Once we look around beyond our traditional mental maps, we can see much to celebrate and, especially importantly, much to teach. From sea to sea to sea, there are organizations that are trying new ideas based on principles of social justice, economic fairness, and environmental stewardship. Organizations such as Canopy Planet, Eva’s Phoenix Print Shop, Santropol Roulant, Books for Babies®, and Arctic Co-operatives Ltd., to name a few, are creating a different kind of economy that empowers the oftentimes economically marginalized to participate in the private sector.
While there are hundreds of such organizations in Canada, we need to inform and excite our citizens to become involved in the social economy, whether as students, educators, researchers, volunteers, employees, investors, or entrepreneurs. That’s where the role of education becomes critical. And we should start with the youngest of our citizens. In the elementary curriculum, it would not take much work to incorporate social economy examples into subjects such as mathematics and social studies. Even the youngest children would be able to understand concepts such as making money for good as opposed to making money. The proverbial lemonade stand business lends itself as a simple and real teaching tool to help young students understand the difference between making money for a nonprofit cause and making money to buy a longed-for toy.
There is some attention paid to the social economy in high school, but there is lots of work to do there too. A recent study of high school business course textbooks in Ontario found that an astonishing 1.2 percent of the textbooks’ pages addressed the social economy. In contrast, more than a decade ago, Nova Scotia developed a comprehensive education supplement on the social economy for grade nine students. Education is, of course, a provincial matter in Canada; however, our educational policy makers will need to think nationally if we are to effect a broad change in our education about the social economy. The provinces and territories can take Nova Scotia’s lead and easily customize their grade nine curricula to accommodate regional differences.
In business schools and other programs, there are some courses on the social economy. One of the most integrated programs is the MBACED at the Shannon School of Business at Cape Breton University. It combines core business courses with courses on the social economy. Similarly, there are exciting research and practice hubs across the country such as the Social Economy Centre at OISE and MaRS, to name two. The work of these sorts of programs and hubs needs to become better known.
As citizens, we cannot afford to know so little about the social economy. It is where we protect the vulnerable, empower the invisible, and add value to the private sector. Educators need to bring the social economy into early childhood curricula as children are remarkably altruistic and may become long-term contributors to the social economy. We must redress the imbalance in the educational materials that older students use so that the social economy is not seen as an afterthought. At universities, we must, not only continue the interesting research on the social economy, but present our learning in much plainer language that is readily understood by the public and policy makers.
In Canada, we have some important stories to tell about the social economy. Our task is to use good marketing practices to broadcast the stories. That way, we combine both business ideas and a commitment to social justice so we become literate about the social economy.
To learn more, see (1) Quarter, J., L. Mook and A. Armstrong (2009) Understanding the Social Economy – A Canadian Perceptive, Toronto: UTP, Chapter 1, (2) Jack Quarter, Daniel Schugurensky, Erica McCollum and Laurie Mook (2007) Textbooks economical with words about co-ops, Toronto Star, September 5, http://www.thestar.com/printarticle/253481 (accessed August 18, 2011) and (3) CED Education in Nova Scotiahttp://ced.gov.ns.ca/textversion/ced_educ/grade9/grade9.htm (accessed August 18, 2011)
Ann Armstrong has been an instructor at the Rotman School of Management for the past fifteen years. She is the Director of the Social Enterprise Initiative: in that role, she is responsible for increasing the school’s involvement in the nonprofit/social enterprise sectors through curriculum design, research and community engagement.
She has co-authored the Canadian edition of a textbook on organization design with Dr. Richard Daft and a textbook on Canada’s social economy with Drs. Jack Quarter and Laurie Mook. Ann has just ‘Canadianized’, with Joan Condie, ORGB by Nelson and Quick.
She received her Ph.D. in organizational behaviour from the University of Toronto. In addition, she sits on several not-for-profit boards.