Local Enterprises and Ideal Communities

April 28, 2022

In Manitoba, instead of teaching CED 101, we often lead groups through a facilitated session called Ideal Communities.* Before we begin to think about CED actions, we create a collective imaginary community that really lives up to our vision and values. In countless sessions, the same themes emerge – if our communities are to be fair, equitable, loving, joyful, and sustainable, we need to see enterprises putting these values and principles into action. With this lens, there might still be typical businesses, but enterprising non-profits, co-operatives, collectives, community efforts, and mutual aid are essential for achieving the communities we want to live in. 

These kinds of enterprises are CED enterprises. They put the deep knowledge and diverse leadership of the local community at the center, focussing on how to solve problems, create holistic value for a community, and sustain their work for as long as necessary. In CCEDNet’s Theory of Change, eventually communities across Canada will be using these CED approaches and strategies to strengthen sustainable, locally-controlled economies for all. For this to happen, we must put policy and practice to work to support these local, resilient enterprises.

When we embed social procurement across the country, community benefit and diversity become essential ingredients in decision making around purchasing supplies and services. Multiple coalitions and social enterprises like We Want to Work Manitoba or Toronto Community Benefits Network, along with the strong support of Buy Social Canada, have been leading work to embed these practices into every level of government and large institutions with recent advancements in Winnipeg, Calgary, and Public Services & Procurement Canada. Slowly, a social value marketplace is emerging where CED enterprises have a better shot at sustainable work and governments create more impact across all of their spending, not just through grants and contributions. 

Community investment organizations, like CEDIF’s in Nova Scotia or Opportunity Development Co-ops in Alberta, are creating pools of funds governed by local people to loan out to local businesses. These funds stabilize rural economies, invest in green infrastructure, and motivate the development of social enterprises. These intermediaries are powerful impact tools, bringing communities together to create the conditions for people to re-direct their savings and investment power into the places and initiatives they care about most.

Amidst the forthcoming mass retirement of business owners without a succession plan, people are seeing an opportunity to deepen community ownership. The pandemic has hastened this demographic transition in many places, and rural and innercity communities are likely to feel the loss of small businesses most. In the midst of this challenge, social succession (also known as co-op conversion or social acquisition) brings community members together to buy retiring businesses, keep keystone enterprises in place, share ownership more democratically, and potentially shift business models to deeper social impact. 

These exciting models need strong and inclusive community leadership, supportive policy, and deepening skills and knowledge for practitioners, which is why our strategies focus on building political action, creating access to information and resources, and centering the voices of lived experience in CED strategies. Together, as a Network, we are moving towards our collective vision of sustainable, equitable, and inclusive communities!

*Thanks to Brendan Reimer for developing this exercise! 

Sarah Leeson-Klym

Sarah Leeson-Klym is CCEDNet’s Regional Network Director.