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Social enterprises: It takes an ecosystem to succeed

puzzle pieces fitting together

In the last decade, social enterprises have drawn the attention of academics and practitioners.

The Social Enterprise Council of Canada defines a social enterprise as “a community-based business that sell goods or services in the marketplace to achieve a social, cultural and/or environmental purpose; they reinvest their profits to maximize their social mission.” 

There has been increased interest in social enterprises as a pathway to inclusive growth and positive social change. At the same time, calls to examine the environmental factors that help ventures succeed (or fail) has brought attention to the role of ecosystems.

A collective of actors

Professor Madeline Toubiana has received a SMRG Research Grant to study, with PhD student Natalie Eng, the role of ecosystems and the ways they can be constructed by a collective of actors. For Toubiana, whileMadeline Toubiana we know that ecosystems are critical to social enterprises, we know little about how actors can construct social enterprise ecosystems. 

Social entrepreneurs face challenges because they rely on others. Thinking in terms of ecosystems can be helpful to understand how stakeholders can assist them. In an ecosystem, everyone works together and the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. The social enterprise ecosystem has many participants — social entrepreneurs, academic institutions, businesses, government, and philanthropists.

Toubiana seeks to make a shift from agentic portrayals of social enterprises as “heroic” entrepreneurial endeavours. She, Eng and their team will explore the development of a social economy ecosystem development organization, ECOSO. ECOSO began with a mandate “to develop a strong social economic ecosystem” within a Canadian province. Comprised of social finance organizations, community funds, social enterprise incubators and support organizations, ECOSO presents an opportunity to study an attempt to create a social enterprise ecosystem over several years.

Research benefits

Toubiana is hoping that her research contributions will go beyond the scholarly world by providing insights to those involved in social ecosystems, helping members understand their role in creating and sustaining such a space and unpacking collaborative dynamics unique to social enterprises.

About the Author

Zoï Coucopoulos a occupé le poste de coordonnatrice des initiatives stratégiques, où elle soutenait la croissance de la qualité et de l'intensité de la recherche de l’École de gestion Telfer en aidant les chercheurs et les groupes de recherche à élaborer des programmes de recherche interdisciplinaires et des activités de sensibilisation. De plus, elle travaillait à faciliter le développement de groupes de recherche stratégiques et à aider les membres du corps professoral et les étudiantes et étudiants diplômés à contribuer au développement d'une culture solide basée sur la recherche.</br></br>Zoï Coucopoulos previously held the position of Coordinator of Strategic Initiatives, where she supported the growth of the Telfer School of Management’s research quality and intensity by assisting researchers and research groups in developing interdisciplinary research programs and outreach activities. She also facilitated the development of strategic research groups and helped faculty members and research-based graduate students contribute to the development of a strong research culture.