“I didn’t know it was to help. I thought it was business,” said a friend about one of Vancouver’s most popular social enterprise storefronts. “It’s both,” I responded, echoing the key to success for those on stage and in the audience at Enterprising Non-Profits’ Social Enterprise Heroes event on March 27.
It seemed appropriate that hosts Faye Wightman and Derek Gent started the evening off recognizing the Salish First Nations as the area’s original social entrepreneurs, acknowledging and embracing the symbiosis that exists between human and systems prosperity.
No one in the room, it seemed, would argue the importance of integrating business and social purpose, but as I reflected on the event over the next few days I was surprised to realize that I so rarely hear social entrepreneurs speak about natural balance in their work. That seems to be left for the “green sustainability” people – I write this hesitantly, since “sustainability” people never fit under one (or two, or three) labels.
The three presenters at the Heroes event exemplified this diversity with ease. For the Edible Garden Project and Loutet Farm at the North Shore Neighbourhood House, volunteer labour cares for the land and sweat equity builds powerful investment in the harvest. Depending on neighbours becomes cooperating and empowering neighbours, resulting in bountiful harvests and financial success. At Tradeworks Society Fab Shop, “wood products are a means to an end, and the end is always the young people,” said presenter Maninder Dhaliwal. For Ktunaxa Kinbasket Child & Family Services, restoring the natural balance of families is paramount, as children and parents in mutually nurturing relationships are stronger.
Ktunaxa Kinbasket’s Angie Louie reflects the comfort of social entrepreneurs with this natural balance, expressing the organization’s approach as “traditional ways meets modern science.” Their aim is a healthy level of growth, in a business sense, and there is no need to explain that the definition of that healthy level is inextricably linked to the health of the people they serve. The right size is “large enough not to lose the heart of the work,” a scale that simply makes good sense.
Keynote speaker Jerr Boschee recounted dozens of stories of serendipity, hard work, atonement, and empathy as motivations for the incredible work of social entrepreneurs. The passion of Susan Braverman and Melanie Conn, however, shone through as the most powerful motivators of the evening – their straightforward humility returns us to the power of social enterprise to bridge people with business: “Because it makes sense!“
View the webcast of the March 27th Social Enterprise Heroes event
Annie Lambla is a UBC Sauder MBA who laments losing the calluses on her hands since moving to Vancouver from Chicago. She is drawn to organizing and implementing great productions out of chaos and unlikely ideas, and she currently has a few batches of homemade cheese aging in various corners of her house. Annie is a researcher and entrepreneur specializing in building programs and social enterprises in food infrastructure and community development.