5 Trends to Watch in Social Entrepreneurship

5 Trends to Watch in Social Entrepreneurship

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A look at five areas of social need and the innovative approaches working to address them, from Maxime Albors, a journalist with Novae, a solutions-focused Canadian economics journal.

Novae was present at the Ashoka American Express Emerging Innovators Bootcamp in Toronto, which brought together 20 social entrepreneurs from across Canada. Ashoka is one of the largest international networks dedicated to social entrepreneurship. Launched in India in 1980, the organization is now active in almost 90 countries and has supported more than 3,000 entrepreneurs through its programs, funding, and trainings.

Each year, Ashoka and American Express hold a series of three-day Bootcamps in locations around the globe. Each Bootcamp brings together 20 entrepreneurs (dubbed “innovators”) whose ventures are designed to have social impact. This year’s Bootcamps take place in September and October in Toronto, New York, Dakar, Nairobi and Mexico City.

At the Toronto Bootcamp, participants received mentoring from organizations such as the Center for Social Innovation (CSI), which aims to catalyze social innovation in Toronto, and MARCH, a "hub at the crossroads of entrepreneurship and finance.” Mentors and trainers on hand to support the innovators included Anthony Upward, creator of "Flourishing Business Canvas,” which enables the integration of socio-environmental values into a business model, and Adil Dhalla, Director of Culture at CSI.

Novae attended the Bootcamp, and identified five trends or areas of focus in the field of social innovation that are worth watching.

1. The Revaluation of Vacant Spaces

In Canada, vacant spaces, most in disadvantaged urban areas, represent a challenge: there are almost 30,000 today that could remain vacant for up to 20 years. Among Bootcampers, three organizations are part of a trend to upgrade these unused spaces. 

  • Soul Roots, a nonprofit organization that wants to use the vacant spaces of Toronto to install urban agriculture projects.
  • Public Accessory, which uses public and private vacant spaces in Toronto in order to install the eco-urban infrastructure, such as bike racks. 
  • Lande facilitates the recovery of vacant land by citizens themselves, listing vacant lots in Montreal that are ready for community repurposing.


2. Social integration

Many of the innovators present in Toronto run enterprises that stress the importance of equity and inclusion.

  • The Binners Project allows "recyclers" living or busking on the streets of Vancouver to organize themselves through workshops and meetings. In this way, it recreates social linkages and enables a supportive community. 
  • The Montreal-based organization, AXCS, provides stores with custom-built accessibility ramps—in this way, implementing practical and inexpensive solutions to the physical barriers faced by people with reduced mobility.
  • NextGenMen offers programs to improve the social acceptance of everyone, regardless of gender identity or sexual orientation, through workshops given in schools and online. 
  • Kindess Connect links people who want to volunteer with groups in search of their skills and time.

3. Health

Health also figured strongly in the projects present in the Bootcamp:

  • Mommy Monitor, a platform designed in Toronto, is intended mainly for women from Africa and the Caribbean to enable them to better monitor their pregnancies through access to social benefits and by providing them with health advice. 
  • PASS (Panic, Anxiety, Stress & Support) is a prevention platform targeting mental health by providing a “First Aid” kit to address panic or stress crises.

4. Environmental innovation

The environment and the optimization of existing processes were also among the topics covered by the entrepreneurs in the Toronto cohort. 

  • MycoRemedy offers a more environmentally friendly and economical way to decontaminate the soil and restore large-scale sites.
  • Zooshare  uses waste from the Toronto Zoo and its surrounding stores (excrement and food) to convert them into biofuel.


5. Food, Hunger & Waste

Two initiatives included in this year's Toronto Bootcamp take diverse approaches to addressing hunger, food insecurity and waste.

  • Growing North works with families in Nunavut, 79 percent of which face food insecurity. The organization set a goal of reducing the cost of food to help these families to save money; it also empowers families to take an active role in the development of their community. 
  • Meal Exchange  helps students create a sustainable food system in their schools. The main idea is to use local suppliers and create the shortest possible circuit for supplying these schools in an environmentally responsible manner.

Maxime Albors is a journalist with Novae, a solutions-focused Canadian economics journal. This article was originally published by Novae in French and is translated and reprinted here with permission. Read the original article here.