Change the World, Do What You Love, Make Rent

The rise of these and thousands of other social enterprises is by no coincidence perfectly positioned in the midst of the Millennial generation.  Millennials have become increasingly aware that their consumer actions have consequences for the world around them. They are using their buying power to promote companies that use environmental practices and favour sustainability. They align themselves with causes, not just products. And by 2017, they will be spending about $200 billion annually, more than any other generation in history.

That may mean that we, oh burgeoning entrepreneurs, are perfectly positioned to combine our business innovation power with our commitment to leave the world better off than we found it.

Marc Kielburger

One of Canada’s most successful social entrepreneurs, Marc Kielburger, co-founder of Free the Children and Me to We seems to agree. In an interview with the Arbitrage last week, he stated “I truly believe [social entrepreneurship] is the future of philanthropy.” Kielburger has been awarded the Order of Canada and selected by the World Economic forum as one of 250 young global leaders.  He told us that he first got the idea to branch from the non-profit sector into social enterprise in 2002 when he was in Sierra Leone at the end of the civil war . The country had been ravaged by 11 years of infighting, children had had their hands and feet systematically cut off, and over 70,000 people had died.  As he and his Free the Children team were on the port in Freetown waiting to receive incoming aid, other charities were shipping out. The war was over, public concern had shifted to the next great disaster, which meant so had the NGO’s funding. “Rightly or wrongly,” Marc stated, “these organizations basically go to the next disaster zone in the news cycle. Their funding is so tied to disaster relief that they can’t talk long-term commitments.”

Marc and his brother and business partner, Craig, asked themselves how they could avoid falling into this cycle and come up with a stable revenue stream for their business and employees. So they began down the path of social entrepreneurship, starting Me to We, a company that sells socially and environmentally conscious goods and offers philanthropic trips to students. They donate half of the incoming profits to their own charity, and reinvest the other 50 per cent into sustaining and growing their business.

Though the Kielburger brothers pointed out in a recent Huffington Post article that Canada is lagging behind the UK and the United States in legal infrastructure to support social enterprises, Marc also highlighted organizations in Canada that are leading the way in this sector. For example, Enterprising Non-Profits in BC and Toronto is a program that provides matching technical assistance grants of up to $10,000 to social enterprises that are just starting or looking to expand. There is also the Centre for Social Innovation, with three locations in Toronto and one in New York City, a social enterprise with a mission to catalyze social innovations to improve our communities and the planet. Mars Discovery District in Toronto is a state-of-the-art business incubator that offers courses in social entrepreneurship with $10,000 in “pitch” prize money, as well as social venture registry where entrepreneurs can connect with potential investors and clients.

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