We are all social enterprises

I came across the book Impact: 6 Patterns to Spread Your Social Innovation by Al Etmanski while in Vancouver earlier this year. In fact I was fortunate to able to attend the book’s unlaunch event which ensured my trip started on a high.

It’s called an unlaunch I imagined, as rather than a traditional book event, Al bought in five guests who can demonstrated their own ways of making impact on Planet Earth. The rock stars of the social innovation world! 

I love the term ‘making impact’. I’ve only just started hearing people in Vancouver (Canada?) using the term ‘social enterprise’, a phrase that has never rocked my world. I believe every business – every human being – has a duty to help the next person and a badge to say that we are that way inclined is unnecessary. Indeed, many of the best social businesses are not official – they just quietly do good things for the community or environment.

So, back to the unlaunch event, I’m a hard one to inspire – I’ve been on the planet for so long that it’s rare for me to hear a new idea - I scour books/articles/events to keep trying! But I was inspired at Impact 6 and glad to have a copy of the book to continue to refresh my learning. 

There is an early reminder that every small thing I do can grow and have a worthwhile impact and this is what stays with me. Each one of us can have an impact. By doing the smallest thing, that gets repeated by others, we can indeed change the world. Read on....*

Social Innovation is both a destination and a journey

The book focusses on the two years Al undertook with his wife Vicky to explore social innovation. They made many friends along the way but as important, they changed the their approach to their social innovation work. They’d received ‘an advanced course in letting it go’.

Al and Vicky co-founded PLAN in 1989, which describes itself as a ‘social enterprise that doesn’t rely on government grants’. This is a refreshing change from organisations that call themselves social enterprises in the UK who’s first port of call these days seems to be ‘what can we get for free?’. As someone who has been self-employed for over ten years, applying for ‘funding’ or ‘grants’ does not make an enterprise by any stretch of the imagination.

I enjoyed hearing the phrase ‘passionate amateurs’ at the event too; people who are constantly working to make things better.  Indeed, there are two purposes to being human; to love and to create.

Pop the oxygen mask on yourself first.png

Of course some organisations have the opportunity to do good work if they get some government funding, but that’s a third sector organisation, rather than a business. To be an enterprise, they would need to find other streams of revenue too.

As I always say, using the airline analogy, put the oxygen mask on yourself first, then go and save the world.

The part of the book that really intrigued me is the history lesson on Canada’s social impact.

Did you know the Women’s Institute was founded in Ontario in 1897? ‘It’s a Canadian irony that the WI is better known in the UK than Canada’ although I’d have never made the connection. Less surprisingly Greenpeace was founded in Canada, in Vancouver in fact. 

Al Etmanski likened the 12 abolitionists who met in London determined to abolish slavery (when 75% of the world’s population were either enslaved or in forced labour or serfdom. Slavery was the norm) to the daunting task of abolishing guns in the US today or ending our current dependence on fossil fuel.

It is said the Canadian book industry is the cleanest on the planet, with 75% of book publishers printing 95% of their books on environmentally sustainable paper. 

Claudia Li, the founder of Shark Truth  was at the event. This is a Vancouver group that aims to save sharks from extinction by trying to prevent people eating shark fin soup. I learn that this is a Chinese tradition, especially at weddings and celebrations so clearly it was challenge for Claudia. 8000 sharks have been saved so far.

Also there, a former premier of British Columbia, Mike Harcourt – in impact legend - who came up with, among many slogans we’re told – blue box-i-tize.

*The back story is about all the work that was done to try and encourage people to recycle and -ironically - the books that were written on the subject. Then in 1986, in Kitchener, Ontario, someone painted a box blue and people started recycling. Simple idea, put into immediate action.

That’s what I’m going to remember every time I want to change something in the world. Take that first step and the impact will grow.

Which leads me to the final lesson; The question is WHY, rather than HOW.

With grateful thanks to Van City for giving me the book.

What impact stories have you to share? Do email me or let me know via @RickieWrites