What is Social Innovation and What Are the Business Opportunities?

Social responsibility has come a long way in the last 10 years. Once a term used by big business as a marketing tactic, there have been major leaps forward for businesses of all shapes and sizes, embracing the community they work in.

This growth in popularity has brought with it a whole new vocabulary of terms, which can be hard to distinguish from each other. In a bid to demystify the social world, we have listed below the common terms used when discussing social innovation and how they are applied.

Social Enterprise

Social enterprises are businesses whose primary purpose is to serve the common good. They know what they are doing, who they are aiming to help and how they plan to do it. They sell or produce goods or services to generate income which is used to achieve their social goals. All profits and assets are used to give back and are not distributed to shareholders. Instead of measuring success by profit, they measure the triple bottom line, a balance of both social and financial values.

Example: Potluck Café and Catering

Potluck Café and Catering are a great example of a social enterprise. Starting back in 2001, this Small Business BC Awards nominee’s original vision was to help transform the lives of individuals in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside by providing jobs and food for those in need. Today, they provide more than 16,200 free nutritious meals a year, as well as employment, job training and life support for Vancouver’s most vulnerable residents. Known as a leader in social enterprise both in Vancouver and abroad, they have received many awards for their community programs.

Triple Bottom Line

Often shortened to TBL or 3BL, the triple bottom line is an accounting term for measuring the social, environmental and financial impact of a business. It is a framework that is used by for-profit and not-for-profit organizations alike.

Example: Eclipse Awards

Small Business BC Best Green Business Award winner, Toby Barazzuol applies the trip bottom line theory to his business and employees. Eclipse Awards have been on their sustainable journey since 2004. Toby has created an inspiring and healthy workplace with his team, which he believes is part of what motivates his team to keep coming and bringing their best. Vowing never to compete on price, they instead push the value of their products and how they give back to their community.

Social Entrepreneurs

Social entrepreneurs are individuals who recognize a social problem and use their entrepreneurial skills to create a program, business or process to find a solution. While commonly associated with the non-profit sector, they are not limited to that sector alone.

Example: Mark Brand

One of BC’s most well-known social entrepreneurs is Mark Brand. With a show on the Oprah Network and TEDTalks under his belt, his mission is to share the importance of sustainable business models. After opening a number of restaurants, clothing labels and breweries in BC, he started his biggest project to date in 2011 when he bought Downtown Eastside (DTES) icon, Save on Meats. After restoring the building back to its prime, he set about rejuvenating the community it resided in, employing over 65 employees that live in the community. The company now boasts a meal program that serves 450 people per day, seven days a week.

Social Innovation

Social innovation is used to describe the type of initiative, product, process or program that has been developed to improve the social landscape. It’s the idea the social entrepreneur conceives that the social enterprise is built upon.

Example: Lunapads

Lunapads were created by Madeline Shaw, a fashion designer who wanted an alternative to disposable pads and tampons. After discovering how they made her feel, she set about starting a business to share that gift with others. She met Suzanne Siemens four years later and together they made a plan to help women across the world have access to better health, donating their pads to women in developing nations through their Pads4Girls campaigns and Imagine1Day group, which helps girls who would otherwise be missing school because of lack of adequate menstrual supplies.

Social Finance

Non-profit organizations are commonly financed by government grants and philanthropy. Today social enterprises are finding financing from more traditional business investors with finance and technology backgrounds, who are developing new financing structures to recognize triple bottom line returns. As a result investment has become a lot more available than ever before.

Example: Vancity

Vancity was founded on values-based banking. They focus on clients who are looking to improve their social, ethical and environmental performance in their community. They in-turn pledge their own environmental sustainability and ethical business practices, providing education, such as financial literacy programs.

Social Purchasing

Businesses are not only becoming aware of the impact their business has on the community, but what impact the companies they choose to buy from have too. Social purchasing is the process of procuring items for your business, based on environmental, social and ethical impacts, as well as value for money.

Example: Soil Mate

Matt Gomez founded Soil Mate to push the ’buy local’ message. He believes in the importance of health, community and sustainability, and this is founded in knowing how our food is grown, where and by whom. His message is simple: know your farmer, know your food. His aim is for communities to become as self-sustaining as possible and reconnect with their local area.

The Growing World of Social Innovation

The results of social innovation are all around us. Self-build housing, community gardens, consumer cooperatives, holistic health and medicine and social purchasing portals. We live in an innovative province where those new ideas can be applied to make the communities we live in a better place.