In an attempt to meet the emerging needs of social entrepreneurs, a whole new educational community is evolving internationally. These opportunities generate programs that match business development and support the do-good, social impact goals of these entrepreneurs. Whether it’s Denmark’s Kaos Pilot program, Canada’s enp (enterprising non-profits) or the educational and advisory offerings of MaRS, there are a growing number of learning opportunities available to social entrepreneurs and innovators.
There is, however, only one School for Social Entrepreneurs.
Haven’t heard of the SSE-O before? You’re not alone; the School for Social Entrepreneurs is new to Ontario and will begin operations later this year. The School for Social Entrepreneurs – Ontario or SSE-O, will offer our local community a unique approach to education that enables people to use their creative and entrepreneurial abilities more fully for social benefit through a practitioner-led and action-based experience.
SSE student working on his project. Photo credit: Hadley Nelles
What is the SSE-O?
The School for Social Entrepreneurs began in the United Kingdom. Fourteen years later, it is running as a social franchise with programs across the UK, in Ireland and Australia. Ontario will be the second international franchisee whose development here in Canada is being led by a collaborative group of social innovation organizations: Social Housing Services Corporation (SHSC), Social Innovation Generation MaRS (SiG@MaRS), ACCESS Community Capital Fund (ACCESS), and Social and Enterprise Development Innovations (SEDI).
The SSE-O Collaborative is currently working together to establish a three-year pilot during which time the school will be incubated by SHSC, run by two full-time staff and serve three different communities. The SSE-O program includes witness sessions where seasoned social entrepreneurs share their successes and failures, action-learning sets where small groups of students problem-solve real challenges, and project visits where students visit established local social enterprises to learn firsthand about operating a community organization. Mentors are also a significant aspect of the program; senior professionals are matched with students to provide advice and support on a one-on-one basis. And finally, the emergent SSE-O Fellowship will help to create a supportive network of leaders within the social enterprise space that remains nurtured by SSE-O well beyond the year-long program.
Why does Ontario need the SSE-O?
Social enterprise and the idea that an organization can do good and be sustainable or even make money, is becoming an increasingly common approach to addressing social and environmental challenges. The SSE-O Collaborative understands that this is more than a passing trend and has identified the need for a strong enabling environment for this hybrid space to develop into a healthy, sustained sector.
There are some existing tools available to social entrepreneurs looking for support already, so why pursue this model in particular? The SSE-O is a unique opportunity for two reasons:
- Students attend the program and pursue their own community project in tandem; and,
- Its people-powered approach means the program grows both the individual and their project simultaneously.
The SSE model is at once a part-time and a full-time undertaking. While students attend in-person sessions once a week, they are pursuing their community project in parallel and on a full-time basis. The in-class days are an opportunity for participants to dedicate time to themselves, learning leadership and management skills and developing personally. The rest of the time, students are working at their projects. Participating in the SSE-O means that participants are practically applying learnings to their day-to-day operations.
The SSE-O will target social entrepreneurs based in communities facing barriers, but recruit a mixed student cohort including those with professional and educational experience. SSE-O social entrepreneurs will require essential management skills and confidence, aspects that are learned from peers through the SSE-O in the practitioner-led witness sessions. By identifying with peers and understanding successes and failures, SSE-O graduates will become effective leaders, able to pursue the support needed for their project’s success.
The SSE-O program believes that by supporting the development of the individual, the project (and potential future projects) will gain significantly. Social entrepreneurs will benefit widely from an applied, hands-on, fluid, accessible and street-smart program that enables them to develop their own social enterprise while learning firsthand from successful peers in the space.
The Collaborative is currently seeking partners to help launch the SSE-O and others to provide support in the form of witnesses and mentors. If you’re interested in the project or eager to learn more, please visit the MaRS blog, the SSE UK website or contact the Collaborative.
Hadley Nelles currently works at SiG@MaRS, leading a variety of projects. She has experience in government and international development and currently sits on the Board of the OCIC. Passionate about innovation and the power of partnerships, Hadley is leading the collaborative effort to establish the School for Social Entrepreneurs Ontario (SSE-O).
Cynthia Ross is the Director, Social Innovation & Partnerships at SHSC and has worked in the not-for-profit sector, music, the arts and design. Cynthia is a bass player in a New York City band and passionate about catalyzing social change.