The Women of Ontario Social Enterprise Network’s (WOSEN) final report Investing in Women Entrepreneurs: A case study for co-creating effective supports provides the sector with evidence-informed processes on ‘how to’ develop an equity-centric social entrepreneurship ecosystem. It reveals the significant role collaborative and co-creative processes contribute to building trust, shifting mindsets and identifying innovative equity-centred pathways forward. It illustrates ‘how to’:
The initiative is contextualized within systems change and community economic development principles, offering a critical analysis of ways of effectively building, enhancing and expanding equity, and ‘how well’ strategies work — the impact and responses in addressing systemic barriers diverse women entrepreneurs encounter.
The study also includes ten recommendations for increasing investments in women founders through equity-centred collaboratives, partnerships and advocacy, and program diversity, flexibility and duration, to name a few.
Previous WOSEN reports include:
WOSEN (2019-2023) was a province-wide collaborative composed of five social innovation and system change organizations led by Pillar Nonprofit Network in partnership with NORDIK Institute, Social Innovation Canada, Social Venture Connexion and Flourishing Startups. It was partly funded by the Government of Canada through the Federal Economic Development Agency for Southern Ontario (FedDev Ontario).
The Women of Ontario Social Enterprise Network (WOSEN) is a province-wide collaborative composed of five social innovation and system change organizations aiming to redesign the entrepreneurial ecosystem to meet the needs of women and non-binary founders from diverse, equity-seeking groups. WOSEN’s focus is women who have business solutions that put people and the planet first (i.e., social enterprises). Its approach intentionally moves away from current services and financing structures that are readily available and easy to deliver largely due to their limited relevance and accessibility for those that fall outside of the dominant culture, choosing instead to develop a model that holistically supports diverse entrepreneurs’ learning journeys and aspirations. Since its launch in 2019, this approach has helped hundreds of entrepreneurs across Ontario to start and grow their businesses and has unlocked millions of dollars in capital for these initiatives.
The collaborative intentionally developed three interconnected strategies to activate systems change and advance equity in entrepreneurial systems. The Centring Equity report illustrates how they engaged founders and ecosystem supporters (e.g., business developers, coaches, funders/investors) in emergent collaborative and co-creative practices that provide space for knowledge sharing and cogenerating innovative pathways forward to support women-owned and women-led ventures.
The report contextualizes the initiative within current social change practices and community development principles. Its aim is to advance equity, providing a critical reflection on WOSEN’s approach to and resulting impact on participants and the entrepreneurial ecosystem. It is the second publication capturing the initiative’s collaborative learning and impact. The first report, Outstanding By Standing Together, The Story of WOSEN, Interim Report is also available here.
The initiative is led by Pillar Nonprofit Network in partnership with NORDIK Institute, Social Innovation Canada, and Social Venture Connexion with support from Lean4Flourishing and funded, in part, by the Government of Canada through the Federal Economic Development Agency for Southern Ontario (FedDev Ontario).
The Women of Ontario Social Enterprise Network (WOSEN) is focused on catalyzing social innovation ‒ reorganizing (or reimagining) the way the current entrepreneurial system works to enable underrepresented and underserved women founders to participate and prosper in business and society. WOSEN is an innovative equity-centred collective impact initiative, incorporating a developmental evaluation approach, to create the critical resources, relational networks and stakeholder capacity that underpin a healthy, functioning and thriving ecosystem to foster more inclusive economies. The Interim Report captures key lessons and impact from the WOSEN experience that will shape the future of the program and may prove critical to the reorganization of the current entrepreneurial system, to foster the growth of women-owned and women-led ventures with a positive social and environmental impact.
Outstanding by Standing Together: The Story of WOSEN – Interim Report
This research pilot began in the winter of 2014 to investigate urban beekeeping in the context of Sault Ste. Marie. The pilot project set out to assess the feasibility of an established, successful, working apiary within the city by fostering positive community relations; continual operation and/or expansion of bee colonies in the community; gathering a baseline of public perception of urban beekeeping; and the ability of public outreach and education in addressing community perceptions.
Urban Indigenous Youth for Change is a collaborative project focused on urban Indigenous youth aged 13 – 35 to embrace their role as change makers in their communities.
UIYFC supports youth in co-creating a path of opportunity for themselves and others by becoming aware, engaged and informed of the social economy sector. The project creates opportunities for Indigenous youth to learn and teach one another – bringing together Indigenous culture, land based knowledge and entrepreneurship skills. UIYFC works to engage urban Indigenous youth by connecting young change makers with peers, elders and knowledge keepers and community organizations. The youth-led UIYFC steering committee collaborates by focusing on strengths to create a better future for youth.
Jordan Tabobondung, Kristia Bissiallon, Lauren Doxtater, Rebecca Commanda, Samantha Kyle, Taylor Jolin
A peer network to share, generate and mobilize knowledge to strengthen organizational capacity was developed by the Arts Council of Sault Ste. Marie; Conseil des Arts de Hearst; and 4elements Living Arts on Manitoulin Island. This project was funded by the Ontario Arts Council’s Compass Grant for increasing organizational capacity, and was facilitated by NORDIK Institute. The project led to a strengthening of the organizations’ management capacity; provided the time and space necessary to initiate an internal dialogue within each organization, as well as a dialogue with community members and mentoring partners; and an improvement in a variety of organizational aspects, strengthening these capacities within the cultural sector.
It was suggested that the peer mentoring process could be used as a model for building sustainability throughout the region as it established critical support through dialogue, share resources and knowledge mobilization in a region that is challenged by geographical distances and contextual differences to southern Ontario.
Jude Ortiz, Meghan Ableson, Dr. Gayle Broad
Social Enterprise for Northern Ontario (SENO) CoStarter for Change supports the development of early-stage, high growth social enterprises in Northern Ontario by offering social entrepreneurs access to capital, educational and support programs, workspace, and other services to help launch and grow their non-profit and for-profit ventures. In 2013, Ontario launched the Social Enterprise Strategy (https://www.ontario.ca/page/ontarios-social-enterprise-strategy-2016-2021). The Social Enterprise Demonstration Fund (SEDF) (program closed) is one of the key commitments to the strategy, supporting 11 social finance projects throughout the province. A $4 million contribution has leveraged $6 million in private investment. Social Enterprise Northern Ontario (SENO) a collaboration led by PARO Centre for Women’s Enterprise is one of the successful social finance projects, receiving $250,000 for two years.
If you are interested in applying for the SENO CoStarter for Change program, please download the Application package, the Required criteria and milestones toolkit and the Self-assessment toolkit.
Elizabeth Macmillan, Zach Falldien
Social Enterprise Demonstration Fund (SEDF)
Social Enterprise Northern Ontario (SENO)
PARO Centre for Women’s Enterprise
Required criteria and milestones toolkit
Social Entrepreneurship Evolution (SEE) is an emergent pan-northern collaborative whose focus is to support the infrastructure for Youth Social Entrepreneurship (YSE) with an emphasis on collaboration, shared measurement and collective impact. Lead by NORDIK Institute and its various regional partners, this project focuses on building a sustainable network by providing supports, setting up connections, sharing resources, building capacities, engaging youth, using community based research methods, and promoting social entrepreneurship and the benefits it can bring to Northern Ontario. SEE has initiated a number of programs including Urban Indigenous Youth for Change, SENO CoStarter for Change, as well as leading a nine-week free workshop series, open to all, to learn about Social Enterprise, Entrepreneurship, and business basics, and how to begin a business that can help solve community problems.
Katie Elliott, Shannon Moan, Melanie Watson, Dr. Gayle Broad, Erika Luoma, Katie Blunt, Elizabeth MacMillan, Jamie McIntyre, Jordan Wettlaufer
Sign up for our updates and get involved with the movement of social innovation and entrepreneurship by heading over to our website seethechange.ca
The Rural Agri-Innovation Network (RAIN) is began as a project of Sault Ste. Marie Innovation Centre and NORDIK Institute, with support from farmers and communities to enhance the agriculture and food sector in Algoma. RAIN’s vision is to build a resilient farm and food sector in northern Ontario through innovative research and agriculture development projects. To date RAIN has conducted research in Forage Improvement, Novel Crop Studies, Value Chain Development; and has developed programs such as the SNAPP (Sustainable New Agri-Food Products & Productivity) Program, and the Regional Tile Drainage and Land Clearing Program, to name a few.
Dr. Gayle Broad, Errol Caldwell, David Thompson, Mikala Parr, Melissa Watson, Jordan Danielewicz, Jessica Laidley
Follow RAIN on twitter @RAINAlgoma
Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/rainalgoma
YouTube at https://www.youtube.com/channel/UChowRsaQQgh2YppqMb25-pA