I have to admit, I’m a bit of an Olympics junkie, so it’s been hard to find any time for writing lately. But, as I sit here thinking about what I want to say about my day attending Social Enterprise Toronto (SET) 2014 last month, I realize that SET 2014 and the Winter Olympics actually have a lot in common.
Most importantly, what’s clear to me is that, whether you’re focusing on winning in sport or winning in social enterprise, there’s no resting on your laurels if you want to be successful.
In addition, you have to get comfortable with the concepts of newer, better and even braver to make it to the medal podium. I’m pleased to say all of these themes came out in some way throughout the day in January.
Let’s start with newer. The day opened with a welcome from Andrew Holeton, a steward at the Learning Enrichment Foundation (LEF) and one of the event hosts. He talked about SET’s terrific growth in 2013, in particular, its over 30% increase in new membership. Add to that, the comprehensive research into social enterprises in the GTA that SET completed in 2013, and the sold-out crowd in attendance – more than 190 people, representing over 90 organizations. Even newer still, SET is now open to organizations not just in the GTA, but anywhere in the Golden Horseshoe. For those interested in membership, you can find information here.
As for getting better, we heard from LEF’s Peter Frampton, followed by keynote speaker Gerry Higgins, CEO of Community Enterprise in Scotland (CEiS), who joined us via Skype. Both talked about the growth of the social enterprise sector globally and Frampton suggested that the private sector is now copying social enterprise in many ways. We heard about the increasing use by the private sector of “social enterprise language” in their marketing, for instance.
One example that immediately jumps to mind for me is Tim Hortons’ new public campaign around Fair Trade Coffee. If actions follow language this is good news. But Higgins cautioned that, even with the many positive social enterprise developments in the last few years, “We can’t let social enterprise just become a tick box [on someone’s agenda].”
Drawing on his experience in Scotland, he emphasized the importance of tying social enterprise to what he called “thoughtful policy-making”. In Scotland, social enterprise, which falls under the responsibility of the Ministry of Finance, has been actively supported by the government since 1999. Government support aside, Scotland actively promotes the theme of “better” when it comes to social enterprise through both learning opportunities – the SE Academy is designed specifically to build capacity and leadership skills in the social sector – and through Peer support with initiatives like Glasgow’s SE Network. Here in Toronto, you can find peer support through membership in SET.
In terms of being braver, the themes of the day were about marketing and selling. After lunch, we were joined by procurement representatives from big purchasers like the City of Toronto, Metrolinx and the 2015 Pan Am Games. Each stated they were committed to supporting the social enterprise sector and shared social procurement opportunities related to each of their organizations.
For example, Toronto currently has six pilot social procurement projects underway, including the Regent Park Revitalization project. Flash forward to next year’s Pan Am Games, with more than $350 million in upcoming procurement needs. While the organizers of Toronto 2015 will generally be posting large tenders related to purchases like sports equipment, buses and fleet and security services, they are encouraging social enterprise vendors to be brave and do some networking on the selling front. Essentially, there will be subcontracting opportunities for the games – you just need to go out and find them. You can find out more on their website.
On the marketing front, there were two marketing sessions at the conference, with one devoted exclusively to leveraging video in the promotion of your social enterprise. While producing a quality video may seem daunting, the good news is that production equipment is so much cheaper and easier to use today. Most organizations can create a good quality marketing video for under $5,000.
Taking the leap to producing your own videos does take courage and requires the development of some new skills, but from a marketing perspective there’s mostly an upside. Today, more than 50% of consumer traffic on the web is video – and growing. And there is help out there. Check out the ASE social enterprise that’s part of uFORchange. They’ve done great videos for both Culture Days and Princes’ Charities Canada.
My takeaway from SET 2014: opportunities for social enterprises continue to grow. The way forward is to be out there and, like Canada’s Olympic medalists in Sochi, to be thinking newer, better and braver. Work hard to educate potential customers and supporters and always be on the lookout for what’s possible.
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.