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

The Canadian CED Network, Simon Fraser University, and the Institute for Nonprofit Studies, Mount Royal University

Author +
Joanna Flatt, Kate Daly, Peter Elson, Peter Hall, Matthew Thompson, Paul Chamberlain

Year: 2013

The primary objective of the 2012 Social Enterprise Survey for Ontario is to develop a profile of the size, scope, and socioeconomic impact of nonprofit social enterprise in the province during 2011. For the purpose of this study, a social enterprise is defined as:

“A business venture owned or operated by a non-profit organization that sells goods or provides services in the market for the purpose of creating a blended return on investment, both financial and social/environmental/cultural”

This survey is the first in Ontario to focus exclusively on the subject of nonprofit social enterprise. The baseline data provided in this report will allow future surveys to track developments within the sector over time. The model for this study is based on the work of the British Columbia and Alberta Social Economy Research Alliance’s (BALTA) social enterprise research, which began in 2009. Similar surveys have been conducted in Manitoba, New Brunswick, and Nova Scotia, while British Columbia and Alberta have been surveyed twice in the past 5 years. All of these reports contribute to a better understanding of a national entrepreneurial movement within the nonprofit sector.

To set the context, “Inspiring Innovation” includes 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. The report briefly highlights aspects of the provincial government’s complex relationship with social economy and provides a snapshot of some of the broader-based community organizations and networks that support social enterprise in the province. The provincial landscape of financial supports available to social enterprise is discussed based on a series of qualitative interviews with a selection of funders, financiers, and intermediaries working in Ontario. The findings of the 2012 Social Enterprise Survey for Ontario are then presented. The report concludes with a summary of key findings, recommendations for further research – including an invitation for social enterprises to engage in that work, and a call for collaborative policy development.

The findings from the 2012 Social Enterprise Survey for Ontario are based on the participation of 363 social enterprises. These social enterprises were segmented into five unique subsector categorizations, identified as: ‘arts and culture’, ‘farmers markets’, ‘thrift stores’, ‘social purpose enterprises’, and ‘miscellaneous’. The subsector divisions attempt 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.

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Full colour high quality printed versions of the report are available from CCEDNet-Ontario at a cost of $10 to defray printing costs. Please email ontario at

Table of Contents

Key Findings
1.0 Social Enterprise in Ontario
2.0 Survey Methodology
3.0 Setting the Context: Understanding the Social Economy
4.0 Supports for Social Enterprise in Ontario
4.1 Government Support for Social Enterprise in Ontario
4.2 Community Support for Social Enterprise in Ontario
5.0 Qualitative Review of Financing for Social Enterprise in Ontario
6.0 Findings from the 2012 Social Enterprise Survey
6.1 Age of Ontario’s Social Enterprises
6.2 Analyzing Social Enterprises by Purpose
6.3 Social Enterprise Through a Poverty Reduction Lens
6.4 Forms of Incorporation
6.5 Relationship to Parent Organization
6.6 Geographical Scope of Social Enterprises
6.7 Social Enterprise Through an Urban/Rural Lens
6.8 Social Enterprise Through a Regional Lens
6.9 Industry-Based Market Activities
6.10 Demographic Groups Trained, Employed, or Served
6.11 Employment and Volunteerism
6.12 Social Enterprise Through a Francophone Lens
6.13 Financial Results
6.14 Financial Supports
6.15 Challenges in Ontario’s Social Enterprise Sector
6.16 Relevant Educational Resources for Ontario’s Social Enterprise Sector
7.0 Conclusion and Next Steps
> Appendix A: Ontario 2012 Social Enterprise Survey Questionnaire
> Appendix B: Qualitative Survey Questionnaire
> Appendix C: Cross Comparative Data on Social Enterprise in ON, AB, BC
> Appendix D: Average Revenues and Expenses by Subcategory
> Appendix E: Detailed Challenges and Educational Resources Charts
> Appendix F: Maps