WE is proud to be launching the WE Social Entrepreneurship Centre (WE SEC), Canada’s first center for innovative social enterprises for young people under the age of 35. The Centre’s mission will be to support young leaders as they launch and scale social enterprises that apply business solutions to society’s greatest social challenges.
WE SEC will be an incubator uniquely dedicated to building a youth movement through social entrepreneurship skills and supporting nationwide scaling of social enterprises. As a WE Charity initiative and in close partnership with leaders across the social sector, the WE SEC will have a dual focus:
The WE movement (made up of WE Charity, WE Day and ME to WE) is uniquely positioned to empower Canada’s next generation of social entrepreneurs. As one of the largest Canadian-founded not-for-profits, we are proud to work collaboratively with incredible partners to establish the WE SEC as a project of WE Charity, in service of all young Canadians. Read the article “Making way for a new generation of Social Entrepreneurs” about our need to grow this capacity to tackle future opportunities and challenges.
For the 25th Anniversary of WE, our dream is to build a nexus of innovation, a campus for good that will bring together non-profits, social enterprises, and community services, all in one location to create local and global transformative change. The WE Social Enterprise Center is both the geographical and spiritual cornerstone of the dream.
With a high population of low income residents and new Canadians, the surrounding neighbourhoods of east downtown Toronto have the highest concentration of community non-profit organizations in the city. Our vision is to establish a central hub, a city block where community organizations, social enterprises, and aspiring young social entrepreneurs can easily access training, mentorship, services and resources to realize their own visions, and scale their impact. Through shared spaces, they will be able to interact and network, learning from one another as well as from experts in a wide range of fields.
As an incubator hub, SEC programs will empower local youth and non-profits to more effectively tackle community issues by learning to harness the power of social enterprise. By its very presence, the SEC will attract additional social enterprises and entrepreneurs to the area, increasing impact.
The SEC will work on shared-services model that provides local non-profits and social enterprises access to expert consultation, mentorship, and in-kind services from WE partners, in human resources, marketing and communications, financial management and legal services. WE is already working with local organizations like Jessie’s—the June Callwood Centre for Young Women. In addition to providing services, local organizations and community groups have access to space in both the WE GLC and WE SEC for hosting events, like a recent Indigenous youth program graduation ceremony.
Our goal is to positively transform the community WE calls home. As that transformation takes place, we will work to ensure those most in need continue to have a home in that community, and benefit from that positive impact.
The WE SEC is just the start. It’s going to take a long-term commitment, but with the generous support of individual donors like Hartley and Thor Richardson and other, leading businesses who share our vision, and with the guidance of a group of nationally and globally-recognized experts, we will achieve our dream.
Social enterprises apply business solutions to today’s greatest societal challenges. There are over 170,000 not-for-profits in Canada today. However, not-for-profits are experiencing increasing financial challenges as the number of organizations grow, traditional funding avenues shrink and donations continue to decrease each year. Not-for-profits are drastically limited in their ability to raise capital, scale their impact and manage economic volatility. Meanwhile, traditional business models focused on driving shareholder value are not built to address society’s most pressing systematic issues. Social entrepreneurship is uniquely positioned to address the growing need to tackle local and global issues in an economically sustainable way.
Further, social enterprises empower priority populations to meaningfully address the unique needs of their community while creating jobs and economic growth. For example, social enterprises are twice as likely to be run by women compared to traditional small and medium-sized businesses. Through innovative business models, successful social enterprises are able to achieve both positive societal impact and financial profits. They tackle issues in a self-sufficient and scalable way that traditional charities or for-profit businesses can’t.
Since launching the ME to WE social enterprise in 2008 to support the mission of charity partner, WE Charity, WE has been raising the profile of social entrepreneurship. Highlights since launching include:
Donating at least 50% (but often upwards of 90%, on average, as per the last five years) of annual ME to WE profits to WE Charity, enabling a remarkably low 10% administrative efficiency rate, meaning 90% of WE Charity donations go directly to programming.
Financially empowering over 1,500 women artisans in Ecuador and Kenya through socially conscious jewelry making.
As our 25th anniversary approaches, we look to empower the next generation of innovative change-makers. We have been incredibly fortunate to have received immense guidance and support from our partners over the years in growing our movement. It is this support that has inspired us to undergo extensive research to fully understand the social sector and identify our greatest opportunities to provide value.
We envision a world where “social enterprise” is a household term, and successful ventures act as lighthouses setting an example for aspiring entrepreneurs, change-makers and investors to believe in what’s possible. Household names like Manitobah Mukluks, Habitat for Humanity’s ReStore and Graemeen Bank already attest to the potential national and global scale, value and impact of the sector.
Through the WE Social Entrepreneurship Centre, new ventures can connect and support one another, fostering community and long-term growth.
Building on the success of WE Are Social Entrepreneurs, a joint program of WE and RBC Future Launch, the Centre will bring to life two streams of programming:
Special thanks to Thor Richardson, entrepreneur and WE Champion, for his landmark gift to the WE SEC’s physical infrastructure. As an example of the program’s vision, the young entrepreneur made the commitment prior to his 30th birthday. We are also grateful to recognize RBC as a founding partner in launching our social entrepreneurship programming and the Incubation Hub infrastructure. These contributions continue to deeply guide our work today.
Leveraging the WE Schools network of 7,000 Canadian schools, colleges and universities, we will engage young people through tailored curricular resources, small-group coaching sessions, hack-a-thons and mentorship. This builds on the success of WE Are Social Entrepreneurs, a joint program of WE and RBC Future Launch. We’ll celebrate the incredible ideas of young people at WE Day events. Through their micro social enterprises, young people across Canada will create hundreds of initiatives that plant seeds of benefit across the country.
WE Scale Up will elevate social enterprises to their full potential to create industry leaders. Through rigorous vetting, select young people and their ventures will be invited into a multi-year incubation and acceleration program to help launch their initiatives at scale. The program will offer resources in two key areas to help lead big changes: