Photo by Ben White

A social enterprise can exist in any sector. It’s a business that draws at least 50% of its revenue from selling goods and/or services from the marketplace and reinvests at least 50% of its profits back into community initiatives or a dedicated social purpose.

For example, a bakery whose social mission is to provide job training for new immigrants in the community would reinvest some of its profits to continue to fund and/or deliver that training.

The idea is somewhere in between a traditional private-sector business and a traditional non-profit setup. The business generates revenue, and profits are shared with its mission.

There are social enterprise networks such as Buy Social Canada working to encourage purchasers of goods and services to contract social enterprises where possible, and help social enterprises find those contracts.

So how does decent work for employees – the focus of business groups such as the Better Way Alliance – fit into all this?

It intersects. Creating decent work (good, reliable, fair work – not just any work) may be in and of itself a key facet of a social enterprise, in addition to a company’s social purpose. But not all social enterprises are necessarily focused on all-around decent work for their own employees – yet.

Brent Brodie from Buy Social says “all social enterprises should be pursuing sustainable ways to keep staff on board and invested. Indeed, finding and employing those staff who support your social enterprise’s social mission can help you deliver on those important social outcomes. So, it makes sense that where able, as a social entrepreneur, you should be pursuing avenues to ensure the right staff remain with you.”

Overall, on the topic of decent work, Brent says there has been a shift in thinking about employees. “It’s time to do things differently…traditional models aren’t working. It’s time to start investing in employees again. In doing so, we can see more resilient, healthy and engaged people contributing to the success of their community.”

Ontario has a social enterprise strategy, because “across the province, social enterprises are reducing poverty, protecting the environment, and building stronger communities – all while creating jobs, growing revenues, and attracting investment capital.”

Many public and private programs have resources for social enterprises: mentoring, coaching, grants, and loans. With around 10,000 social enterprises in Ontario, they contribute a lot to our economy and job market.

To get inspired about social enterprises, watch the trailer for the documentary The Social Shift (you can even arrange a screening in your community). Filmmakers travel across Canada to meet social enterprises and entrepreneurs, telling the story of this new way to do business spreading all over the country.

If you’re currently running a social enterprise or a traditional private-sector business, you could be part of a growing movement of businesses for social purpose – and the decent work mission is one of those purposes you can start working on right away, within your own team.

The Better Way Alliance is a network of Ontario business owners who consider employee well-being a smart investment, for our long-term profitability and the health of Canada’s economy.