Sam Saad
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Turning a great idea into a real business gets a lot easier with the right support.

Toronto is a city of plenty. Its present course reminds me of those 1950s commercials about industrial “cities on the go”. Voted in the top 10 cities for innovation by Melbourne’s 2thinknow Consultancy Firm and the 7th best place to live by the Economist Intelligence Unit, one can understand why the School for Social Entrepreneurschose Toronto as its inaugural North American home. Opening in August of this year, and welcoming the first cohort of 20 students on September 14th, SSE has found fertile ground in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.

SSE-O provides a truly singular learning environment. Championing a learning by doing approach and upholding its five keys – action learning sets, witness sessions, expert sessions, mentoring, and project visits – SSE-O was the missing link among Toronto’s burgeoning social innovation infrastructure.

With student work ranging from women’s issues, international development, engaging at risk youth, crowdsourcing real-time transportation updates, importing Australian sports for community empowerment, and growing your food in a box, SSE-O’s inaugural cohort has a bit of everything. This band of social misfits manages to make every day terribly exciting and extraordinary! Half school and one quarter support group, SSE-O has a semi-summer camp feel about it. Where fun and learning collide to create innovative solutions and strengthen social bonds.

A social entrepreneur’s journey begins

Having come across the opportunity to apply only three days before the deadline, it took a hasty bout of shuffling tasks and canceling dinner plans to turn my intentions into reality. In early August, I spent Friday evening and all day Saturday completing the rather formulaic application, trying to fill it with life and glory! Well, at least sufficient intrigue to get my foot in the door. I’d been working on my social venture for seven months prior.

NOTE: I use the term “working” very loosely, as the idea had percolated and simply wouldn’t go away. Try as I may to carry on with my regular job, volunteer commitments, hobbies and social engagements, this little nutter (later to be called a gem) kept rearing its head in the most inopportune of times.

I’d be enjoying breakfast with long not-seen friends and midway through telling me about their newborns, morally ambiguous trysts, or dreams and hopes for the future (I keep varied company), I would impulsively and rather rudely interrupt with: “What do you think of a crowdfunding platform that encourages civic engagement and community empowerment by facilitating financial support to ongoing court cases?” To which I’d generally received a blank stare, before proceeding, “You know, a platform that leverages sheer numbers, linking individuals with similar social values and allowing plaintiffs or defendants fighting policy shifts at the judicial level to further access justice by way of $5, $50 or $500 donations!.” Most people just kept on staring blankly, maybe asking me to pass the pepper. But after a little more chatting, two things would occur:

1. I’d explain the idea over and again, understanding it better myself.

2. Once, and generally only after a deluge of words had spilled from my gob, my audience understood the idea, they’d get as excited about it as I was!

All was brilliant! After spending countless years working for the United Nations, researching public health, and educating adults, I’d finally landed on an idea that inspired me beyond all others. Now the hard part began: getting it off the ground, or at least, taking a first step.

Formulating the plan

By the time I drafted my SEE-O application, I had half a statement of value, half a business plan, and half of the tank already drained by not properly focusing on, and enjoying my tasks.

It’s now been two months since school began and the results are tangible. I’ve picked up two business partners, began designing the website, met with half a dozen professionals in the legal field, and nearly completed the above-mentioned documents. But most of all, I’ve joined a community of talented, capable and passionate professionals who are all on a similar journey. I can’t begin to describe the amount of support, knowledge good old fashioned motivation that I continuously receive from the school’s Learning Facilitators and my colleagues alike.

Toronto truly is a city of plenty. Now with SSE-O’s inaugural cohort turning their respective visions into reality, it’s about to get a whole lot better!

Sam Saad is a lifelong learner, educator, recovering hypocrite and social entrepreneur. He focuses on democratization and civic empowerment, and is currently part of SSE-O’s inaugural cohort. This is his first attempt at blogging.

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