Inspiring Innovation -Social Enterprise in Ontario

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Report Highlights

Inspiring Innovation report coverThe report of the 2012 Social Enterprise Survey for Ontario shows that shows that social enterprises are economic contributors to the province, they are creating jobs and helping to reduce poverty. These people-centred enterprises operate successfully in the market at the local level.

The term “social enterprise” is fairly new and the number of enterprises is growing rapidly, however, there are several that have been operating in Ontario for more than 100 years.

This study based on the BALTA survey that has been  in other several  provinces. The Ontario study is the largest with more than 1,000 nonprofit social enterprises identified and 363 respondents.  From the data they provided we know that in 2011 these respondents :

  • employed at least 5,355 people and paid at least $117 million in wages and salaries.
  • generated at least $143 million in sales
  • paid at least $117 million in wages and salaries
  •  employed at least 5,355 people
  • trained 65,900 people
  •  involved almost 18,000 volunteers
  • provided services for at least 2.7 million people, excluding their customers

And  what’s amazing is that these figures represent only a fraction of the total contribution of the nonprofit social enterprise sector in Ontario.

Impressive as these accumulative numbers are, people often tell me that they really are more interested in knowing about the impacts of individual enterprises. Because of research ethics, we can't share data about particular enterprises of course, but in many ways averages are even more interesting and tell us even more.  On average responding social enterprises each:

  • sold $548,700 worth of goods and services
  • hired 17  employees and 13 contract workers
  • paid $517,600 in wages and salaries
  • generated net revenues of $42,000
  • engaged 57 volunteers
  • trained 209 people
  • provided services to 9,120 people, excluding their customers

These numbers highlight exciting impacts based on our entire sample of social enterprises, but the data lets us breaks things down into more helpful  pieces. In the report we provide extensive analysis based on five unique subsector categories: arts and culture, farmers’ markets, thrift stores, social purpose enterprises (providing employment or training to those facing barriers), and miscellaneous that did not fit into any of the preceding categories ). These subsector divisions help to capture the diverse nature of the social enterprises and how they interact with the market economy. The report also pays particular attention to francophone social enterprises, urban/rural and regional distinctions, years of operation, and specific mission focus.

Beyond the data analysis we also felt it was important to set the context for the survey findings. To do that we provide:

  • a description of some of the key historical influences and components of the broad sector of activity surrounding social enterprise in Ontario, increasingly referred to as the social economy
  • a brief snapshot of some of the broader-based community organizations and networks that provide support to social enterprise in the province
  • a picture of the provincial landscape of financial supports available to social enterprise gleaned from interviews with a selection of sector funders, financiers and intermediaries
  • highlights of several aspects  of the provincial government’s complex relationship with the social economy. 

Ontario’s Special Advisor on Social Enterprise recently stated that governments need  to work with communities to create “ an integrated, co-ordinated and collaborative social enterprise strategy that supports innovative organisations”** and our review of government connections with social enterrpise certainly supports that approach.

In our report we do not extrapolate – only report the actual data. But the data does allow us to extrapolate and the numbers are impressive. Assuming the same average numbers as our respondents, and if we assume 5,000  social enterprises (half of what some estimate), we can estimate almost $2 billion in sales and 69,000 employed. Nonprofit social enterrpises clearly make a significant contribution to Ontario’s economy. 

This survey is the first in Ontario to focus exclusively on social enterprise and it’s great to know that the baseline data provided in this report will allow future surveys to track developments within the sector over time.

Download Inspiring Innovation: The Size, Scope and Socioeconomic Impact of Nonprofit Social Enterprise in Ontario


* The model for this study is based on the work of the BALTA  (British Columbia and Alberta Social Economy Research Alliance),which has conducted similar surveys in other provinces over the past 5 years under the direction of Peter Elson, Mount Royal University  and Peter Hall, Simon Fraser University . All of these reports contribute to a better understanding of a national entrepreneurial movement within the nonprofit sector. The Ontario survey was co-led by Kate Daly and Jo Flatt.

**Helen Burstyn Lessons from Ontario: How Government Can Help Social Enterprise, oOriginally in the Guardian –April 10, 2013