New social enterprise research: $4 billion in annual revenue plus stories of impact prove social enterprise is an economic force for good

October 4, 2023

This post originally appeared on Buy Social Canada’s blog.

Social enterprises across Canada tackle complex social challenges while operating successful businesses and reinvesting profits into community, a new report from Buy Social Canada shows.

A group of people in aprons and hairnets peel and chop carrots in an industrial kitchen.
Image credit: The Raw Carrot, a social enterprise in Paris, Ontario.

Vancouver, September 19, 2023 – Social enterprises sell goods and services and reinvest their profits into their social, environmental or cultural mission. New research published today busts myths about social enterprises and shows they are profitable while offering solutions for economic, social and environmental challenges. A survey of 132 social enterprises paints a robust picture of the sector to showcase successes, challenges and opportunities. Case studies such as Hiregood’s employment of people living with homelessness through contracts with the City of Edmonton and Purpose Construction’s commitment to Indigenous employment and affordable housing show what can be possible if we support and grow the social enterprise movement in Canada.

“Social enterprises in Canada are solidly embedded in communities, work across business models, deliver a vast array of goods and services, and they create significant revenues, employment, and social impact.” – Sell with Impact: Stories and Research from the Canadian Social Enterprise Sector

Many people in Canada may not know what a social enterprise is. Or they may think of it as a charitable, grant based, small scale passion project. Despite the myth that social enterprises aren’t profitable, the report shows the total gross revenues for the social enterprises surveyed in 2022 was $4.1 billion. GreenShield Canada alone, a national health service social enterprise, reported an annual revenue of $3.9 billion in 2022.

Social enterprises surveyed employ over 9,000 people and paid $141.3 million in employee wages in 2022 (no employment data was shared by GreenShield Canada).

85% of enterprises surveyed intentionally provide additional supports for employees that go beyond the standard offerings of medical and dental benefits.

Examples include: transportation support, professional development, coaching, housing support, family re-unification, hygiene products, and spiritual care.

Rebecca Sherbino, Executive Director at The Raw Carrot understands the importance and impact of supportive employment. She explains, “What we really want to see with supportive employment is moving away from ‘here’s your monthly cheque now go away.’ There’s such a large community of people who want to work.” Work can be more than income. It can mean stability, purpose, a sense of value and belonging in community.

There are many challenges facing our communities: housing, poverty, social exclusion, climate change, and inequality. Social enterprises offer solutions to complex issues but need more support from government, corporate purchasers and funders to increase access to markets and finance.

Dan Kershaw, Executive Director of Furniture Bank shares, “We’ve built Canada’s largest furniture reuse network, diverting over 3 million pounds from landfills annually. Providing cost-effective, simple solutions for businesses like IKEA further demonstrates our role in circular economy impact and job creation.”

The report challenges the preconception that social enterprise is a new fad, highlighting several social enterprises including GreenShield Canada, founded in 1957, MetroWorks, founded in Halifax in 1977, and EMBERS, which has been operating in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside since 2001.

“This is an opportunity to celebrate and recognize the effort that has gone into building these social enterprises, the lives they have changed, and the community well-being they have created.” – Elizabeth Chick-Blount, Buy Social Canada CEO

Now, more than ever we are seeing the importance of shaping thriving and resilient local economies. Download Sell with Impact: Stories and Research from the Canadian Social Enterprise Sector here to learn more.