Social Innovation in Canada

Canada is ranked second in the world for fostering social innovation. (Courtesy Unsplash via Pixabay)

It turns out Ryerson has prime real estate for fostering social innovation.

Canada ranks as the second best country for social entrepreneurs, according to a recent poll conducted by the Thomson Reuters Foundation, Deutsche Bank, UnLtd and the Global Social Entrepreneurship Network. Social entrepreneurship refers to owning a business that is geared toward solving a global issue. A popular example is TOMS Shoes, a company which donates a pair of shoes to children in need for every pair purchased.

Sitting just below the United States, Canada received over 50 per cent on five key characteristics evaluated by the poll.

Jean-Paul Boudreau, Ryerson’s special advisor and executive lead of social innovation, said these numbers prove the effectiveness of the university’s focus on social ventures.

“I think social innovation and enterprise thinking is really infused in so many of our programs and curriculums across our campus,” he said.

Two weeks ago, the SocialVentures Zone (SVZ) launched a new initiative called ideation sessions.

The sessions are for students and members of the public who have an idea for how they can create positive change in the world, but may not have the business acumen to back it up.

“(Social ventures) often come from a place of passion, or (from) something that you see is wrong in the world,” explained Anne Pringle, co-ordinator at the SVZ. “We were seeing students that had this drive and an inkling of an idea, but it wasn’t yet formed.”

They started these sessions to help develop those ideas and teach people the necessary steps to turn vision into a venture.

Running every other Friday, the sessions are lead by Pringle and Alex Gill, the SVZ’s social innovator in residence.

Gill said he’s seeing people who have different ideas come to the session. He mentioned two participants who run an online literary magazine and want to find a new way to fund artists and creators with content. Gill said it’s a paradigm-breaking idea, but needs more work in terms of finding a focus.

“By the end of December, the hope is that the people going through the pilot will have developed their idea enough to pitch to a zone on campus, or to one of the other incubators in Toronto,” he explained.

While Canada may be ranked as the second best country in the world for social entrepreneurship, Gill said there’s still room for improvement.

He said that social ventures still struggle when it comes to getting funding, because they’re not seen as being as valuable as tech startups. Gill pointed to the Ontario Social Impact Voucher Program, which provides $3,000 to social ventures to help them grow.

Gill doesn’t think $3,000 is enough. “If we had said we want to create the next generation of tech entrepreneurs … people would look at that (amount) and say that’s insulting,” Gill said.

Despite the continuing battle for funding, Pringle said she thinks there has not been a better time to be a social entrepreneur because people are more conscious about what they buy and whether it has a positive impact on society.

The SVZ will evaluate the pilot program and decide whether or not to relaunch the session in January.

Isabelle Docto is a multimedia journalist who's lacking in height, but not in perspective. Follow her on twitter @IsabelleDocto.

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