There’s a quiet business revolution taking shape in Niagara. New and experienced entrepreneurs, with business ideas ranging from food services to tool libraries, are considering more than just profits in their business objectives. Sparked by the desire to better the environment and their community, social entrepreneurs are quietly designing their businesses to solve a social challenge in addition to generating financial wealth.

Social Enterprises

Allison Smith, a community-minded content developer and member of Cowork Niagara’s board of directors, wrote about the potential for social enterprise to boost Niagara’s economy in a 2016 blog post for Niagara Connects. She outlined the many community benefits of social entrepreneurship and discussed the great work of the Social Enterprise Niagara community.

Take, for example, the Southridge Jam Company. This local social enterprise allows those who have experienced homelessness the opportunity to develop job skills. The delicious jams and jellies are made by repurposing quality fruit that would have been wasted due to cosmetic or size imperfections. This combination supports both social change and environmental preservation, an example of the many benefits of social entrepreneurship.


Co-operative businesses, by virtue of their business model, have innately considered more than just the financial bottom line since the day of their inception. In fact, studies show the survival rate of cooperative enterprises is almost twice that of investor-owned companies after five years in operation due, in part, to their deeply engrained community roots and democratic decision-making.

Co-operatives are organized according to the Seven International Principles of Co-operation. This foundation on which all co-ops are built is reflected in the ICA’s seven principles set down by thousands of co-operatives at its centenary.

Co-ops keep wealth local. As member-owned businesses, they:

  • focus on people and community
  • organize to meet a common need
  • invest profits locally
  • support the triple bottom line

In 2017, co-ops and social entrepreneurship will be taken to new heights in Niagara thanks to a number of government and community initiatives. The Flourishing Business Model Canvas, and associated tools and methods, are a new and exciting way to help these co-ops and social entrepreneurs plan their next steps in congruency with not only their business objectives, but their societal and environmental objectives as well. Built as an extension of the traditional Business Model Canvas, the Flourishing Business Model Canvas asks five additional questions focused on social and environmental outcomes that help business owners find the sweet spot where they not only ‘do well’ financially, but also ‘do good’ in their community. Consideration of these contexts in the designing of enterprises helps to mitigate risks and build resiliency as well as attract value-aligned stakeholders.

For the first time-ever in Niagara, and thanks to support from Innovate Niagara and PenFinancial Credit Union, this April we will welcome two Sustainability Business Designers, pioneers of the Flourishing Business Model Canvas, as well a Co-op Development Expert, to Niagara for a two-part series. The first, a four-hour introductory overview of the model and how it works, is being offered on April 5th to the general public and is ideal for small business consultants, entrepreneurs and financial investors. Secondly, a full-day intensive is being offered on April 6th to both co-ops and social enterprises who are ready to take a deep dive into their business plan and future as strongly sustainable businesses.

Based on peer-reviewed significant practical validation in over sixty workshops and labs in eight countries attended by over 1,400 people, plus published peer-reviewed research, this experience will be useful and relevant for Niagara businesses. It will provide thoughtful insight and a new perspective enabling social entrepreneurs and co-operative leaders to further strengthen their plans for their enterprise and bring it to market at scale.

This is an exciting time to be an entrepreneur in Niagara. Join the business revolution and build strongly sustainable architecture into your business.

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Pam Isaak

Bio: Pam Isaak is a co-op champion, adjunct professor and freelance marketer who lives in St. Catharines. She is currently leading a two-year Ontario Trillium Foundation-funded project to support the growth of co-ops in Niagara.

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