There are countless social entrepreneurs making an impact in Canada today, but who would you consider to be the top five for this year? This is a question that students at Mount Royal University were challenged to reflect on in their Social Enterprise class, instructed by Dr. Catherine Pearl.
To answer the question, each student individually analyzed Canada’s social enterprise sector with the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in mind. After researching founders tackling issues from poverty to food insecurity, the class compiled a list of 47 social entrepreneurs in Canada who are making enough of a social impact to deserve a spot on the top five list.
Through a collaborative voting system and following Social Enterprise Alliance’s definition of social enterprise, the class decided on their overall top five social entrepreneurs: Alyssa Bertram, Larissa Crawford, Devon Fiddler, Lourdes Juan and Matt Wittek. Their top five were presented to a panel including James Stauch from the Institute for Community Prosperity, Jane Bisbee from the Social Enterprise Fund and Elisa Birnbaum from SEE Change Magazine.
And the winners are….
Alyssa Bertram is reducing period stigma and period poverty through the social enterprise she founded called easy. For women and individuals with periods, menstruation can be a major roadblock when it comes to success and safety. This is why easy donates five per cent of their profits to delivering sanitary pads to ZanaAfrica Foundation – a social enterprise that supplies sanitary pads and health education to girls in Kenya. With easy., you can also get organic cotton menstrual products delivered right to your doorstep, while supporting a great cause. Through her work, Bertram is addressing the Good Health, Quality Education and Gender Equality SGDs.
Larissa Crawford is the founder and managing director of a Calgary-based social enterprise, Future Ancestors, which provides training, research, facilitation and consulting services on topics such as climate justice and anti-racism. She launched her business this April and it has expanded quickly. As a Black and Indigenous founder who deals with a chronic pain disability, she provides important intersectional insight on tackling complex issues. Crawford has made it to our list because she is an inspiring young social entrepreneur who has founded a social enterprise that is working towards two of the SDGs: Climate Action and Reduced Inequalities.
Devon Fiddler is the founder – or, as she calls it, chief changemaker – of SheNative Goods Inc., a social enterprise selling leather handbags and apparel that share Indigenous teachings. With lived experience of racism against Indigenous women, Fiddler gives a percentage of her profits to helping women leave violent situations. SheNative Goods employs Indigenous women and, while it may not single-handedly cure the complex issues it addresses, empowering women to leave violent situations helps break this cycle. Fiddler was chosen as one of the top five social entrepreneurs in Canada because of the social change she’s creating for marginalized communities by working towards the SDGs of Good Jobs and Economic Growth, Reduced Inequalities and Responsible Consumption.
Lourdes Juan is an impressive social entrepreneur who has founded several for-profit and nonprofit ventures including Hive Developments and Soma Spa. Her first non-profit business, Leftovers Foundation, collects unused food from restaurants and various food distributors in the city and donates it all to charities that help feed people in need. She also co-founded Fresh Routes, a newly-launched mobile grocery store service that provides nutritious and modestly-priced food options to vulnerable communities. The work done by Juan’s organizations reduces both food waste and food insecurity and helps to build stronger communities. The SDGs Juan is tackling are Zero Hunger, Good Health and Well-being and Responsible Consumption and Production.
As the founder of Fill It Forward (previously Cupanion), Matt Wittek is turning a sustainable product into a sustainable movement. The certified B Corporation contributes to a number of clean water projects around the world through its app. All you have to do is put a sticker on their reusable water bottle and scan it each time it’s refilled. While Wittek isn’t Canadian himself, the strides he has made throughout the country makes him deserving of a spot on this list. With over 209 clean water projects funded by Fill It Forward, Wittek is tackling the SDGs of Clean Water and Sanitation and Responsible Consumption.
The individual and collaborative research done by the class unveiled many inspiring people who are doing incredible work in Canada, even beyond this list of five. Discussion from the panel determined that there is some debate over how businesses can label themselves as social enterprises. For example, some believe that social enterprises can only be not-for-profit businesses, some believe they can be either for-profit or not-for-profit, as long as they have a social mission.
With this in mind, it should be noted that social entrepreneurs in this list were all chosen through a framework of social and environmental impact and missions that translate to the SDGs. They are all actively addressing highly complex societal and environmental problems and are measuring the success of their ventures by the impact they have on their missions, rather than the profit they bring in, and this is what sets them apart as the top five social entrepreneurs of 2020.
Katerina Bravo and Karina Zapata are students of the Social Enterprise class at Mount Royal University.
With credits to the entire Social Enterprise class at Mount Royal University, Calgary: Katerina Bravo, Aja Deren, Dawson Diment, Ashley Dion, Kendra Hudson, Alexander Jensen, Amanda Morton, Aarushi Nagpal, Kolten Nelson, Taylor Shippelt, Linda Symmes, Curtis Wong and Karina Zapata.