Social enterprises play a number of important roles in communities across Alberta. This is one of the key findings of the just-released Alberta Social Enterprise Sector Survey Report 2014, which offers a wealth of qualitative and quantitative data.
Given that social enterprise is seeing a global buzz of interest, the Alberta report offers the perfect fuel for a timely community dialogue on the economic, social, cultural and environmental benefits of social enterprise in Alberta’s
“The report shows that social enterprises play an important role in Alberta through the revenue they generate, the
services they provide and how they engage communities,” says Trico Charitable Foundation manager of grants and
programs Brittni Kerluke.
Central to the 2014 report is a social enterprise survey that follows surveys done in 2010 and 2012. Conducted through a partnership between Dr. Peter Elson and Dr. Peter Hall of Mount Royal University and Simon Fraser University respectively, the survey in Alberta is part of an ongoing national social enterprise survey.
For the 2014 Alberta survey, Trico Charitable Foundation partnered to provide financial and staff resources in order to add a number of components. These included a selection of survey questions on the challenges social enterprises face and supports they require, as well as qualitative interviews with sector leaders on the state of the industry. Additionally, in compiling the report, Trico included a unique element to the presentation of the data by featuring a series of questions intended to both connect the data from the two sources – the surveys and interviews – as well as highlight the opportunity for further research.
Among the survey findings:
– As of spring 2014, there were 383 confirmed social enterprises operating in the province
– Of the 101 that responded to the survey, 60 per cent were most likely to operate at the scale of a neighbourhood or
local community, 69 per cent at a city or town scale and 51 per cent at a regional district scale
– Social enterprises provide paid employment to at least 3,590 workers in the province, which includes fulltime, part-time, seasonal and contract workers
– In 2013, employees within the survey respondents earned at least $28 million in wages and salaries
– Total revenue in 2013 for the 101 survey respondents was at least $57 million. This includes $32 million of goods and services of, accounting for 56 per cent of total revenue reported.
It is also noteworthy that for the 2014 study a partnership with the Alberta Association of Agricultural Societies brought the survey more widely to rural organizations. This proved to be an important connection as the sample of respondents was almost evenly divided amongst urban and rural organizations allowing, some interesting insights to be uncovered:
– Of the social enterprises identified, 43.6 per cent were located in urban areas (Calgary or Edmonton) and 56.4 per cent were rural-based enterprises
– While rural organizations on average are older, they reported employing fewer staff and generating less revenue than the urban organizations who took part in this survey. They also reported less revenue generated via the sale of goods and services.
– The urban organizations and rural organizations also identified different challenges. For example, for urban organizations the highest-rated challenges were around branding and recognition. In contrast, rural organization reported challenges around access to qualified staff and retention of employees.
In addition, the leadership interviews surfaced compelling insights on topics such as the role of co-operatives in the social enterprise sector.
For instance, Paul Cabaj, director of co-operative development with Alberta Community & Co- operative Association (ACCA), observed that the co-operative movement is not new to social enterprise. “In fact, I would say that co-operatives were one of the first legal models for social enterprise,” he said.
President of PeaveyMart Doug Anderson also commented on the real value of social enterprise, which he believes lies more in the connections it fosters than the economic return. “In some ways, I think of social enterprise as a philosophy because, by being entrepreneurial we can be more independent, less reliant on government, better able to control our own destiny and become more self-sufficient,” he said.
Through both studying and engaging in dialogue about the report, the hope is that organizations working on social enterprise will learn more about themselves and their peer organizations.
Government and others can also see what’s happening in the sector, recognizing that all communities do have social enterprise and they are an important factor in Alberta’s economic landscape.
“And we hope that those groups that work with social enterprises can better provide resources that will fit the needs of these organizations and meet them where they’re at,” Brittni says.
In conclusion, Brittni emphasizes that the entire report should be considered a barometer of social enterprise activity. “(It represents) a moment in time and is based on who we interviewed, so it’s not going to be representative of all social enterprises in Alberta and reflects the organizations that participated,” she says.
“But what we hope is that this report sparks a conversation and also points out areas for future research.”
To read the full report, click here.
Writer: Michelle Strutzenberger