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Social Enterprise and Post-Secondary Education Institutions

Optimizing Development Impact in the Global South

The innovations of social entrepreneurs can create new, cost-effective pathways toward achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in Canada and around the world.

The overall aim of social enterprises is to apply business methods to solve social problems, including poverty, unemployment, social exclusion, climate change, food insecurity, gender-based violence, and much more. However, as they undertake the twin tasks of building a viable business and an instrument of social change, social entrepreneurs are vulnerable to failure in the face of fierce market forces and the entrenched interests of the status quo in society. While social entrepreneurs may create new products and services to address real social problems, their actual impacts are often constrained by lack of scale.

This is particularly true for entrepreneurs in the global South, where key inputs for scale, such as access to financial capital, are further limited. Women in entrepreneurship also face many additional barriers to accessing such resources due to a variety of factors, including social norms and discriminatory laws.

There are promising examples of successful scaling of social enterprises in the global South—but few fora for assessing and sharing these lessons across operating environments nor for engaging other actors, including in the global North, with expertise and resources that could help these social enterprises optimize their development impact.

Among these potential partners and contributors are Canadian post-secondary education institutions, with their knowledge and experience in the domestic entrepreneurship landscape and commitment to internationalization.

Since the emergence nearly a century ago of the Antigonish cooperative movement in rural Nova Scotia and the network of caisses populaires across Quebec, Canadian post-secondary education institutions have deployed their research, education, and outreach capacities to promote, analyze, and strengthen social-purpose businesses in this country. At the same time, there are many important international dimensions to the work undertaken by Canadian post-secondary education institutions. These initiatives include learning opportunities for international students; international partnerships with like-minded post-secondary education institutions and social businesses; and international research. By combining their domestic expertise with their international assets, Canadian post-secondary institutions could play a key role in supporting actors to scale up social enterprises focused on or based in the global South.

In October 2018, World University Service of Canada (WUSC) brought together its post-secondary education partners with select stakeholders and partners in the public sector, private sector, and civil society to explore how Canadian post-secondary education institutions are deploying their various capacities to broaden and deepen the scaling up process in the social business space in Canada, and discuss how they can extend these efforts in ways that optimize development impacts in the global South. This event was part of WUSC’s roundtable series, signature annual events that advance dialogue on critical global issues. Four objectives set the agenda for the discussions:

  • Explore innovations in university and college support to scaling social enterprise.
  • Ideate around programming and mechanisms to promote and finance collaborations between Canadian post-secondary education institutions, social entrepreneurs, and other stakeholders in the global South.
  • Improve networks among like-minded institutions and individuals supporting social enterprise in the global South.
  • Identify potential research, student mobility, and capacity building collaborations.

This report documents the outcomes of the deliberations.

Read the Report

Social Enterprise and Post-Secondary Education Institutions Report Cover

Social Enterprise and Higher Education Institutions

Optimizing Development Impact

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