What the heck is a social enterprise?

Byline: By Calan Hobbs

EdmontonEats is piloting a social enterprise rather than a charitable society model. So what’s the difference?

Well, a social enterprise blends the best of the charitable and private enterprise business models by using market-oriented approaches to solve social problems, according to Brooks Hanewich, EdmontonEats board member and co-founder of MatchWork, who has extensive experience working with social enterprises in Vancouver and Edmonton.

“A social enterprise can provide a way for people to share their talents and expertise, and creates avenues to address the systemic barriers they face when trying to participate in the economy,” Hanewich explained.

EdmontonEats creates sustainable economic opportunities for new Canadians who have valuable skills to share. It provides them with work experience, payment and networking opportunities, while also building community connections between the hosts and attendees.  

The private sector provides a business model of successful, long-term wealth accumulation. But, as Hanewich pointed out, wealth is distributed in a top-heavy way which doesn’t address wealth inequalities nor overall socio-economic problems.

EdmontonEats founder, Maureen Murphy-Black, chose the social enterprise model with a goal of making EdmontonEats self-sufficient.

“The revenue sharing model allows participants to earn an income, while creating a sustainable organization for the future,” Murphy-Black said.

A recent Statistics Canada survey showed nearly 50% of immigrants say finding an adequate job is their biggest struggle, ahead of learning the language at 26% and adapting to the culture at 13%. Rates of low income and unemployment continue to be high among immigrants, relative to the general population. 

Each EdmontonEats event is tailored to the strengths and interests of the host families. The first step is understanding where they come from, what they want to do and what their talents are. They are empowered to apply their skills and cultural background, and take ownership of creating the event, working with partners in the business sector and receiving income for their work.

EdmontonEats provides a dignified means of wealth transfer. Diners pay for a meal, as they do in restaurants.The revenue generated cycles back into the social enterprise, to the families and to the local community.

And the advantage of a dining event goes beyond creating employment and wealth to fighting social isolation and building a sense of community. People gather for an experience. Everyone involved — from the diners, partners and the families themselves — connects with one another. Communities unite. People are exposed to different cultures and, ultimately, new relationships are built.EdmontonEats salutes some other social enterprises that are helping to make our community a better place: Food4Good, Leftovers Food Rescue, and Hallway Cafe.