Experiences of Immigrant and Refugee Social Enterprise in Canada

The Canadian CED Network

Author +
Paul Chamberlain, Nicole Rosenow-Redhead

Year: 2010

This is the report on the first phase research findings of the Immigrant Settlement and Integration through Social Enterprise Initiative (ISISE).

The Canadian Community Economic Development Network (Canadian CED Network) created the Immigrant Settlement and Integration through Social Enterprise initiative (ISISE) to help make the case that social enterprise development is an effective tool for immigrant settlement and integration.

This initiative grew out of previous work undertaken by the Canadian CED Network led by its Immigrant and Refugee Community Action Network (ICAN), and builds on recent work done by the co-operative movement on immigrant worker co-operatives. The Canadian Worker Co-op research highlighted the advantages of social cohesion, networks of support, training and education, and professional development provided by immigrant worker co-ops as well as the challenges these co-operatives face.

Social enterprises are businesses that have both social and business goals. They integrate an earned-income business framework with a social purpose. They can be organized as co-operatives, training businesses, or social purpose enterprises. Training businesses are usually run as programs of non-profit organizations, whereas social purpose enterprises are usually started by non-profit organizations, often with the goal of having them become independent businesses when they are ready.

The immigrant social enterprises discussed in this report share the common goal of easing the settlement and integration process for newcomers. Their main aim is to provide employment or training for immigrants and help them with practical settlement supports.

This report provides the context for the ISISE initiative, highlighting the continued rise in the number of people immigrating to Canada that is forecast. It describes that many newcomers, who bring a wealth of knowledge and experience, face difficult and lengthy settlement and integration experiences, the result of being left to find employment that falls below their qualifications, thereby creating a wasted resource. It also describes the growing disparity in earnings between recent immigrants and Canadian- born workers.

The social enterprise model offers a framework for mobilizing and enhancing newcomers’ skills. Employees generate income as well as discover confidence, self-reliance and community support for their integration. As an immigrant social enterprise expands, it smoothes the path for increasing numbers of newcomers, providing employment, Canadian references, and a network of people to help navigate services that support the settlement process.