How Much Do You Know About Social Enteprise in Ontario?

September 16, 2013

Which social enterprise has been running the longest? 

How many Ontario volunteers do you think contribute their time to social enterprises? 

How many people do Ontario social enterprises actually employ? 

If you are anything like me, you have heard a lot of interesting stories about social enterprises. They are hiring people who face  barriers to employment. They are helping farmers sellfood locally. They are sharing our culture through museums and theatres. I love to hear and share these stories. But in my work at CCEDNet I also get asked the more difficult questions. The “how many” questions. The “what’s the real impact” questions.  And questions like the ones above.

It’s because of these kinds of questions that I was really excited to work with my colleagues at CCEDNet to conduct the BALTA* survey of nonprofit social enterprises for Ontario.

That data has now been analyzed, the report has been written and is now almost ready to publish. We are really looking forward to sharing with you:  Inspiring Innovation: The Size Scope and Socioeconomic Impact of Nonprofit Social Enterprise in Ontario.

This picture shows a few of the significant points we learned about social enterprise, but let me get specific and share a few numbers too. In 2011 these 363 respondents:. 

  • 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.

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.

We are excited to be officially launching the report at the upcoming ONN conference. We’ll be  fielding your questions and  sharing a lot more details with you in our “We’re on the Map” workshops. And of course, copies will be available for you there.

Oh, and the oldest social enterprise – In 1780, the City of Kingston became home to the first farmer’s market in Ontario.

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

Paul Chamberlain is Ontario Program Director in the Toronto office of the Canadian CED Network. Reach him at pchamberlain at

This post is one of several CCEDNet will be doing to profile how social enterprises contribute to strong and inclusive communities in preparation for the Social Enterprise World Forum, October 2-4, in Calgary.  Join us there!

* 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, originally in the Guardian –April 10, 2013