Social Enteprise: UK vs. Canada

Today I attended a presentation at MaRS on Social Entrepreneurship and Social Finance, and theme of the day was pretty plain: as a country we are falling woefully behind. However, stats only show one side…

To bring everyone to the same page, when I describe “Social Entrepreneurs” and “Social Enterprise”, I’m talking about individuals and businesses that are trying to advance a social mission, through entrepreneurial and commercial revenue generation strategies. The typical examples are organizations like Habitat for Humanity’s ReStore or the Grassroots store.

Here are a couple of examples to chew on:

Social Banks
The UK supports 2 national social banks (Triodos and Charity Bank) which provide traditional banking services to the public, but use their revenues to effect social change. In Canada, however, we only have 1, Vancity, which focuses on a small area of British Columbia. Although this sounds like the UK is doing a lot more to promote social enterprise, when you compare the size of these banking organizations, there are some surprising results: the Canadian Social Bank scene has existed since 1946, and manages 150% more assets than our UK counterparts which have only been founded in 1980 and 1992.

Total Assets Under Control

So although it’s true that it would be fantastic for one of our “Big 5 Banks” were a charitable bank, at the same time – definitely have a strong and successful history here.

Social Loans and Grants:
The second example that was brought up is the huge disparity between the UK and Canada in the field of social finance. For example, the UK has a Future Builders fund (which manages a $354 Million CAD fund of government loans and $177 Million CAD fund of grants) as well as the Bridges community venture funds (2 funds totalling $204 Million CAD) of VC money for social ventures. In comparison, here in Canada, we have ENP at $150 Thousand (yes, I said thousand) and Fiducie Chantier do L’Economie Sociale Trust which is managing a $52 Million fund.

Total Fund Sizes

Although it’s clear that we have a lot of room for improvement, what is the most fascinating of the above, in the UK, they were able to create a $7.5 Million CAD fund for VC and seed activity, that was funded entirely by a trust on behalf of UK charities. Setting aside the concerns of the charities’ boards’ fiduciary responsibility, it’s a fascinating model.

So where to go from here? Our private sector is doing a great job (as evidenced by Vancity), but when I look at our government tossing loans straight at large corporations in Canada, it saddens me that we don’t see the same money flowing to our social venture scene – if anyone is working with members of the government that can effect change in this space, please send them copies of the above diagrams.

And, to anyone working at Vancity – when are you opening a branch in Waterloo?



VP HCM Products at NetSuite and Founder of TribeHR and Lewis Media. Waterloo Region Enthusiast and active volunteer.

One comment

  • . Small Business owners are largely forgotten. Thats why I only focus on them. I have experience several members of my family file bankruptcy due to small business failures. I also I suffered through 2 destroyed businesses due to failure however, in my failings I have learned some of the secrets to success. (Who can say they know it all?)
    What I like about small business owners is that they are not afraid to take huge risks and lay it all on the line. But, I agree they do need a lot of help with their marketing. I think having them go the social media and email route is not only the least expensive but its also the most effective. Thanks for the stats!

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