Culture & Entertainment

Social enterprise: Affecting change with good business

By: Day Helesic
Canadian Living
Culture & Entertainment

Social enterprise: Affecting change with good business

By: Day Helesic

Courtesy of MyVision  Guest post by Natalie Wong Definitions are important. They frame our perception of topics, issues and how we go about living in society. As a millennial, I am undeniably impacted by definitions. Facing the daunting task of choosing a career path, I was torn between pursuing a career in the for-profit industry (ensuring a financially sustainable lifestyle) and working in the non-profit sector (where I might help address social issues). For the longest time, I created an ideological distinction between the for-profit and non-profit sectors: For-profit organizations measured success based on financial return on investment, while non-profit organizations measured success based on social return on investment. Essentially, I held social change and financial returns as mutually exclusive variables. But it wasn’t until I was introduced to the term “social enterprise” that I understood how both variables could exist in one thriving business. Though social enterprise doesn’t have a standard definition (it encompasses many definitions), the term generally applies to businesses that use traditional economic models to achieve a return on investment while affecting social change. That said, value in social enterprise is determined by both financial and social measurements. Social enterprise in Canada Canada is a strong incubator for social enterprise. For example, Toronto-based brothers Craig and Marc Kielburger founded the internationally renowned Free the Children in 1995, a charity that aims to educate, engage and empower youth around the world. Then, in 2008, they launched Me To We, a registered for-profit company that sells socially responsible products, such as accessories and clothing made from locally sourced materials. Me to We then partnered with Free the Children to offer volunteer trips abroad to underdeveloped communities in order to eliminate poverty, promote education and empower women. Today, Me To We is a wildly successful social enterprise that gives half of its profit to Free the Children, with the rest of the profits reinvested in the company. Millennials are becoming increasingly attracted to social enterprise; these businesses offer real community benefit, something that matters a great deal to the younger generation. In 2012, Joanna Klimczak, 24, a recent McGill bachelor of commerce graduate and Rhodes scholar, co-founded MyVision with fellow McGill student Yashvi Shah. MyVision is a global network of students that encourages the development of young social entrepreneurs. “We have 17 chapters in 10 different universities around the world,” said Klimczak. “Our members challenge them to rethink business as usual and provide them the tools they seek to create companies that change the world.” In business for social change Klimczak was first inspired to pursue social entrepreneurship during high school, when she went on a volunteer trip in India. While she assisted organizers to build new schools, Klimczak asked the locals what would help them live a better life. “Better income and better jobs,” was the answer. “Rather than looking at lower-income nations from a perception of pity, I saw [these places] as a place of opportunity,” says Klimczak. “Through investment in business, sustainable development could be created. I learned that business was good.” MyVision has spurred several “social businesses”, a term coined by Nobel laureate Muhammad Yunus, to describe non-loss, non-dividend companies that are created and designed to target social problems. LIFE (Learning is for Everyone), for example, launched in 2014 by the MyVision chapter at McGill University to address high school attrition issues in Montreal by providing tutoring and mentorship. The potential for change through social enterprise is limitless. Companies can create social difference while being financially sustainable. For the millennial generation, transformation is at our fingertips. Through innovative economic and social enterprises, we can choose to redefine business, instigate social change and make money while doing so. For me, I can’t imagine doing anything else. To get more inspired by social work, check out last year's Canadian Living's Me to We award winners and honourable mentions! Image courtesy of MyVision Global  
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Social enterprise: Affecting change with good business

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