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12 Examples of Successful Social Enterprises in Canada

Want to start a business that makes a difference in the community? A social enterprise could be the perfect fit for you. First, we’ll walk you through the basics of understanding and starting a social enterprise. Then, we’ll take a look at 12 amazing social enterprise examples in Canada to help inspire you.

What is a social enterprise?

In short, a social enterprise is a business with the goal of making a social impact. A social enterprise can be either a non-profit or for-profit business, as long as their objective is to give back to society in some way. With such a broad definition, social enterprises can exist in a variety of industries and business models. 

Depending on your business goals and vision, your social enterprise may be more socially or commercially focused. A socially-focused social enterprise may conduct business activities directly related to the social impact they wish to make. On the other hand, a commercially focused social enterprise may pursue its social purpose by providing employment for individuals from marginalized communities or by donating a percentage of its profits to a social cause.

Is a social enterprise a corporation?

A social enterprise is not defined by or limited to any specific business structure. Instead, like any other business, you have to choose the right business structure for your purposes. This means deciding between an unincorporated business structure, like a sole proprietorship or partnership, and an incorporated business, like a corporation, not-for-profit, or co-operative.

Is a social enterprise a charity or a non-profit?

Once you decide on your business structure and file the relevant paperwork, you can choose whether you want to operate as a non-profit organization or apply to become a registered charity. A social enterprise business is not required to be a registered charity or non-profit organization, but there are certain benefits to each option. Let’s take a look at the differences between a registered charity and a non-profit organization, so you can make the best choice for your social enterprise business.

Registered charity

In order to be a registered charity, your social enterprise must operate exclusively for charitable purposes and be approved by the CRA as a charity. If approved, your social enterprise will receive a charitable registration number. Registered charities are exempt from paying income tax. 

There are a number of benefits to making your social enterprise a registered charity. For example, you’ll be able to provide official donations receipts and receive gifts from other charities or foundations. 

However, as a registered charity, you will need to remain compliant with the requirements laid out by the Income Tax Act. This could limit your ability to perform certain commercial activities and attract capital. A registered charity is generally financed through fundraising, donations, government grants, loans, or revenue from providing a service.

In addition, a registered charity is required to meet disbursement quotas. This means you need to spend a certain amount of your social enterprise revenue on charitable activities or donations.

Non-profit organization

A non-profit organization is a business focused on social welfare, civic improvement, or any other purposes not including profit. Unlike a registered charity, a non-profit organization cannot operate solely for charitable purposes. 

A non-profit is not required to go through registration with the CRA, does not receive a charitable registration number, and cannot issue official donation receipts. A non-profit organization also does not have spending requirements or disbursement quotas. While non-profits are generally exempt from paying income tax, they may be required to pay taxes on property income or capital gains.

As a non-profit, your revenue-generating business activities are limited to those related to your social mission. If a non-profit organization is found to be conducting business with the sole purpose of making a profit, the CRA could revoke its tax exempt status.

Now that you understand the main differences, benefits, and downsides of making your social enterprise business a registered charity or non-profit organization, you can make an educated decision on which designation, if either, is best for your business.

12 examples of social enterprise companies in Canada

At this point, you should have a general understanding of social enterprises. Now, let’s switch gears to check out some examples of social enterprise businesses in Canada.

1. Venture for Canada

Venture for Canada is a national charity whose mission is to foster entrepreneurial skills in young Canadians through several program offerings.

Their Fellowship Program involves training for recent post-secondary graduates, along with an immersive professional development camp to help accelerate their careers. Their Intrapreneurship Program is a fully virtual seven week program that provides current Canadian post-secondary students with paid 70-hour projects. Their Internship Program offers on demand curated training and up to four months of paid work, and is eligible for most post-secondary co-op programs.

In order to be able to provide these experiences for current students and recent graduates, Venture for Canada partners with Canadian businesses, connecting them with ambitious, talented workers at a variety of levels of cost commitment.

2. Common Good Solutions

Common Good Solutions is a social enterprise business that helps other social enterprises make a difference. They provide consultation services to help social entrepreneurs develop a community engagement plan and build a case for social impact. They also offer online training and resources, expert coaching, and social finance planning to help your social enterprise business access capital.

3. Artscape

Artscape is a social enterprise made up of a group of not-for-profit organizations in Toronto. They collaborate with artists, community leaders, public policy advocates, philanthropists, and urban developers to create real estate projects, programs, and services that empower artists and generate cultural, social, economic, and environmental benefits for the community.

4. A-Way Express

Toronto courier company A-Way Express is founded by people with a lived experience of mental health issues. They aim to provide employment, structure, income, community, and support for mental health survivors, a group that has historically faced high unemployment rates and barriers to secure income and financial stability. 

In addition to employment opportunities for a marginalized community, A-Way Express also offers their staff healthy meals, fun outings, creative projects, and a number of opportunities to socialize. Their employment program is supported by the City of Toronto’s Homelessness Partnering Strategy, and they provide training, partnerships, mentorships, placement programs, and one-on-one assistance with creating resumes, practicing interview skills, and making career decisions.

5. Binners’ Project

Binners’ Project is a Vancouver social enterprise that enables waste-pickers to earn an income from collecting used containers found in bins. Their focus is on social inclusion with the goal to create a wider community, build job skills, and provide fair and reliable income to those who participate. They also provide a training program to increase  binners’ skills through teaching recycling expertise, how to report key data and metrics, and soft skills, like professionalism and leadership.

6. BottleWorks

BottleWorks is an Ottawa social enterprise that collects donations of empty alcohol bottles to support homeless and at-risk youth. They employ youth facing barriers to employment and provide social support and vocational skills development. One hundred per cent of the profits from BottleWorks goes to the programs and services at Operation Come Home, a registered charity with employment, education, and support for homeless and at-risk youth.

7. Circle of Eagles Trading Post

The Circle of Eagles Trading Post is a Vancouver social enterprise owned and operated by the Circle of Eagles Lodge Society, an Indigenous not-for-profit corporation with programs including training, mentoring, and employment readiness. As an online and retail store, the Circle of Eagles Trading Post provides employment opportunities to members of the community who have been released from the federal justice system. They help to introduce the artwork of their community members to new markets, ensuring fair compensation for their work.

8. D.I.C.E.D. Culinary

D.I.C.E.D. is a Vancouver hospitality business providing training to aspiring cooks. Their 12 month online Culinary School is a training program for people who want to pursue a career in the culinary industry, and includes assistance in acquiring a paid practicum placement. Partial sponsorships are available.

Meanwhile, D.I.C.E.D. NSCS Discovery Restaurant supports the culinary school by devoting proceeds from restaurant sales to funding sponsored students in the training program. They also offer wedding catering, special events, and a meal delivery program for low-income people at shelters, health care facilities, transitional housing programs, and more.

9. Electronic Recycling Association

The Electronic Recycling Association is a non-profit organization working to reduce electronic waste across Canada. They recycle, repurpose, and donate electronics, all while ensuring data security for those who donate their used electronics. In addition to their drop-off locations and pick-up service, the Electronic Recycling Association provides free refurbished equipment to local charities.

10. Green Shield Canada

Green Shield Canada is a health benefits provider supporting women’s mental health across Canada. They aim to increase access to dental services for uninsured and underinsured Canadians, as well as offer help with accessing group and individual health benefits and third-party administration solutions. Green Shield also provides a complimentary one-hour counselling session for any Canadian women ages 18+.

11. Newo Energy Alberta

Newo Energy Alberta is a non-profit social enterprise in the solar energy industry.  They work on residential, commercial, and agricultural solar projects, all while providing education and training services. Their workshops educate communities about renewable energy, and they also train people who experience barriers to employment, like Indigenous youth, people experiencing homelessness, and people exiting the prison system. They also train individuals transitioning out of the oil and gas sector. 

Newo Energy Alberta offers solar energy installations, energy audits to identify energy-efficient actions, and other education. They also have a number of initiatives including the Abundance Project, which connects investors with clean-energy projects, and Faithful Footprints, which aims to help the United Church of Canada reduce their carbon emissions. 

12. The Family Centre

The Family Centre is a safe space in Edmonton designed for all ages, cultures, ethnicities, experiences, gender expressions, gender identities, religions, and sexual orientations. They are a non-profit organization certified in trauma-informed care, with 100 per cent of their profits going back into their programming to support mental health, as well as community based programming to assist those in need through free, low-cost, or subsidized access to services. 

The Family Centre provides one free session of counselling, with subsidies available for follow-up sessions. They also offer group therapy, classes and courses, and interpreter and translation services.

Additional resources for social enterprise businesses

Starting any business is a big undertaking, and a social enterprise is no exception. Here are some grants and funding options to help get your new business off the ground.

Now that you have a thorough understanding of what a social enterprise is, along with several real world examples and resources to help you get started, you’re ready to make a difference in society.

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