Spring is a time of regeneration, new beginnings and a renewal of spirit.
So it seems more than appropriate to be writing about the exciting new beginnings at Ontario’s School for Social Entrepreneurs (SSE-O), launched in 2012 and closing in on its second year anniversary.
In March, as an alumni of the initial round of Fellowship Training at SSE-O, I had the opportunity to drop in on the School, just as they were beginning the second round of their program. This provided an opportunity to hear about some of the exciting changes on the program delivery front as well as to meet the new training leaders and some of the new students.
For those of you who may not have heard of the school, the SSE-O Fellowship program is based on a model developed in the UK. The first School for Social Entrepreneurs (SSE) was launched in London in 1997, with a mission to, “transform (the talents of interested social entrepreneurs) into real social and environmental outcomes, in the form of sustainable solutions to poverty and disadvantage in communities.”
As for the Fellowship itself, as Marjorie Brans, SSE-O’s executive director, reminded me last month, you don’t have to be a business person or have a business background to get in. In fact, “the programs are intentionally aimed at people who don’t have all the business skills,” she explains. Perhaps most importantly, the focus of the learning is on the fellows themselves, rather than their social enterprise.
The program still offers technical business training and coaching (business planning and marketing, for example), just not so much in the classroom. Instead, it’s provided through mentors, self-directed learning- and new to this second cohort – through a much stronger emphasis on peer-to-peer teaching and coaching. This brings me to the exciting changes underway.
First, there are two new training leaders at the helm. Renee Deveraux, is the new director of learning and Chryssa Coulis is the new learning manager. Both bring first-hand experience from my cohort; Renee as a facilitator and Chryssa as a fellow. Together they bring solid credentials in adult education and business. They’re also two of the most enthusiastic people I’ve ever met.
Second, on the logistics front, the Fellowship has been shortened from nine months to six. In addition, classroom time is reduced from a full day every Saturday to classes every two to three weeks. Shortening the time commitment and spreading out the in-class sessions provides more flexibility. The aim is to achieve better school-life balance, according to Renee and Chryssa (the program is intense). However, with fewer classroom dates and a shorter program length, more independent learning is required.
This is where the mentoring, self-study, structured and unstructured peer-to-peer support and expert coaching through SSE-O volunteers and partners come in. Having spent most of my early career in the adult education field, all these changes sound like the right way to go for the SSE-O, especially with its focus on developing fellows first.
Speaking of fellows, I was really impressed when Marjorie ran down the list of the issues being tackled in round two. They range from local, sustainable energy to alternative healing and a lot more in between. For example, on the science and technology front, there’s Vareia Boxill, a curriculum developer and program coordinator with a background in both nursing and biomedical engineering technology.
Her social enterprise, the Technovation Academy, is all about helping young people from marginalized and under-represented backgrounds pursue careers in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math). The dream for this project, she told me, originated from personal experience as a young black woman in Toronto interested in science and tech – but lacking visible role models.
At the Academy, the focus is on getting all kids, especially those from under-represented backgrounds, exposed to STEM opportunities at a young age, through after-school programming, weekend workshops and much more.
On the retailing front, I had the pleasure to meet Margarita Ramon, whose background includes more than 25 years as a successful documentary filmmaker in Canada and around the globe. Her social enterprise idea, Radical Chic, originated from her experience as a cancer survivor and from having made a film about the duo behind Local Buttons fashions, a company that manufactures an ethical fashion line in Haiti using upcycled suit fabrics.
Radical Chic is about providing today’s value-driven shoppers with an online site for curated fashions, accessories and more, all designed, produced and sold ethically – good for the makers, the planet and the consumers.
Last, but certainly not least, I met with Peter (not his real name). His project is called Date/Ability, with the mission of being the premier online social hub and dating site for people with disabilities and their allies. As with Margarita and Vareia, Peter’s idea came from a very personal place. As a child, he suffered substantial mental abuse, which led him to struggle with ADHD for more than 15 years.
Talking with Peter now, it seems clear that he’s put those personal struggles behind him while remaining very sensitive to the struggles of others. One of the areas he’s seen people with disabilities struggle with is love. He hopes that Date/Ability and the Date/Ability Foundation will provide this community with resources to help address these challenges.
Its early days yet for these new beginnings at SSE-O. But, like the spring season which is now upon us, there are clear signs of good things to come for the School as it undergoes change and renewal.
Verity Dimock is a non-profit business leader and social entrepreneur. She is a graduate of Ontario’s School for Social Entrepreneurs and currently works as a fundraiser for Toronto’s new Black Creek Community Farm. In addition she is working on the development of a food based social enterprise that promotes healthy, sustainable food at the doorstep. In her spare time, Verity likes to write about social enterprise and is a fan of DIY and handmade projects that feature upcycling and recycling. You can find Verity on Twitter @thecraftstudioTO and @socentgirl. Verity holds an undergraduate degree in Politics and Economics from Trent University and a Master’s Degree in Instructional and Performance Technology from Boise State University.