises in all kinds of sectors. What is good about it’s now recognized even though this vocabulary was total foreign to all of us, including myself, 20 years ago. Today, the social economy is recognized by government, by labor, by municipalities, by the private sector, by social movements as an integral part of our infrastructure historically and for the future.
When there’s dialogue, and there’s a large social dialogue in Québec around development and economic development, social development, all kinds of issues, by being recognized it means that you’re part of the discussion. We’ve been able to manage that mainly by working together. We have an organization, and I have lots of pamphlets and some people want more information, which is basic a network of networks.
What we did was bring together enterprises, it could be at community radios, housing coops, worker coops, parent control daycare centers, all kinds of different social enterprises that are in networks. They’re mainly local and regional development organizations, so very much a territorial approach. These social enterprises are tools for healthy communities, based in communities, supported by communities.
We have the social movement, the union movement, the women’s movement, the community movement, cultural democracy, environmental people who believe that we have to do economic development taking into account a really sustainable approach and therefore they support and generate new social enterprises. We have youth networks. We work with First Nations and researchers. Our organization basically is a network of networks which is recognized therefore by the Québec government as a participant in economic and social development.
Our mission is basically to promote the social economy as an integral part of Québec’s plural economy, recognizing obviously the role of the public sector and the public economy and the private sector, but by doing this to participate in the democratisation of the economy and the emergence of a new development model.
We do all kinds of things and our mandate changes over the years because it’s a moving target. Things are developing, things that we used to do at a provincial level and are now being doing locally and regionally. We’re always doing things that nobody else can do at a provincial level, but basically what we do is bring together different actors and partners to collaborate. We promote the social economy and we look at what are the conditions and the tools that are necessary so that people in communities, people who want to develop social enterprises, have all the tools that they need to get the job done.
We also do is build alliances to grow stronger, to win more favorable public policy and a better environment. We work a lot internationally because that has been an inspiration for all of us. Our board of directors therefore reflects all these different networks. We also now have regional hubs in every region in Québec including the Cree Nation, with our First Nations.
We have youth communities so we have a whole participatory structure that allows all kinds of people, organizations, movements, actors, municipalities and so on to get involve in supporting the social economy. Over the years, we’ve analyzed access to capital which is the key issue. We’ve been in social finance since 1997. We have an investment fund was started in ‘97.
We have another trust fund. We’re constantly creating new financial products, leveraging private capital, pension plan money, and sometimes using government – either using it directly or using it as guarantees. We could do a whole workshop just on that. We’ve developed a new transactional platform around markets to improve access to markets for procurement, for individual consumers and other enterprises, but also to regroup our buying power so that we can negotiate, when we’re buying paper or computers or telephones or whatever, better prices for enterprises.
We have a sectoral council that has existed for many years, as long as the Chantier, to work on labour force development and on analyzing needs for training and so on and that is an important part of the work that all sectoral councils do. We have one specifically on the social economy and community-based organizations that allows us to take into account the need, for example, to train our boards on this kind of stuff and to work in different forms of organization.
Public policy has been a key factor. The recognition of the importance of the social economy has grown and we’ve been able to negotiate a lot of different public policies. Once again, I could go on for hours and hours on this one because we have sectoral policies, we have local development policies. For example, there’s a local development policy in Québec that means that there’s local development centers and communities across Quebec, a little bit like the Community Futures programs from the Federal government, and they have a mandate to support entrepreneurship but it’s specific in the law and in their actions and they must support not only private traditional enterprise but also social enterprises and entrepreneurship.
We had the first government action plan in 2007. We have investment tools. There’s lot of stuff going on and we can get back on it if you have particular questions, but we have dealt with all kinds of different issues, some specifically for cooperative, some in terms of research, some in terms of financial support.
More and more municipalities are getting involved and Johanne Lavoie from the City of Montreal will talk to you more about that, but there’s been all kinds of public policy that we’ve been able to win over the years by this kind of co-construction and co-production. The big news is as of next week, we’ll be voted and normally unless there’s a huge change, unanimously for the national assembly in Québec which is our provincial legislature, a framework legislation on the social economy.
This framework legislation, within the law, recognizes the contribution of the social economy development of Québec and also creates obligations for all ministries and government bodies to take into account the social enterprise, the social economy and programs and strategies. It opens up the measures that have traditionally existed exclusively for private sector companies and adopts it into social economy enterprises and creates a permanent ongoing partnership to follow up in the law.
There’s all kinds of really important things I think that are happening but this framework legislation for us is really watershed legislation on which we’re gonna be able to build much more in the future.
Key lessons, I mean there’s so many lessons to be learned and we’ve been learning lessons from around the world. As I mentioned, we do a lot of cherry picking of going around and seeing what’s going on and then spying and saying “they’re doing it in the States. If they are doing in the States then we can do that here”.
But in terms of the key lessons, I guess that the first thing was to gain recognition. It was necessary to give ourselves a common identity that emphasized our common characteristics.
What’s a worker coop, a community radio, a nonprofit daycare center, a manufacturing company that is a nonprofit hiring the handicapped. We have and can talk about all the differences, there’s lots of differences, but we’re actually able to get everybody to come together and say, “yeah, but we have certain commonalities, common values, common characteristics and if we give ourselves that common identity then we’re so much stronger to be able to be recognized and to move forward”.
To win public policy, we created the space with the Chantier that allows us to debate, express our aspirations, and agree on common priorities so that all of us are not going in on our own to see government or municipalities. We can agree on priorities and it makes easier for the people that we’re talking to in government to work with us to move forward. We’ve also put a lot of emphasis on place based development as a strategic choice that open doors to a variety of alliances particularly of municipalities.
What is the goal of a social enterprise? It’s to have a better quality of life for our citizens and all citizens live in community somewhere so place based is very important.
We created alliances with social movements that share our concern. For example, promoting a worker coops. Forty percent of our labour force is unionized. If they’re not interested it’s gonna be a hard sell. Well, we finally got them on board and now have the three major labour unions that just came out recently and we’re working with them to promote it and saying, “work coops in workplaces, it’s a choice for development”.
Another key lesson, a bottom up structure and strategy is fundamental for success. I started in Pointe St. Charles. Other people started in rural communities and we built this movement, this understanding that somehow along the line we have to really get seriously into sustainable development, meaning linking social, environmental and economic concerns in the way we do development. Well, that really grew up and when we came together, we had those roots and we constantly worked on that basis that we start at the bottom level.
What can be done at the community level should be done at the community level. What can be done at the regional level should be done at the regional level. We do what nobody else can do locally because we think that that’s really where things happen.
We’ve been able to have this ongoing dialogue and co-production of public policy with governments that have changed over the years. It’s not always been the same political party. Because of the strength and the importance of this phenomenon and the contribution to Québec society, we’ve been have been able to have this ongoing dialogue and we’ve been learning from international experiences constantly. We’re part of international networks. We’re now working with United Nations and others because for us I don’t think there’s anything we’ve done in Québec that we haven’t somehow been inspired by something that’s being done somewhere else. Of course, by the time we applied it in our own context it’s changed and then the same people come back and say, “oh, that’s really good”. Well, we learned it from you.
The key challenge we’re facing right now is scaling up. You know, if we really wanna have an impact, we evaluated about somewhere between eight to 10% of the economy if we bring in the big coops and so on. We think we’ve got to be bigger part of that economy, but that means having more adequate tools, expertise, capital, and entrepreneurs becoming more and more ambitious. We have tools where we can go in for like a million and a half. We’ve thought that would last us for a long time but now we have so many projects that we’re not even close to being able to respond to the capital needs because the projects are getting bigger and bigger.
There’s a challenge and Peter mentioned the coherency in our action, maintaining an overall vision, sustainable practices, staying anchored in communities while we continue to expand and become more ambitious in our economic and social objectives, reinforcing and deepening our alliances to promote an overall new development model, and working with our friends from the rest of Canada as well on this one because we think it’s very important to build alliances.
We’re in a global economy so there’s no way we’re gonna create these little utopias each in our own communities, our own provinces, our own countries. This is an international phenomenon. The good news is it’s out there and I could talk about what’s going on internationally for a long time, but I won’t.
There’s a real challenge for us to be better understood by the general public. Some of my relatives still don’t understand what I’m doing and we’re working: “can you please explain that to me again?” Yet we’re making progress, but one of our problems with this we’ve just got good stories to tell and happy endings and all that kind of stuff and I keep saying to my gang, we need a few people that do some scandals and start defrauding and maybe they’ll talk about this in the news – they don’t like good news stories and usually we are good news stories so one of the challenges is getting out there to the general public. Obviously, we don’t have money to put huge ads and papers to say all the good things we’re doing.
So if you want them to know more, we’ll h- … continue this discussion. I’ve got lots of stuff. There’s actually, and I promised I would say that there is now this book in English. There’s a book in English that has been edited, um, by Marie Bouchard and from the University of Toronto Press, um, Innovation and the Social Economy: The Québec Experience. So there’s some stuff out there but we also have more and more stuff in English, so please stay in the conversation, thank you.
Johanne Lavoie: I will focus on a few key elements for success. Let’s start with the evaluation of the City of Montreal social economy policy. We have seen in Montreal a growing presence of social economy enterprise over the years. For more than a century, collective enterprise has been around, like cooperatives, mutual association, nonprofit organizations. They all have contributed to the city’s development.
In the late ‘80s, this model of development flourished as it became more attractive for more people involved in socioeconomic development. This collective enterprise helped to improve the quality of life in Montreal by creating accessible local services in area as diverse as recreation, culture, daycare service, help for seniors, health and social services, waste management, and food services.
In 1990, the City of Montreal adopted an action plan for community economic development that was truly the first strong institutional positive gesture toward social economy. What followed that is the elected members who have social economy at heart and representatives of the social economy worked together to create momentum for the adoption of a public policy for social economy. Around 2005, a mandate to develop a public policy on social economy was put under responsibility of the city’s economic development department.
Right away, there was an active partnership approach with social economy stakeholders. An advisory committee composed of representative of social economy was created and it proposed a first policy framework.
The policy included the setup of a follow-up steering committee which is a mixed committee composed of five senior executives of the City of Montreal, 10 representatives of the social economy and its chaired by the city executive committee member responsible for the economic development.
In 2010, the next strong gesture toward implementing the policy was the creation of a permanent position for a commissioner for social economy. Its mandate is to oversee and implement the social economic policy for the City of Montreal very rapidly. This policy is called a social economy partnership for community-based sustainable development. If you want to look on the internet, just Google “social economy partnership Montreal” and you’ll find it. It’s available in English.
There are five strategic directions:
- provide support for community-based entrepreneurship
- offer a greater role for the social economy in major Montreal projects
- offer a greater role to social economy and improving the quality of life. For example in the field of culture, housing or recreation, there are others.
- provide a greater openness to doing business with social economy enterprise.
- work towards a better integrated promotion of the social economy and, as I already said, setting up a steering committee. The mandate of the steering committee is to implement the social policy. It’s a place for discussion, for debate. It’s a place to find solution for the development of social economy in Montreal.
The procurement issue. In Québec, we have the Cities and Town Act. This law defines the legal procurement framework and the contracts by agreement. We all have to comply – city, towns, municipality, whatever. We all have to comply with the regulatory requirements defined by this law.
In 2006, it was observed for the first time from an inventory that out of the $1.2 billion purchases made, about $2.3 million was from social economy suppliers. This is less than one percent of the total purchase budget. Ninety-eight percent of these purchases were allocated for services like catering, eco-citizenship, education, cultural activities, management of recreation centres, management of recycling centres, and office leases. Very often, the city itself will be the renter of those office leases. However, social economy at that time was still an unknown concept in our Metropole.
Today, the City has a decentralized procurement system. It is complex. We have 19 borough and 14 central service centres. That means a supplier might have to knock on 33 different doors with each having a different business culture. It represents a lot of work for small companies. However, the City is moving towards a more flexible, centralized procurement process. On one hand, centralized purchase will create common e-terms that will be used by all borough and central service centres.
On the other hand, each borough and central service centre will be empowered to purchase what they specifically need as long as they follow the Cities and Towns Act.
This environment presents many challenges to the social enterprise suppliers, here are just few of them:
- It’s hard for social enterprise suppliers to gain access to small and medium purchases from the City because it is not made public.
- Social enterprise suppliers rarely have the resources to compete and fulfill tenders of certain value. In the case of a public call for tender of more than $100,000, they rarely submit a bid. This kind of environment leads to a lack of proactive selling.
In light of this, what are the actions taken by the city since the adoption of the social economy policy? Here are some of them:
- In 2010, the new procurement policy of the City of Montreal made a specific reference to the social economy policy. One goal is clearly to encourage city business units to deal with social economy. In June of this year, the city made a commitment to the Declaration of Purchase from Social Economy Enterprise. This declaration is an initiative led by the government of Québec in order to raise awareness towards social enterprise suppliers. We also provide support to an e-Commerce platform, Commerce Solidaire. Nancy just talked about it. Right now, one percent from the city is working full time for the next six month on the project.
- A position paper was sent earlier this year to the provincial government requesting a favorable change in the Cities and Towns Act regarding procurement. Our major request concerned introduction of social clauses and calls for tenders.
- We also developed an intercommunication strategy that will favor purchases from suppliers of social economy.
I’ll conclude my presentation with what maybe the key success factors:
- a strong vision and commitment of the executive who have social economy at heart,
- continuous acknowledgement of the contribution of social economy enterprise in the development of the City,
- the City needs to have specific internal resource allocated to the development of social economy,
- the social economy policy will need the active engagement of all stakeholders, and
- it will be necessary in the long run to plan a budget allocation to favor sustainable social economy.
Question: Both of you, Nancy and Johanne, mentioned that some of your material is available in English. That’s, I think, a relatively new thing. One of our challenges in the rest of Canada is that we don’t have access to a lot of the story, but I’ve been to many of your presentations Nancy so I know a little bit about what’s going on in Québec. But when I go to other places, they often have no knowledge of what’s going on in Québec. So how can we help encourage some of your materials to be available to the rest of Canada which is unfortunately not bilingual, in most cases?
Another question I have for you Johanne, was there one champion in Montreal like an individual or an organization or, perhaps it was the Chantier, that helped move this agenda forward and how did they do that?
Nancy: The question around materials, we’re working a lot more on that, we’re at the beginning of a really interesting period because the research and innovation policy of the Québec government, we pushed for many years. I think 15 years ago I started to put social innovation into their innovative policy, not just technological innovation.
They did it and then they started this idea of creating knowledge transfer centres including in social innovation and we did a proposal so we will create a new centre for knowledge transfer on social innovation and we put one in one on the social and solidarity economy and territorial development with a whole bunch of partners. We’re setting the centre which will allow us to work on transferring knowledge so the key now, what I’m working on is trying to find the money so we can have somebody that will work just on that: translating material, we wanna learn from you guys too because there’s lots of great stuff going on across Canada.
HRSDC did that, helped us on one thing a few years ago and it was quite successful. It related to tools when you’re investing social economy enterprises. You need a specific tool to understand what the risk is and all that as an investor, so we had a guide and we were able to translate into English and share it with our colleagues from across Canada. Yes, there is more going on but, if we can find the funding we’ll put more time into it.
Peter: The Institute for Nonprofit Studies in Mount Royal for example, had a document translated because it was in our vested interest for people to know about that. I think that that isn’t just Québec’s business to do this. This is the rest of Canada’s business to know that, to put their hand in their pockets to get things translated and not wait for Québec just to do it themselves.
Nancy: The framework legislation you can get it in English on the site of the Québec government and the partnership agreement, it’s in English as well.
Johanne: Okay, a champion in Montreal that was the question. When we started to work on the policy, we created an advisory committee and there were about 12, 15 persons on that committee. It was a big committee for me. Representatives of some organizations like the regional hub, social economy, cooperative association, the university researcher, social economy businesses, and Chantier de l’economie sociale was also a member even if its mandate is for entire province of Québec.
That was our champion. The success of this committee was to have access to elected representative, and very specific ones, those who have the social economy at heart. Without that, I don’t think you can go very far because elected representatives change over time. The political engine moves a lot so you have to really work with an organization that has access to those elected representatives.
Question: I work with our provincial coop association in New Brunswick and I sit on a provincial working group to start to develop a social enterprise kind of support network. And I sit on the training component. One of your slides had workforce or labour force development I think. If you have any insight on how you knew what skills were needed, how you deliver those, and then if there’s any resources available?
Nancy: I don’t know if they have them in other provinces. They used to have in pan-Canadian or sectoral councils. You have one in aerospace. What are there usually are biparty or triparty committees where you have employers, you have representatives and employees, and government employment services, to analyze the needs of a labour force development and to develop programs and so on and so forth to get everybody involved.
We have that network in Québec and when the Chantier was created and that was, in this particular context, in 1996, we made a whole series of recommendations and we said what we want one of those too and they said “yes”. So we got this sectoral council. It’s a little bit different because obviously it’s multisectoral in the sense you have people in different types of economic sectors but the commonality the fact that they are all social enterprises.
Out of that, there were certain priorities and I can give you an example. We had negotiated a cost sharing program that allowed the emergence of social economy enterprises in the field of home care and that was responding to a need. In a very short period of time, we went from maybe some small experiences with welfare recipients to 5,000. We’re close to 7,000 people working in these enterprises across Québec.
There was obviously need and a lot of them at least half of the people are women, mainly women on welfare, immigrant women and so on. Then the issue was training and how do we get better recognition and better working conditions and so on for these women? What we did was we actually set up an apprenticeship program so that women are gaining recognition. That was a special event.
There’s all kinds of training tools that were created for management, managers, for boards of directors, on financial management. There’s a wealth of interesting information that comes out of that sectoral council. As part of the public, part of the network of employment services, any kind of enterprise from aerospace to whatever could use it with its specificities.
That brought us into another thing when we talk about recognition on a level playing field. For example, the advantage of a program if you were a more traditional enterprise, you gather a reimbursable tax credit if you’ve started this apprenticeship program in your enterprise. Even if you didn’t pay taxes, because they’re reimbursable tax credit is like a grant. But if you were a nonprofit since you were never gonna pay taxes we had no access to that. It took us a long time but now they’ve opened up and said “okay, in a case of a social economy enterprise, if it’s a nonprofit, we’ll give you a grant as opposed to reimbursable tax credit”. I mean in terms of government finance, it’s the same thing. We have to fight to get that level playing field.
Question: The worker coop movement is over 20 years old and, frankly, it’s what it is but it’s not blossoming, booming. It is no social economy equivalent you could apply in the rest of Canada, right?
I’m just starting to think that maybe we need in the ROC, which we don’t usually say, but maybe we need a Chantier? I would like to ask Nancy, if you were going to start now in 2013, in rest of Canada, where would you start?
Nancy: It depends so much on people, on place, on opportunities. We came together in a context of an economic summit so it was like an opportunity that we seized and then we made into a more permanent structure. There’s so much stuff going on, the scene has changed so much across Canada.
This kind of conference even happening here in Calgary, I mean 10 years ago we would have said that he smokes some really good stuff to think that this was actually gonna happen. To hear Minister Kenny saying this is something that we’re believing in. There’s an opportunity here.
It comes down to this, this is usually place based. Organize provincially to begin with and then coming together, we are a federation in Canada as well, which is part of reality.
The reality of New Brunswick is so different from Alberta and even Alberta and BC. Regarding the provincial organizations, I have a feeling that some of that is happening.
There’s an issue of common vocabulary. The nonprofit sector seeing it really as a threat as opposed to an opportunity, I think it’s changed.
At one point, I was sitting in front of the people from the nonprofit sector and it was like we were stealing money out of their house rather than seeing this as an opportunity. I’m not saying we didn’t have that debate in Québec. We had that debate. Unions have a tendency often to see this as “oh, this is gonna be used to replace public sector jobs.” No, that’s not what we’re all about. You got to sit down and have the discussion. You can’t just assume and say, “why don’t you understand us?”
It looks really good, but we’ve had some hard debates, right Johanne? I’ve been called all kinds of names, but people come around. For example, there was a big concern in our labour unions around privatization of our health system and yet the social economy is growing a lot in Québec through, as they, say home care which is replacing the big institutions where we put old people. That’s been inspired by Japanese model. People got a little bit nervous and say, “oh, you know, what is this all about?” Then we sit down and we talk about it and we explain it.
Public sector unions 15 years ago we’re saying that I was a free market liberalism are now coming to us and saying, “how can we work together because we really think the social economy model is the way that we have to move forward in terms of alternative services and we realize that the big bureaucracies are not necessarily the best way to answer a lot of solutions”.
To a certain point, some people would say, “you guys are crazy, you’re bringing your own opposition into your own organization”. The labour unions are constantly challenging us on working conditions in the social economy enterprises. Well, they’re right, but we don’t have all the answers, but we’ll sit down with them and say, “okay, what can we do? How can we work together to improve working conditions?”
Now we have a pension fund where we’re working together to develop collective health insurance and/or additional health insurance. The sectoral council is the kind of thing that’s helped us. It’s the coming together despite our differences that has been really important, but you can’t economize on debate. It has to happen and that’s what’s moved us forward.
That’s where I would say that maybe there’s a broader range of stakeholders that seem to be a little bit holding off on the stuff that probably those who were supporting should just sit down and talk to. That would be the only piece of advice I would give.
For the rest, you guys know where you come from and of who’s out there and obviously you need people who are innovators. You need people who are willing to step out of the box. You know we started in Pointe St. Charles George. We were eight community organizations. At one point we had a debate because three of them said, “we’re gonna do economic development”. It’s got to be perfect and the big debate was because we’re paying it. We got a little bit of money and we’re paying a coordinator $23,000 and we pay the secretary $21,000 and they said, “no, we want everybody paid the same” and we said, “even in China, it’s three to one” and we took a vote. Three of them left. The traditional way is wait until everybody agrees on everything, but if we had waited, 30 years later, they still won’t agree on the wage disparity.
That said, there are all these other people that are out there. The other thing is that you can’t expect everybody to come on board right away because you’re innovating and an entrepreneur. As some of my research colleagues say, “the definition of entrepreneur is you have to destroy.” You’re destroying old ways of doing things by doing social enterprise and that does bother people. I think most people come around to it, particularly young people.
Young people are not caught up in all those old things. This is a really a young movement and that’s the most exciting part of all this, is the future is theirs.
Peter: You have to identify and build from where the strengths are. Where are the nuggets of passion and interest in actually moving worker coops or anything else forward? Identify those and get those talking together rather than saying, “okay, we need to have a big strategy.”
Question: Nancy, on the slide you had a new product, “patient capital for community housing” and I was wondering a little bit more about that and where we would go to read about the latest financial products or investment tools in Québec? I know you had three websites, but is there a specific spot for financial products?
Nancy: My friend and colleague Margie Mendell has written a lot of stuff in English on the financial infrastructure. And the housing firm, I can’t give it to you yet because, this is a scoop. We’re closing it and then we’ll be announcing it probably at the end of October. For our trust, everything is in English and French on this site and I have some information here in English, so that’s not a problem.
Question: What is the relationship between the creative economy and the social economy in Québec? What is the overlap? What is the dialogue depending between those groups? I mean in a very narrow sense the performing arts, visual arts, publishing, architectural design, that space.
Nancy: Right from our inception of the Chantier, we integrated the issue of culture as being an important part of the social economy. Right from the beginning we’ve had quite close ties. One of the first projects that we supported was in the cultural field, Culture Days. It’s now a huge institution in Québec which is basically opening up all that is going on in culture and creativity in neighborhoods, in villages across Québec, for one week into year. It’s been borrowed and it’s been developed in the rest of Canada, called “Culture Days”.
A lot of cultural organizations are social enterprises. They’re nonprofits. Some cooperatives, mainly nonprofits.
Cultural organizations have been very much part of our reality. It hasn’t panned out yet but one of the problems in Montreal and Johanna would have know about this as well, what was integrated in the action plan is that a lot of our artists get setup in these old factories and so on and then they get kicked out and they have to move and our corporations and our neighborhoods they’re saying, “we wanna keep our artists”. Part of having an interesting quality of life is to have culture next door and have our artists in the community. We were working on a new financial product to support workshops for artists from a social economy and leveraging private capital.
Johanne: Like Nancy just said, it’s one element of our public policy, this cultural issue. The Government of Québec and also the Chantier de l’economie sociale worked on a trust to help maintain the artist’s workshop in downtown Montreal. They’re still working in it, but meanwhile in Montreal, the City was called upon by the artist and we work together in very specific place called the Mylan in Montreal and this place, it’s 200,000 square feet of spaces for artist workshops. So we do work together with them on that question. We hope to go further. We are waiting for the Government of Québec to elaborate more on that topic.
Peter: The work that Peter Hall and I do, we’ve been engaged over the last about four years doing provincial surveys of social enterprises across Canada. Our definition is that a social enterprise for our research purposes is a nonprofit organization that provides goods and services in the market with a social, environmental or cultural benefit. We include theaters, museums, choirs, all kinds of theater groups that we’ve surveyed as part of those social enterprises.
Nancy: Enterprising Nonprofits Canada also provides grants to nonprofits that have a cultural mission. So, it’s included in their definition as well.
Question: We’re looking at whether we should be promoting the by America or by California style procurement policy. In the Montreal procurement policy, does it force the larger corporations or larger companies that bid on Montreal contracts to have a social enterprise percentage in their bid?
Johanne: We have to change a lot of that because actually the Cities and Towns Act that defines a procurement framework forbids that. I hope that the social economy law that will be adopted next week will open some doors and that the government will hear our demands to modify this Act.
Nancy: There is some interesting voluntary work that’s being done. For example, we’re working very closely around our transactional platform with an organization called ECPAR which is concentrated space for buying responsible procurement. It brings together not only the City of Montreal but Gas Metal and Hydro Québec and some big companies and private and public institutions and companies. It was people who are actually the buyers that created this network to see how they can improve their practices and learn from each other.
They started off a few years ago working on environmental concerns but now they’ve understood that responsible and sustainable development includes social concerns and so they contacted us and we’re working closely with them to help. What they’re doing is on a voluntary basis, it’s very proactive, and we’re quite excited about that.
Question: I’ve met the Chantier through its more international action than actually all the wonderful things you’re doing in Montreal and Québec, which I’ve learned a lot about. Why do you think it’s important to engage internationally with other organizations? They’re looking at similar issues, is it because it’s a question of the cooperative spirit and you’re doing your role or what are you getting out of it as well and as well giving because I know you give a lot.
Nancy: We have a good discussion on our board every two years on this one because we are very involved internationally and it just never stops. The good news is it’s because this movement is growing across the world. This forum is another example of that. There’s a lot of people like ourselves that wanna learn what’s going on elsewhere.
Just to give you an idea of the energy we put into it, October 2011, we were being solicited by so many people that want to know what’s going on in Québec and we were concerned about all this that we decided to organize an international forum and we start up with a $20,000 from the Québec Government and we went up to 1,600 people from 62 countries working with the OACD, with the UN, with the development banks from the different continents, and First Nations. It was an amazing, amazing event.
We actually created a portal, I brought information in three languages and what we’re doing is tracking what’s going on in public policy across the world and putting it out in three languages so that people who are interested, they don’t need to have to come to Québec, you can just read online. It’s in English and Spanish as well as French.
There’s several reasons we go to these lengths. The first reason is because we learn so much. As I said, some of our biggest successes in Québec we’re proud of it but we’ve learned from others. We learned a lot from the States, we learned a lot from what’s going on outside of Québec in Canada. We learned even more from what’s going on in developing countries, because these people are doing miracles with nothing.
Second thing is we live in a global economy. If we wanna to do real economic development and work on model, you know changing models, it has to be from an international perspective.
Another thing for government is, there’s an expression in French “we’re never prophets in our own country”, so we can say they’re doing it in the States. We just get more feedback and now what’s happened is because of that experience, we’re getting a lot of recognition internationally and so that certainly helps us because everybody wants to be part of the success.
Johanne: When we were working on the social economy policy many years ago, this was very important because not all the elected representative were convinced of the seriousness of social economy. Just to be able to present them with some international examples or Canadian examples was very, very helpful. So it’s a necessity, absolutely.
Question: I am interested in the details that procurement policy. We’re fighting on procurement policy and there’s different techniques to use. They’re just trying them all. It works and the work is getting out to social enterprises but we need to find something that’s more standard and more embedded so I’d like more details on that.
I’ll ask a question about the movement piece and bringing in the social movements because I think part of what’s required is to align social enterprise with a vision for change and a critical analysis of the economy or community, because inherently that’s a part of what movements are about, the social movements. They’re working together as citizens to create some kind of a change.
With social enterprise sometimes the focus can be on the model instead of the changes being sought. To bring in the movements I can see that they could really energize and build a theoretical framework or the passionate philosophical framework around what this is about and really energize the social enterprise movement. But I can also see that to get there, there might need to be some good education, some good public education, adult education, economic, political and social literacy. What’s been the experience in Québec with the Chantier around that kind of education mobilizing the framework, the passion and the drive for why people are doing this?
Johanne: In Montreal it’s very general, it’s only general intention. In Québec, what defines the framework is the law again so it’s the Cities and Towns Act that has one article. This Act is 800 articles and one is concerning the procurement framework. It’s very precise.
Nancy: I mean the social movement piece is not an easy one because once again it depends on each context. I talked about it’s a generational thing. In terms of younger people, younger union people, younger feminists and so on they’re just way more open to this kind of stuff because they’re not stuck in “that’s the job with the public sector, that’s government” and so on.
That’s where international stuff is really, really useful and I’ll just give you a really recent example. We have some of our labour unions that are open to the work of coops but one of them, and the biggest one, was very concerned about that because there had been a cooperative failure 40 years ago. You know, like there had been no private sector failure for 40 years, just one worker coop that failed and therefore no worker coops. We have no room for failure, you know, we have to get it all right every time.
We brought in Leo Gerard who is head of the Steelworkers, they signed an agreement a few years ago in Mondragon in Spain. People don’t know that, even some of our labour unions in Québec didn’t know that. It was basically to try to figure out why they did that. Well, because when it went through tough times, basically the workers became shareholders. Then as soon as things start to get going well, they were voted out as shareholders. They sort of said, “if we’d stayed in there, we would be heading up and running as workers of a successful company. So maybe we should think about that more often?” He knew what happened with General Motors and Chrysler, the worker’s always out there and asked to come in when things are going bad. Now there is this idea of doing it when things are going well.
The debate has to take place. It’s not just that they become theoretical frameworks, they become future entrepreneurs. There are a lot of people coming out of social movements, coming out of the community movement, the environmental movement that are actually becoming entrepreneurs.
We did that in ’96. We talked about the environmental movement that had pushed to say that we have to do less waste and more recycling and reutilization and so on and they fought to have more and more regimentation on what you need to recycle and that created a condition for the recycling industry which is a very lucrative industry.
The same thing with the private sector, we’re getting lots of people in the private sector saying, “this makes sense to us, we want to come.” I think we got to be talking to everybody.
More About SEWF
The Trico Charitable Foundation was honoured to host SEWF 2013. It made history in a number of ways – it was a first for Canada and attracted a record number of speakers and attendees (1,000 individuals from more than 30 countries and over 100 speakers from 20 countries) – but we are most proud of the quality of the discussions on Skills Building, Social Finance, Indigenous Social Enterprise, Collaboration, Policy and Research, and Social Innovation.
A special thanks to Photos With Finesse by Suzan McEvoy for the pictures, BizBOXTV for producing the videos, and Employment and Social Development Canada for helping to make this post-event coverage possible.
We would also like to thank the following partners for making SEWF 2013 possible:
- Social Enterprise Council of Canada
- MaRS Centre for Impact Investing
- Social Innovation Generation (SiG)
- The Canadian Community Economic Development Network
- Government of Canada
- Canadian Youth Business Foundation (now Futurepreneur)
- Social Change Rewards
Friends of SEWF:
Each year SEWF gives a different host country an incredible opportunity to celebrate and nurture its own social enterprise movement. The inaugural SEWF met in Edinburgh, Scotland. Since then it has been to Melbourne, Australia; San Francisco, U.S.A; Johannesburg, Africa; and Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Learn more about SEWF’s history here.