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Is Canada a leader when it comes to social enterprise such as ethical fashion?

Our close cousin, the United Kingdom has always been a leader when it comes to social enterprise and ethical fashion. While Canadians spend billions to keep criminals in prison, a prison outside of London has instituted a high-end restaurant staffed with recently incarcerated inmates. The ultimate goal of this social enterprise is to provide training, certification and links to full-time employment in the culinary and hospital industries, in order to avoid the possibilities of these criminals re-offending. This is just one of the many examples of social enterprises in the United Kingdom that are finding opportunities to use commerce to transform communities.

As the 2013 Skoll World Forum recently occurred, this seems like an apt time to reflect on the growing social enterprise movement in Canada vs. our more successful counterparts such as the UK. In these countries, entrepreneurs are finding ways to tackle local and global issues across a variety of social, environmental, governmental and economic issues. However, very little of this representation comes from Canada.

It’s ironic really, the Skoll World Forum and its associated foundation were founded by a Canadian (Jeff Skoll). Does this mean Canadian’s are not taking full advantage of this burgeoning movement to blend social and economic success?

A portion of this slack could be attributed to the fact that the United Kingdom has developed regulatory and legal structures to support ethical institutions. The United States currently has nine states with similar regulation; while in Canadian only 2 provinces (British Columbia and Nova Scotia) have begun the job of developing regulatory process to support social enterprises. This regulation has given companies in those regions public recognition and regulatory ease, which enables them to pursue their goals more fully.

Canada does have recognizable brands such as MaRs Discovery District and Me to We, but the potential is far greater. As Craig Keilburger, founder of Free the Children and Me to We has suggested, “A simple process such as the UK model and those under consideration in B.C. and Nova Scotia would make it easier for aspiring social entrepreneurs to get their projects started.”

Perhaps leaders in our governmental bodies, communities, commerce bodies, and educational institutions should start considering how they can modify or add to our existing regulations to help propel Canada to the forefront of the emerging social economy.