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Canada's Francophone Community: Key players in the country's social enterprise development
by Ethel Cote and Émanuèle Lapierre-Fortin
on June 01, 2014


credit: domdeen @freedigitalphotos.net


Two leading social enterprise practitioners share the accomplishments of Quebec and the Francophone community in growing the social economy and social enterprise movement in Canada


Contributions in Quebec

The growth of the social economy in Quebec is anchored in renewed citizen participation and a redefinition of the relationships between the public, private, and civil sectors of society. The social economy has been at the forefront of new and innovative ways of doing business, creating wealth, producing goods and delivering services, while integrating social or environmental goals into the very act of production. Over 120,000 jobs and thousands of new social enterprises has been created during the last 10 to 15 years.

There has been a lot of buzz in Quebec over the social economy following the passing of Bill 27, Social Economy Act on October 10th, 2013, which recognizes the contribution of social enterprises to the vitality of the province. To illustrate this dynamic movement, here’s an overview of the most recent projects:  

On November 20, 2013, the Government of Quebec announced the establishment of a new umbrella group to support the social economy, known as the Territoires innovants en économie sociale et solidaire (TIESS). The Quebec government has provided $2.3 million in over three years to the institution, whose mission is to stimulate territorial development by highlighting best practices in the social economy and social innovation, and making them known to communities across the province.

Another new entity, Groupe Coop Relève, was also recently created through the Stratégie de l’Entrepreneuriat, to offer advice and expertise for social enterprises looking to transform into a cooperative structure. Cooperative transfer is always a hot topic. Be sure to mark your calendars for the 2014 International Summit of Cooperatives, to be held in Québec city on October 6 to 9, 2014! A sequel to the popular 2012 Summit, this event is an essential rendez-vous for social economy stakeholders around the world.   

It is impossible not to mention that the Maison de l’économie sociale, created in 2001, will be relocated and expanded in order to facilitate the networking, sharing and overall synergy of social economy stakeholders in and outside the province.

During the Semaine de la relève cooperative, the regional youth collective launched a video contest called Coopérer, c’est faire ensemble! Any youth, aged 5 to 35, could participate by submitting a video documenting their experiences with youth cooperative initiatives in which they're involved.     

On April 29th 2014, the Forum Économie Sociale et Municipalités was held in Longueuil. Mayors from Longueuil, Gatineau, Rimouski, St-Elzéar, Shawinigan, Wenworth-North and Montreal each described how they considered the social economy an essential component of community development.

Purchasing policies in favour of social enterprises is one way that cities, such as Longueil, support the movement, but there are a myriad of other ways to partner in the various sectors of municipal competency, including proximity services, entrepreneurship, environment, sports and recreation, culture, housing, etc.

The Union des Municipalités du Québec and the Fédération des Municipalités du Québec suggested creating a working group to coordinate municipal action with the social economy sector. They could gain inspiration from the pilot project L’économie sociale, j’achète, a Montreal-based initiative which aims to increase business connections between social enterprises and public institutions.  

The Social Economy Regional Tables from across the province met to network and share best practices. Several Regional Tables are attempting to increase their work with youth in the next year, including offering social economy awareness sessions to local colleges. The intersection of youth and the social economy will be a space to watch!

And we can never forget the hard work of the Chantier de l’economie sociale (Task Force on the Social Economy). Its CEO, Nancy Neatman, a leading expert on the social economy in Canada explains the Task Force's importance in this way, "The Chantier is a ‘network of networks’ that promotes the social economy within Quebec, encourages multi-sectoral collaboration and ensures that the social economy movement remains one of the “most visible progressive movements in today’s Quebec." So far, so good, it seems.

Contributions to building the social enterprise movement in Canada


The “Francophonie Canadienne”, inspired by the Quebec experience and the emergence of social enterprises development within the Anglophone community, has more than 150 years’ experience creating cooperatives and social enterprises in all sectors of life. Communities are curious.  People from all ages are coming to workshops, information sessions and are deciding to create their own social enterprises.  More and more are created to meet the needs of local communities.

Inspired as we are by the different approaches, you can imagine there is some confusion surrounding the terms "social economy”, “social enterprise”, “collective enterprise”, “cooperative”, etc.  However, organizations try their best not to feed this confusion, focusing instead on the impact of economic development. But it is not easy.

A year ago, the Government of Ontario announced its intention to invest in impact by creating a Social Enterprise Strategy. This strategy aims to support a new generation of social innovators working to give back to their communities and thrive in today’s economy. With 10,000 social enterprises already calling Ontario home, we know they are the tip of the iceberg.     

Francophones are everywhere, even if they lack the resources to effectively represent the diversity of Francophone social enterprises and their needs. Examples of Francophone investments include:

  • Co-founder of the Social Enterprise Council of Canada and the Roundtable of the social economy of Ontario.
  • Active in the Canadian Community Economic Development Network and in various initiatives supporting the promotion and economic development brought by and for the community.
  • Provides value-add to such initiatives as PopUp Labs social innovation, Mapathon, pre-consultation of the Ontario Business Sector Strategy, the Rural Social Enterprise Constellation, the Ottawa Community Loan Fund and, most recently, involved in leading/ supporting amazing initiatives presented at the Social Demonstration Fund.
  • Participates in public consultations
  • Presented a dissertation (Memoire) on the social economy to the Federal Government
  • Offering webinars, seminars, workshops during the last two years, reaching over 5000 people.
  • Provides french information using social media : 25000 people are following us on facebook, twitter, linkedin.
  • Created a new french website to provide quality information in French www.entreprisesociale.ca


Quebec and Canada's Francophone community boast a number of new social enterprises across the country at different stages of development in various sectors of activity: film, art, home services, elderly housing, funeral coops, community centres, consulting services, export and import social enterprises, sewing coop, sharing economy, agrifood, and much more.

What’s more, the largest cooperative development organization outside of Quebec, the Conseil de la cooperation de l’Ontario, modified its mission embracing cooperative and social enterprise development.

In conclusion, French social enterprises are blooming in all sectors of activities, in all provinces and territories. Often, when volunteers and leaders of not-for-profit organizations learn more about social enterprise, they discover their organization is, in fact, one. For years we developed our social enterprises without accessing adequate support but that reality is slowly changing, though not fast enough to answer the growing demand.  

The main issues we face are strategic investment, public policy, access to capital (grants and loans where we can apply in French), access to capacity building in French by Francophones for Francophones (training, mentorship, coaching in French throughout the country).  A few French practitioners are currently involved but we would need more resources to effectively support this development in every part of this country, keeping in mind one million Francophones live outside of Quebec.

Thanks To Niska, CCCR and CCO for their contribution for this article.





Émanuèle Lapierre-Fortin is a Collective Development Consultant at Niska Cooperative


ethel cote


Ethel Côté is the Collective Enterprise Developer, Associate at CCRC-CCCR and founder of www.entreprisesociale.ca



0 #1 Ethel Cote 2014-06-05 07:33
Thank you so much for this opportunity to promote the action by and for francophones throughout the country

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