Inaugural Social Enterprise Toronto Conference to Convene, Build Sector

Inaugural Social Enterprise Toronto Conference to Convene, Build Sector

Social enterprise procurement possibilities among emerging opportunities

Social Enterprise Toronto’s (SET) upcoming conference will be convening those involved and interested in the sector to share expertise and possibilities to collaborate.

The SET Conference 2014: Trends and Opportunities kicks off Jan. 29 with a bus tour of five Toronto social enterprises. Participants will visit the facilities and see social enterprises in action. On Jan. 30, a full-day conference takes place at The Learning Enrichment Foundation, which itself houses several social enterprises.

Attendees include social enterprise practitioners, non-profit organizations interested to develop social enterprises, government representatives, students, academics, and organizational representatives with large procurement opportunities.


Andrew Holeton, steward at the Learning Enrichment Foundation and a SET steering committee member, says it is an exciting time as the network has just heard confirmation on a couple major pieces of project funding that will be rolled out including Metcalf Foundation funding research into the various social procurement opportunities. The other project could not be shared publicly at the time of interview, but Andrew says he hopes they can mention it at the conference.

The network should be realizing three or four major social procurement opportunities within the next few years, notes Andrew. The City of Toronto is developing a social procurement framework, there is work between the sector and the Pan Am and Parapan Am Games, as well as possible social procurement to come from a transit expansion led by Metrolinx.

“I think those large contracts will actually take us to a whole new way of developing new enterprises, because what you can build around a large contract is very different than what you can build around smaller sales,” says Andrew, noting they are looking for more enterprises that use business-to-business models.

With these larger contracts some of missing pieces will be filled in around social enterprise size and scale that people have been grappling with for a long time, he adds.

“I am really excited to see the network moving to a whole new level,” says Andrew, noting SET – a network of more than 20 social enterprises within the Greater Toronto Area – started in 2006 as a small group of enterprises coming together to share sales leads.

“From that, we have built an identity for the network as well as a strong emerging role for the sector.”

SET is seeing more enterprises purchasing from one another. One new member found within a month they had six to 10 major contracts with the network.

Having so many people with social enterprise experience coming together to share their experience at the conference is exciting, says Andrew.

The conference is an opportunity for SET to officially launch research conducted in three different studies involving 32 enterprises. The research explores GTA social enterprise marketing practices, start-up stories and collaboration among food-based enterprises.

“There isn’t a lot of research out there for social enterprises so we tried to make it as useful for practitioners as possible,” says Mehnaz Rahman, research and communications co-ordinator for SET.

Other focus areas of the conference include what video can do for social enterprises, the 2013 Ontario Social Enterprise Census, micro-enterprise and marketplaces, social enterprise design labs and a social enterprise and procurement round table.

“We want some very actionable things to come out of this (conference) and one is we will be challenging people to purchase from at least one social enterprise a month. We want people to find new ways to work together, to collaborate, to purchase from each other, and of course we want them to come together as an engaged member of the social enterprise sector,” says Mehnaz.

The bus tour is sold out, but people can still register online to attend the Jan. 30 event until Jan. 19 (after Jan. 19 people can call or e-mail SET to register). The research will be available online after the event.

Mehnaz notes the conference is looking to lead by example through purchasing almost entirely from social enterprises including its printing, coffee, snacks, lunch and speaker gifts.

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Jennifer Neutel

Jennifer Neutel is a Story Advocate and Generative Journalist at Axiom News. She completed her Bachelor of Journalism at Carleton University in Ottawa in 2006, and joined Axiom News in 2007. She has taken on a variety of roles at Axiom including new social media intiatives and has a passion for creating strengths-based questions that can lead to positive change.

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