Innovation Insights

Growing social entrepreneurship in Niagara
“As societal challenges continue to evolve and change, so will the innovative applications of social entrepreneurship.”


What is social entrepreneurship?
When we engage in conversation around innovation, we naturally start to talk about change. In the business community, we know that innovative thinking brings us one step closer to our primary goal—to create value. It also helps us maintain relevance in the ever-changing marketplace. In the greater community, where we all coexist, this responsive, sustainable method of creating value for society is called “social innovation.” Social innovation refers to the positive change that takes place through integrating new practices with the intent of putting people (humanity) first.

The term “social entrepreneurship” was born over 35 years ago* and can be understood today as “the application of business and management skills to solve social problems.” In a nutshell, it\'s what happens when business functions (which often create sustainable revenue streams) collide with a strong desire for social change.

A “social entrepreneur” is someone with a deep understanding of social issues and the proven ability to resolve those issues through creative business practices. Social entrepreneurs, like Florence Nightingale, founder of modern nursing, or John Muir, developer of the National Park System, did what they did simply because they saw opportunities to create a more lasting benefit to society by innovating the way their business was carried out.

Social entrepreneurship in Niagara
There are many notable agencies in Niagara that are sparking social change. Among them is Leadership Niagara, which encourages emerging leaders to learn more about the unique needs of the Region and inspires them to apply their leadership through community service projects. In 2014, Leadership Niagara received over 30 applications for projects from various non-profit (or for-social-profit) organizations, many of which were related to social enterprise.

One of Leadership Niagara’s project partners, and a local leader in social entrepreneurship, is Pathstone Mental Health. Pathstone Mental Health is a non-profit agency dedicated to strengthening the quality of life for children, youth and families dealing with mental health challenges. The organization has a Social Enterprise Division, which develops revenue-generating strategies such as leasing office space in their new facility (to be constructed in 2015). Funds from this social enterprise model will allow for 400 additional children to receive mental health treatment each year and, in general, will help Pathstone Mental Health to supplement its government funding, become more self-sufficient, and more sustainable.

As societal challenges continue to evolve and change, so will the innovative applications of social entrepreneurship. Entrepreneurial people see opportunities where others may only see challenges. Niagara already has a thriving entrepreneurial ecosystem, conducive for innovation and change. All it needs now are entrepreneurial leaders and social innovators to come forward and transform this community.

*The term “social entrepreneurship” first appeared in scholarly literature, “The Sociology of Social Movements” (Banks 1972, p. 53).

Rachel Crane is the program coordinator for Leadership Niagara and the co-founder of a social yoga/art business called The Soul Workshop. She also teaches entrepreneurship at Niagara College and is the recently appointed project manager for Niagara College’s hub for entrepreneurship, ncTakeOff. Join Rachel in the twittersphere (@r_crane) as she continues to explore social entrepreneurship through her various roles.