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Fostering innovation

New centre aims to build economic resilience through social enterprise

By Susan White

A new centre focused on nurturing social entrepreneurship in the province was officially launched on May 25 on Memorial’s St. John’s campus.

The Centre for Social Enterprise (CSE), a campus-wide centre led by a partnership between the Faculty of Business Administration, the School of Social Work and the School of Music, was created to act as a catalyst in developing new social entrepreneurs, strengthening existing social enterprises and building resilience through social innovation to foster economic success and sustainability throughout Newfoundland and Labrador.

Dr. Gary Kachanoski, left, and Nicole Helwig pose in front of banners at the launch of the Centre for Social Enterprise, May 25.
From left, Dr. Gary Kachanoski and Nicole Helwig at the launch of the Centre for Social Enterprise.

“Social enterprises are an innovative form of organization that are increasing in impact and importance worldwide,” said President Kachanoski.

“The Centre for Social Enterprise capitalizes on the long history of social innovation in Newfoundland and Labrador and further advances the reputation of Memorial University as a national leader in understanding and advancing social enterprises and social entrepreneurship. At Memorial, we aim to equip our students to engage with such emerging fields and this centre is an important element in fostering that innovation and success.”

Social, cultural and environmental missions

Social enterprises are innovative businesses and organizations that are created to pursue social, cultural or environmental missions in a financially sustainable way.

Rebecca French, a fourth-year student in the bachelor of social work program, completed a work placement through the CSE at The Gathering Place. She provided support and counselling to residents at the service centre as well as helped them develop job and soft skills.

“Before this experience, I never pictured myself in a non-profit position. Now I can’t picture myself anywhere else.” – Rebecca French

She says her experience with the Centre for Social Enterprise and The Gathering Place opened her eyes to the world of non-profit organizations and how “fundamental they are” in cities across this province.

“It showed me the true impact meaningful employment can have on at-risk individuals,” said Ms. French.

“These social enterprises inspire resiliency and independence that can spark a fire of passion within individuals that is often difficult to uncover when faced with daily hardships. I began to appreciate the true bond social work and business have in empowering individuals while also challenging inequities present in our society. Before this experience, I never pictured myself in a non-profit position. Now I can’t picture myself anywhere else.”

Dr. Wilfred Zerbe, at podium, introduces the Stella's Circle Inclusion Choir, who performed at the official launch of the Centre for Social Enterprise.
Dr. Wilfred Zerbe, at podium, introduces the Stella’s Circle Inclusion Choir, who performed at the official launch of the Centre for Social Enterprise.

The CSE will play a key role in developing academic capacity to increase understanding of social entrepreneurship and social enterprise within the Memorial community.

It will support the development of curricula focused on social enterprise and social entrepreneurship; link faculty members across the university to work together to strengthen understanding of social enterprise and social entrepreneurship; and help prospective social entrepreneurs convert their ideas into businesses that provide social, cultural and environmental benefits.

Breaking down silos

Nicole Helwig, manager, CSE, says the partnership between the business faculty and the schools of social work and music was a strategic decision in order to position the centre as distinctive within the social enterprise ecosystem.

“It’s a testament to our deliberate approach that seeks to break down silos,” said Ms. Helwig.

“With our university-wide mandate and role in creating a social innovation zone on campus, we aim to foster and support cross-disciplinary initiatives. This reflects that major challenges faced in the world today require skills, competences and perspectives that no one discipline can bring on its own.”

Public and private support

Funding of $225,000 was provided by the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency (ACOA) and $225,000 by the Department of Tourism, Culture, Industry and Innovation (TCII) to help create the CSE. The J.W. McConnell Family Foundation and the Suncor Energy Foundation also provided financial support.

“I commend Memorial University on the official launch of the Centre for Social Enterprise, which acts as a catalyst to nurture social entrepreneurs and strengthen the social enterprises that they create,” said Seamus O’Regan, member of Parliament, St. John’s South-Mount Pearl, on behalf of Navdeep Bains, minister, Innovation, Science and Economic Development, and minister, responsible for ACOA.

From left, Nick Whalen and Seamus O'Regan at the launch.
From left, Nick Whalen and Seamus O’Regan at the launch.

“The Government of Canada, through ACOA, supports Memorial’s efforts to strengthen the impact, knowledge and development of social enterprises in this region.”

“Our government recognizes that social enterprise development is important to the economy and collectively, our efforts focus on strengthening, promoting and advancing opportunities for social enterprises as well as on encouraging entrepreneurial business models,” said Christopher Mitchelmore, minister, Tourism, Culture, Industry and Innovation.

“We proudly support the establishment of the Centre for Social Enterprise and, as outlined in The Way Forward: A Vision for Sustainability and Growth in Newfoundland and Labrador, we are committed to developing a social enterprise action plan for Newfoundland and Labrador.”

For more information about the Centre for Social Enterprise, please visit the website.


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