With an unemployment rate amongst Northern youth of 16 per cent and outmigration a continual concern, the NORDIK Institute is launching a new initiative to steer young people towards social entrepreneurship as a way to create employment opportunities in the North.
The Social Entrepreneurship Evolution (SEE), based out of NORDIK at Algoma University in Sault Ste. Marie, is a pan-Northern Ontario project aimed at supporting young social entrepreneurs and putting in place the infrastructure to assist them, explained project coordinator Katie Elliott.
“We’re really trying to say people need to look at entrepreneurship as an option, which can be really scary sometimes,” Elliott said. “We’re trying to embed the idea that young people should look to entrepreneurship, and in this case social entrepreneurship, to connect a passion they might have, or they might see a need in the community, with actually creating employment for themselves.”
A newer term that’s just starting to circulate in Northern Ontario, “social entrepreneur” refers to someone who uses entrepreneurial and innovative principles to create solutions to address today’s most pressing social, economic and environmental issues.
“Social entrepreneurship can provide viable careers for young people leading to lasting employment and can be a way to contribute to the North’s capacity for social and economic development,” Elliott said.
Correlated with the notion of social entrepreneurship is the move away from the North’s traditional employment streams, such as natural resources, to promote resilient, sustainable communities.
The North is already home to many social enterprises. In Thunder Bay, Tidy&Clean Housekeeping is an environmentally friendly housekeeping service that uses certified eco-friendly products. It began when Sarah Morriseau wanted to find gentle cleaning products to use around her children.
In Sault Ste. Marie, Soogoma provides services like baking or cleaning for people who can’t do those tasks for themselves. The agency also hires employees who face barriers to finding employment, such as those with disabilities.
A traditional example of social entrepreneurship is a co-operative, which operates on a model of collaboration to help people in the community.
SEE is geared towards people aged 13 to 35, the net cast purposely wide to accommodate two streams, Elliott said. Education is the focus for those aged 13 to 18, to let them know entrepreneurship opportunities exist, while support is geared to those 19 to 35, who are exploring the idea of social entrepreneurship.
The initiative works on the constellation model, which connects people through a network of partners who are all working on different ideas connected by a similar theme. Constellations can be based around a specific topic or an event, Elliott said.
SEE is currently working with more than 20 organizations across the North, but welcomes involvement from other organizations and businesses who can be involved in a number of ways. Participants can lead a constellation, be a mentor, host an intern, provide business expertise, and more, Elliott said. SEE is also aiming to bridge existing gaps between organizations across the North.
“We’re looking to develop infrastructure, but we also want to connect existing infrastructure right across the region,” Elliott said. “We find when we go into communities people are working in silos a lot and there are all these great things going on but nobody really knows about the other things that are going on. So our job is to find out what’s going on and identify the assets, but also the gaps so we can fill in those gaps.”
SEE is being funded by Ontario Trillium Foundation (OTF) for three years, but NORDIK is striving to put in place the appropriate infrastructure to allow it to continue.
A second OTF-funded social entrepreneurship initiative has been established to serve the Nishnawbe Aski Nation communities in northwestern Ontario.