The Enterprising Spirit Conference 2011: Creating Value and Social Good

Social enterprise experts and practitioners from across the country gathered in Calgary on November 17th to attend Enterprising Spirit: Creating Value and Social Good. Hosted by the Trico Charitable Foundation, the conference featured a day of interactive workshops and experimental problem solving related to planning, practicing, and fine tuning social enterprise.

The Enterprising Spirit Conference opened with an inspirational keynote address by Tonya Surman, Executive Director of the Centre for Social Innovation (CSI). Tonya describes herself as a community animator, which she explained involves creating collisions between people to foster the connections that lead to social innovation. If there was any doubt about Tonya’s assertion that the process of engagement is the point, it was quickly dispelled by the palpable buzz her insights and passion sparked among the conference attendees.

The Enterprising Spirit Conference was divided into a number of workshops that were aimed at providing practical and experiential guidance for aspiring and established social entrepreneurs. The following offers a summary of the breakout sessions:

In The What and Why of Social Entrepreneurship, David LePage (enp) led a hands-on workshop exploring the ways in which non-profit organizations can blend mission and business to achieve their goals. The session was punctuated with examples drawn from David’s 30+ years of experience in the social economy and non-profit sectors. Newbies and experienced practitioners alike gained an in-depth understanding of the what, why, and how of social enterprise.

The True Confessions in Social Entrepreneurship panel included Jane Bisbee (Social Enterprise Fund), Michele Cherot (Greater Trail Community Skills Centre), Linda Huffman (Arts Habitat Association of Edmonton) and Jessie Radies (Live Local). Attendees were exposed to a discussion filled with illustrative examples of what it’s really like in the trenches of social enterprise. While earning revenue is one of the obvious goals of social enterprise, Linda Huffman emphasized that the biggest reward is connecting to the community.

Show Me the Money – Solutions to Challenges of Growing Your Social Enterprise featured some of Canada’s foremost social enterprise experts, namely Derek Gent (Vancity Community Foundation), David LePage (enp), Tonya Surman (Centre for Social Innovation), Bill Young (Social Capital Partners), and Gerrad Oishi (Lodestone Social Ventures). The conversations ranged from navigating legal structures, to mobilizing pools of capital, to the importance of social enterprises finding champions within financial institutions. As Tonya Surman and David LePage explained, money follows good ideas, so it’s crucial to know what social and business objectives your organization is trying to accomplish.

In Profits + Purpose: Demonstrating Value, Jocelyne Daw (JS Daw & Associates), Derek Gent (Vancity Community Foundation), and Stephanie Robertson (SiMPACT Strategy Group) emphasized that demonstrating value is a must for social enterprises. Impact, however, is extremely difficult to determine if you neglect to ask the questions, ‘What do we need to know?’ and ‘What do we want to show?’ The key to maximizing and optimizing a social enterprise’s mission and revenue is to couple storytelling with benchmarks, metrics, and data analysis.

For me, the key takeaway from the Enterprising Spirit Conference was the importance of social enterprises remaining solidly concentrated on the macro-level issue(s) they aim to alleviate. As Tonya Surman argued, social innovation is about addressing root causes, and not just the treatment of symptoms.  Knowing what your social and business goals are is crucial because it ensures the focus of your enterprise is on community impact, rather than on the individual non-profit organization.

At the conclusion of the Enterprising Spirit Conference, an awards reception was hosted by the Trico Charitable Foundation to present the inaugural Social EnterPrize Awards. The goal of the award program is to recognize individuals and organizations who demonstrate excellence and innovation in Canada’s social enterprise sector. Mission Possible and Potluck Cafe and Catering each won an organizational Social EnterPrize, and Caroline Arcand of Groupe Convex was awarded the individual Social EnterPrize. While it can be difficult to conceptualize a social enterprise’s effects, videos featuring the work of the Social EnterPrize winners vividly illustrated the impact of their ventures. Coupled with a thought-provoking keynote address provided by Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi, the reception offered an uplifting ending to an already inspirational day.

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