On May 29th, those of us in the first cohort of social entrepreneurs at the School for Social Entrepreneurs-Ontario (SSE-O) will graduate. That means a graduation ceremony, which of course gives all of us graduates a chance to invite some friends and family. For me, this presents a really interesting opportunity. Last June, I was in the audience when my twin fourteen-year-olds graduated from middle school. Next month, they get to come cheer on mom.
The run-up to this event presents a number of opportunities to discuss social enterprise with the boys, which I think is a really good thing, especially as we try to expand the social enterprise community in Canada and increase capacity-building in this space. If we really want to get good at social enterprise it’s probably going to take at least another generation. So now is the time to make sure we start teaching our kids about social purpose businesses. Over the last seven months, I’ve talked a lot about the program at SSE-O and just the other day I found out how much the kids have actually been listening. In fact, my son Malcolm kind of turned the tables on me.
Social enterprise…the next generation
Malcolm goes to Monarch Park Collegiate where he’s a grade nine student in the International Baccalaureate Program. The other morning he handed me a permission slip from his Phys. Ed teacher with a big grin on his face. “Guess what mom, I need you to sign off on me participating in this really cool sports program coming to our school on May 6th. By the way mom, I think you’ve heard of it, because it’s a social enterprise. It’s called Aussie X.”
I had to laugh and admit I was impressed that Malcolm had actually been paying attention when I’d told him and his brother about this social enterprise, run by my classmates Emile Studham and Kaela Bree. It hadn’t hurt that Emile had sent autographed footies (Australian footballs) home for the boys at Christmas time. However, I could tell that Malcolm was really intrigued about the opportunity to see Aussie X in action. When you’re 14 years old and love sports, what’s not to like about getting to spend a half-day outside doing something active with your friends?
Capitalizing on this opportunity, I asked Malcolm what “social enterprise” meant to him. His response kind of blew me away. “Well mom, it seems like social enterprises have a community purpose beyond just making money, including looking after the planet. I guess Aussie X is focused on helping kids stay healthy.” Wow, was this my kid talking; and no League of Legends game in site?
Social enterprise from the ground
Watching me work on a social enterprise start-up last summer, Malcolm and his brother Cam got into the act by helping me set up a mini urban farm in our backyard. So, I was curious to push our conversation and hear his first-hand takeaway actually participating in a social enterprise last year. Here’s what he had to say: “Mom, I think people want to help others, but it’s really hard to do if it’s not sustainable. Becoming a social entrepreneur, you might only make a little money, which makes it hard to live.” True, even if you grow 200 pounds of great tomatoes (like my boys did) that’s not a business.
So Malcolm and I talked about what it means to take a social enterprise to scale. He agreed our backyard farm has a long way to go. But we’re trying some new things this summer. I then asked Malcolm if he could ever see himself as a social entrepreneur. It’s clear he has some concerns, but I think he’s actually given it some serious thought. “It seems like a lot of work mom and you have to be a risk taker, because you can end up making very little. But that doesn’t mean it’s not worth doing. It’s really about figuring out how to do it right.” And then he smiled and changed the subject.
“Mom, can I get my permission slip signed now?” I was a bit disappointed because I had enjoyed hearing how much my son had absorbed over the last year or so. In fact, that conversatoin convinced me that I’d done the right thing by sharing my SSE-O experience with the entire family. On the other hand, you can only talk social enterprise so long when Aussie Football is calling.
Verity Dimock is currently working with Robert Patterson (www.earthbox.mx) on the launch of a Canadian social enterprise focused on local, sustainable food. Before shifting her career focus to social enterprise, Verity was the executive director of Smart Serve Ontario. She holds a Master’s degree from Boise State University (Instructional and Performance Technology) and a Bachelor’s degree from Trent University (Politics and Economics).
In addition to her social enterprise work, Verity teaches career development workshops and is an employment coach for students in the HVAC and Sustainable Energy Programs at Humber College. She tweets about her experience as a new social entrepreneur @SocentGirl.