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The business of caring

Timmins eyeing social enterprise opportunities
Downtown Timmins
The Timmins Economic Development Corp. is developing new training geared toward entrepreneurs seeking to launch a social enterprise. FILE PHOTO

Capitalizing on a growing local interest in social entrepreneurship, the Timmins Economic Development Corp. (TEDC) will introduce new training programs in 2019 to encourage more entrepreneurs to start up their own social enterprises.

A social enterprise is characterized as a business that generates enough revenues to help solve a social problem.

Maggie Matear, the TEDC’s director of community development, said while the concept has been around for more than a decade, it’s “percolating slowly” into the North.

“There are very few social enterprises that we know of in our immediate region,” Matear said. “It’s an emerging concept in this area.”

Social enterprises shouldn’t be confused with a non-profit organization that relies on government grants to operate, or a business that likes to donate to charitable causes, she emphasized.

A good example of a social enterprise is Birch Bark Coffee Company. Founded in March by Whitefish River First Nation member Mark Marsolais-Nahwegahbow, the company sells organic, fair-trade, freshly roasted coffee beans, and a percentage of profits goes toward the purchase of water filters for Indigenous communities that are facing a clean water crisis.

Matear said social enterprises can be particularly beneficial to non-profit organizations that are looking for ways to bolster revenue that can be injected into programming or services. Many non-profits in Northern Ontario service a large region, but are working within constraints due to limited budgets and complicated geography.

“We see social enterprise as the channel for them to relieve some of that pressure and also to build capacity within their own volunteers and within their own people,” Matear said.

“There’s a possibility they can create jobs, they can create revenues that they can reinvest into the mission, relieve the pressure of funding, and do a better job for the people they serve.”

According to a 2016 Canadian Social Enterprise Survey Report, social enterprises provided paid employment for at least 31,000 workers in Canada, including full-time, part‐time, seasonal and contract workers, who together earned over $442 million in wages and salaries.

The study noted that total revenue for responding social enterprises in 2013/’14 was at least $1.2 billion, including sales of goods and services of at least $828 million.

In anticipation of more social enterprises starting up, Matear said the TEDC has been offering workshops and educational sessions about social entrepreneurship throughout the year, and each one has filled to capacity.

Interest has come from individuals, people in co-operatives and non-profit organizations, Indigenous organizations, and existing business owners who are looking to start up a separate entrepreneurial organization to address a need, Matear said.

“What we're looking at doing right now is developing an entrepreneurship training program that's specifically aimed at social enterprise,” she said.

“So, much of it will be the same as our conventional entrepreneurship training program, but there will be different information in there about the different kind of operating structures for social enterprises, the kinds of problems you can solve, and how to take your idea about solving a social problem and turning that into a business.”

Those training modules will run for about eight weeks, and Matear said the TEDC’s goal is to have them ready to go by early 2019.

In the meantime, the TEDC has been hosting workshops led by the NORDIK Institute out of Sault Ste. Marie, which heads up Social Enterprise Entrepreneurship (SEE), an organization that promotes and supports social entrepreneurship in Northern Ontario, via the Ontario Network of Entrepreneurs (ONE).

In addition to the TEDC and NORDIK, other Northern Ontario partners include the Northwest Innovation Centre, the PARO Centre for Women’s Enterprise, and YouLaunch, a division of the Sault Ste. Marie Innovation Centre.

In early June, SEE announced it would be expanding its program to help social enterprises access business supports throughout Northern Ontario, and Matear believes the Timmins area can benefit from this developing sector.

“There’s enormous potential here,” she said. “We’re pretty excited about it.”