A Challenge to the Social Economy Ecosystem: Social Enterprise Access to Current Government Services for Small & Medium Size Enterprises (SME)

Article excerpt

Upon recognizing the significant role that Social Enterprise has on the overall social economy ecosystem, a collaboration of social economy actors and organizations convened the BC Social Enterprise Policy Forum in late 2007. The forum brought together social economy practitioners, funders, academics, and other non-profit and social economy players. It identified four pillars required to create a supportive policy environment for social enterprise:

* Support the development of business skills in the non-profit sector

* Show the value of social enterprise through research

* Provide access to the appropriate financing along the entire business development path

* Develop market opportunities

Many initiatives have used this policy framework to move forward on supporting the development and success of social enterprises (Enterprising Non-profits, 2011a). This paper examines one specific policy and recommends adjustments to it, in order to build the business capacity of non-profit organizations, thus strengthening the Social Enterprise sector. Specifically, we are interested in the following question: What are the opportunities and barriers for non-profit businesses to have equal access to existing Small / Medium Size (SME) business planning and development services funded by the Federal / Provincial / Territorial governments? As will be described in this paper, Enterprising Non-Profits (enp) examined the criteria, policies, and practices of accessing the services of nearly 100 existing Federal, Provincial, and Territorial Small & Medium sized business support programs.

Background

Small and medium size enterprises (SMEs) are essential to the economic and employment health of urban and rural communities across Canada. Industry Canada indicates that Canadian SMEs deliver 60% of Canada's economic output, 85% of new jobs, and employ almost 6.8 million, or 64 %, of private sector employees. The federal, provincial, and territorial governments (F/P/T) recognize the value of SMEs by providing a full range of business development supports, resources, and tools to help them achieve success. These services include business planning, advisory services, investments, investor incentives, market development, and management support.

Imagine the community impact and tax savings if we could address, even partially, the social and economic impacts of homelessness, welfare, health care, and the justice system. What if we could employ many of the people caught in these circumstances because they do not fit the current normal work place environment? Are we interested in supporting the person who is often leftout of employment because of a physical disability, facing mental health challenges, struggling with or recovering from addiction, or coming back after a spell of bad luck? These conditions represent unemployment by circumstance and lack of opportunity, they are not unemployment by choice; however, they still lead to personal isolation, poverty, health issues, and the community or government supports and costs created by those factors. Yet, we continue to struggle with community problems when one solution is right in front of us: using business models to create social value. Social enterprise is an answer with immediate and preventative benefits that can serve many persons in need, save government a lot of money, and create a more just and sustainable economy and society (O'Connor, Elson, Hall & Reimer, 2012).

Social enterprises are businesses operated by non-profit organizations for the blended purpose of generating income from sales and creating a social value (Social Enterprise Council of Canada, 2012). They are engaged in multiple business sectors including retail, manufacturing, business services, arts and culture, family services, and food services. By the very nature of their size, they are SMEs as well. They work across industries, from catering and couriers, from recycling to manufacturing and building services, and on and on. …