Weaving a Web for Change: Collaboration at the Vancity SEWF Pre-Event
This article is co-authored by Vancity and 30 social enterprises which Vancity supported in attending the conference.
Learn more about how Vancity is supporting the social enterprise sector, by listening the following SEWF panelist:
- Andy Broderick, VP Community Investment, Vancity - "Linking Demand and Supply: The Role of Intermediaries in Impact Investing."
- Lauren Dobell, Director of Partnerships, Community Investment, Vancity – “Sharing Failure: Winning Strategies For Sharing Failure”
- Liz Lougheed Green, Community Investment Manager, Vancity – Social Finance Labs (October 3rd & October 4th)
- Derek Gent, Executive Director, Vancity Community Foundation – “3 for 2023, a Discussion: Three Things Public Policy Needs to do for Social Enterprise to Thrive in 2023”
- Bryn Sadownik, Program Manager, Evaluation & Community Impact, Vancity Community Foundation – "Measuring and Demonstrating Impact".
In the social enterprise community and beyond, great opportunity lies in collaboration and recognizing places for interconnectivity. With this in mind, Vancity Credit Union (Vancity) and a diverse group of local social enterprises came together on September 11 for a Social Enterprise World Forum (SEWF) Pre-Event. With a room full of social entrepreneurs as well as staff from Vancity and the Vancity Community Foundation, conversations were buzzing and excitement for Calgary was in the air.
The evening began with us all sharing our “best failure”, premised on the understanding that failures are often powerful sources of learning and catalysts for innovation.
Sharing stories of our social enterprises’ best failures was an awesome ice-breaker, allowing us to learn from each other, while setting a tone for the evening based on mutual trust and understanding. For the remainder of the evening, we delved into discussion around our goals for the Social Enterprise World Forum and the challenges we hope to address through learnings gained in Calgary. From these discussions, three major themes emerged that we all felt are relevant to the future development of our enterprises: mechanics or the business building blocks of social enterprise, growth, and collaboration.
Many social enterprises struggle to balance their mission and model with the business objective of building sufficient markets to sustain them financially. As a group, we hope that SEWF will be a vehicle for us to share experiences and better understand the mechanics and components needed for building a robust, resilient social enterprise.
Understanding those building blocks and getting them right are key to any successful business, but social enterprises face an added layer of complexity. These complexities run the gamut, from defining human resource practices and what that means for hiring, to training and safety – while balancing a mandate to hire those with barriers to employment (just to name a few). And what about monitoring margins while having to pay a premium for green products (to further our environmental mandate) while at the same time remaining price conscious and attracting our target market?
There are no easy answers, and that’s why a conference like SEWF will play a valuable role in providing space for social enterprises to share their experiences.
Through understanding the common triumphs and challenges of our fellow social enterprises throughout the world, we better leverage our combined intelligence to find possible solutions to overcome these barriers.
Growth remains an ever-prominent topic of discussion for many social enterprises. When should we expand? Should we expand at all? What would it mean for our enterprise? Is there a large enough market to service? Can we afford to grow? So many questions arise when trying to wrap our heads around growth and expansion.
The ultimate goals of any enterprise, both for-profit and not-for-profit, are to be financially successful and invest back into the enterprise’s mission. The challenge here lies within achieving growth without destabilizing our entire enterprises. Time after time we hear stories of enterprises that get a ‘big break’ like winning a large contract, but fail to manage the enormous demands associated.
Ultimately, we need to understand our market, and our own capacity, and carefully evaluate how growth or expansion will alter the course of the enterprise in every way, from human resources, to mission delivery, to financial performance.
But it doesn’t end there. Once we decide that expansion is the right path for our enterprise, how do we finance it? What are our options? And once again, how do we maintain the equilibrium between social mandate and business objectives? We are eager to hear how other enterprises have approached growth; we want to learn from the experience of others and share our own experiences, so that all our social enterprises are sustainable and resilient.
With synergy, the sum of all parts is greater than each individual part alone. The themes of synergy, collaboration and reciprocity crept into just about every conversation at the Vancity-hosted pre-event. In fact, perhaps greater than all the dynamic speakers, compelling topics and practical advice that we are sure SEWF will provide, it is the opportunity to connect and build relationships that we are eagerly anticipating . A conference such as this allows for dialogue, sharing and openness which creates a sense of trust and belonging. It’s through the sharing of experiences that we learn more wholeheartedly of the power of collaboration.
After the conference, we hope to continue this collaboration –
we don’t want it to disappear once we return home. Rather, it’s only the beginning.
We envision sharing these learnings and experiences and cultivating newfound relationships to better support our enterprises and social mandates. By leveraging our collective power, we can create an exponentially positive effect in the communities we serve.
But how do we bring back the learning from our experiences in Calgary and keep these lessons alive? And how do we continue to share these learnings in a meaningful way?
Identifying opportunities for creating interconnections between our social enterprises is one way to keep this momentum going. We will use these synergies to work together towards shared goals, and support each other through a collaborative lens. What kind of parallel projects can we work on together? How can we leverage our respective skills and expertise to support each other through purchasing relationships or initiatives addressing a common mission? The Social Enterprise World Forum will provide a platform to begin these discussions and piece together opportunities for collaboration, with the end goal of creating an enabling environment for social enterprises to develop and flourish. We look forward to collaborating with you in Calgary!
This article was co-authored by Vancity and the following social enterprises, who Vancity was happy to support with a Vancity Social Enterprise World Forum Bursary:
Aboriginal Tourism BC
Atira Property Management Inc.
BC Biofuel Network
Cowichan Biodiesel Co-op
City Farms Co-op
Climate Smart Businesses Inc.
Community Craft Beer Lab Cooperative
Cowichan Energy Alternatives Society
East of Main Cafe Inc.
Embers Staffing Solutions
Galiano Conservancy Association
Green Challenge Waste Management
JFSA Home Support
Keeners Car Wash
Mama Wall Street Studio
Mission Possible Maintenance
Pedal Energy Development Alternatives
Save On Meats
Shift Delivery Co-op
Sole Food Farms
Squamish ReBuild Society
The Cleaning Solution
Urban Aboriginal Fair Trade Gallery
Victoria Car Share Co-op
More about Vancity:
Vancity, a values-based financial co-operative in British Columbia, Canada, invests in social enterprises and social ventures through high impact lending and investment programs. By supporting social enterprises with financial products, programs and services, Vancity helps enterprises grow through all stages—from early planning, to start-up and launch, right through to sustainability and expansion.
Good Money™ invests in businesses with a community purpose
Since 1996, Vancity has incrementally taken on an ever larger role in supporting the development of social enterprises and social ventures, using our resources and expertise. We’ve learned that working in an engaged relationship with our social enterprises from early in their development, through launch, financing and beyond, accelerates their long term success, and ours. We’ve also learned that differentiating support is critical because as an enterprise moves along the development path, it requires different types of financing and support instruments to fulfill its evolving needs. As a result, we strategically support social enterprises at, and through, different stages of their development as a “navigator” focused on enhancing success.