There is something about the Olympics that inspires people to strive for more and go beyond their preconceived limits. In early October, the Social Enterprise World Forum in Calgary, Canada (home of the 1988 Olympics) descended on the downtown conference center and unleashed its own brand of creative inspiration. The atmosphere was electric with ideas, energy, and possibility. It boasted 1200 individuals from over 30 countries. Despite the different languages spoken over the three days, you really got a sense of community through our shared language of social enterprise. The conference covered many of the trends we have reported on – failure, impact investing, social impact bonds, and collaboration. Our founder, Suzanne Smith, joined with her co-authors to present their latest piece on social enterprise ecosystem-building. However, we thought we’d present here the themes that stood out across the sessions:
- Going Mainstream: Many speakers commented on the importance of social entrepreneurship going mainstream to larger audiences – beyond the already-converted social entrepreneurs, impact investors, and nonprofit organizations. Pamela Hartigan, director of the Skoll Centre for Social Entrepreneurship, said we “focus too much on the noun entrepreneur and not enough on the verb entrepreneuring.” She noted that only a few of us can be true entrepreneurs, but all of us can be entrepreneuring (see our related article on social intrapreneurship) in whatever space we occupy.
- Starting Entrepreneurs Young: Young entrepreneurs generated a significant part of the conference’s electricity, with contributions ranging from their astute questions to their amazing business plan pitches. The Canadian Youth Business Foundation has created a thoughtful approach to “building the economy one youth entrepreneur at a time.” As Craig Kielburger, founder of the Canadian-based Free the Children charity and of the Me to We social enterprise declared, “we need to bake entrepreneurship into schools and give children experiences with creating ideas and earning money from them.”
- Engaging Government: In addition to the parade of participants from over 30 countries, Canada boasted its own cadre of elected officials who contributed to the conference. They did not speak from index cards about social enterprise, but rather they inspired from their hearts about the value of social enterprise to their economy. Over and over again, their stories made our collective heart flutter. Two of the biggest announcements were the launch of a portal on social enterprise in Ontario and the start of a $12M Social Enterprise Fund in Alberta. The Honorable Jason Kenney, Canada’s Minister of Employment and Social Development and Minister for Multiculturalism, said it best – “our government has enthusiastic and unqualified support for the entire drive toward social enterprise.” It is clear that the rest of the world has a lot of work to do to catch up to Canada, Scotland, and England in their support of and action on social enterprise.
We were energized by the 2013 Social Enterprise World Forum and hope you will check out their website as speeches are posted. In particular, we loved Canadian entrepreneur and author Al Etmanski, who used a canoe as an analogy of how we are all in the same boat together. It was a mesmerizing speech, one which mere written words cannot do justice. He identified three types of entrepreneurs we need to carry the torch – the disruptor who dreams and creates the new idea, the bridger who translates it and takes it to the rest of the world, and the receptor who embraces it and spreads it throughout the world.
We hope through our work on Social TrendSpotter that we bridge the latest innovation with practical thinking that will spread it around the world. If you have opinions about these themes or have spotted trends in these areas, please send us your thoughts. BTW – we also plan to report from the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia next February. What can you learn from an Olympic bobsledder? We don’t know, but we plan to find out and share it with you.