Infrastructure is everything that enables a social enterprise day after day to blend business values with social values: community leadership and engagement, supportive public policy, and accessible financing. Building infrastructure for social enterprise in B.C. is like assembling a giant jigsaw puzzle – with no picture to follow, and pieces that come and go with the players. Sound confusing? Nevertheless, it's been worth the effort.
Since 2000, grants to assist social enterprise have ballooned. So have resources to hone the skills and knowledge of social entrepreneurs. Funding from the federal Social Economy Initiative (2005) gave rise to a national network of research partnerships, including the BC-Alberta Social Economy Research Alliance (BALTA).
Conferences have been invaluable. The second Canadian Conference on Social Enterprise (2007) revealed B.C.'s social entrepreneurs to be wonderfully energetic, but woefully unco-ordinated. To correct that the BC Social Enterprise Summit (2008) clarified a strategic framework of four tasks: 1) Encourage awareness and demonstrate the value of social enterprise, 2) Enhance enterprise skills, 3) Ensure access to capital and investment, and 4) Expand market opportunities. This framework has been influential right across the country.
Now the sector faces three main challenges. It has to live with public admiration and scrutiny, and insist that the private and public sectors also play their roles in the delivery of social programs. It has to push harder for research funding. Finally, it has to push the boundaries of its own experience. Each additional discovery and social entrepreneur will bring a new piece to the infrastructure puzzle. We'll know when it's complete - it will be when our communities are truly healthy.
This article is published in partnership with the Canadian Community Economic Development Network (CCEDNet), with the BC-Alberta Social Economy Research Alliance (BALTA), and with funding from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC).