In Niagara we enjoy an abundant quality of life. In recent years our local economy has seen some major transformation. We’ve shifted away from jobs provided by large manufacturers, to jobs with small to medium sized firms, many of which employ 10 people or less.

Many well-educated Niagara citizens struggle to find jobs that pay above minimum wage. We’re competing globally to attract new employers and retain top talent in our labour force.  New technologies are transforming the notion of what it means to have and keep a job. These developments bring exciting opportunities as well as upheaval.

Community service organizations are stretched to meet the complex needs of vulnerable citizens in our midst, and as consumers we’re growing more socially conscious. In the wake of the loss of what were traditionally deemed ‘secure jobs’ in Niagara, there’s a movement to bring back business with a purpose. This is driving a conscious shift to support local, environmentally responsible, sustainable businesses that value people along with profit.

One Solution: A thriving social entrepreneurial community

The social enterprise movement presents a solution. Social enterprises are businesses that:

  • Create community impact and social values
  • Have a defined social, cultural or environmental value while selling their products or services to customers (they can’t continue to operate if they don’t fulfill their mission)
  • Limit or don’t distribute profits and assets to individual shareholders

— Social Enterprise Canada

Social Enterprises in Ontario

To give you an idea of the impact of social enterprises on Ontario’s economy alone, here are some facts from Ontario’s Social Enterprise Strategy 2016 – 2021:

  • Ontario is home to about 10,000 social enterprises
  • Across the province, our social enterprises generate an average of $1.2 million in revenues, including $0.9 million in sales
  • Those social enterprises employ an average of 38 staff
  • 68% of Ontario’s social enterprises have a poverty reduction focus.

The next five years will be critical for social enterprise – the Ontario government has committed to invest more than $6 million in the first year of its renewed Social Enterprise Strategy.   The province’s vision is to be recognized as a global leader in social enterprise and social finance by 2021.

What We’re Doing in Niagara

A passionate local group of social entrepreneurs, educators, civil servants and others is on a mission to educate, raise awareness, build community and to connect people interested in  establishing a social enterprise to the necessary resources.  We’ve declared 2016 as the Year of Social Enterprise in Niagara. We’re just beginning to lay the foundation of our region’s social entrepreneurial community. In January, the Social Startups forum brought about 145 people together to begin co-creating what social entrepreneurship and enterprise training in Niagara will look like. By the end of the day, forum participants had identified some of the gaps and opportunities to be  collectively addressed,  and began planning meaningful next steps. (Read a wrap-up of the forum here.)

Since then, we’ve  hosted monthly meetups to connect with social entrepreneurs and stakeholders in Niagara, as well as meet people in communities across Ontario who are just as passionate about social entrepreneurship as we are. Within the next few months, we’ll be launching a website – a community hub where Niagara’s social entrepreneurs can find updates, explore resources and join the conversation.

Our Challenge to You: Get involved today

We’re open to anyone who wants to learn more about social entrepreneurship and how they can contribute. You are invited to join the conversation.

Attend a Meetup

We host  monthly Social Startup Meetups  at Mahtay Cafe in downtown St. Catharines. Each event features a speaker with valuable knowledge and experience in the area of social entrepreneurship. Past guests have included Jeff Sinclair, community builder, and facilitator Jasmine Olah; Trevor Twining, president of the co-operative coworking space Cowork Niagara; and successful social entrepreneurs such as Trivium Industries (David D’Angelo) and Loop Recycled Paints (Jillian Berswick). We’re always looking for more advocates and community builders to share their perspectives.

Look for upcoming Social Startup Meetups, or other related social enterprise learning opportunities, such as this Social Enterprise Opportunity Identification Webinar and this Social Enterprise Workshop posted on the Niagara Knowledge Exchange Community Calendar

Connect with Social Enterprise Niagara

We would love to stay in touch! Join our Facebook group to connect with active social entrepreneurs, receive updates about upcoming events and learn more about social entrepreneurship and its impact.

Share with Others

Download this Social Enterprise in Niagara Postcard and share the information with people in  your networks.

This is the first of many blog entries that will bring you the latest news from Niagara’s social entrepreneurial community. Stay tuned for more!


Allison Smith

Allison is a community-minded content developer and member of Cowork Niagara’s board of directors. She is also an active participant in Niagara’s social enterprise community. Find her on Twitter on @aesmithwriting.

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