The terms social enterprise and social economy are used a lot in business conversations. For some people, they may even evoke images of public relations “spin-doctoring” by companies trying to squeeze extra profit. But it doesn’t have to be that way, as Social Work Professor Hieu Van Ngo, PhD, patiently explains in advance of his presentation on the topic. It runs this Thursday, Feb. 9 at 10:45 a.m. in the Dining Centre.
“These are businesses that generate a profit, but also businesses that build communities — that sustain communities,” he explains. Ngo gives the example of a restaurant in Cambodia's capital city called Friends Phnom Penh, run by the international non-profit organization Friends International. Friends uses the restaurant as a vocational training site and development tool.
“The profit they make from the restaurant is invested into training for other young people,” he says. “They re-invest the profit into families to support and teach them skills so they can open their own businesses. Then the family can make beautiful handicrafts. They also help them to sell the products they make in the market and online at their Friends ‘N’ Stuff fair trade gift shops, and the cycle continues."
Social enterprise is a growing trend at home and abroad
In Calgary, Ngo points to the example of EthniCity catering, a non-profit social enterprise run by the Centre for Newcomers. It provides Canadian workplace experience and training to immigrants in their transition to Canada while generating revenue with their unique service.
“Basically, it is about using business techniques and activities to solve social problems and to address socioeconomic inequalities,” says Ngo. “It is about the bottom line, but it is also about doing the work in a way that reinvests in the community. It’s about how they focus on the ethics of doing business and how they promote sustainability — it's community-minded business.”
Social enterprise isn’t a new idea, but it seems to be a growing trend in Calgary and around the world. To aid in the spread of the best approaches and ideas, this spring Ngo is helping to organize an international conference on social entrepreneurship in Cambodia, which is being funded in part by a Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) Connections grant.
Ngo is organizing the conference with 18 partners including seven universities in Southeast Asia, Australia, United States and Canada. They hope to attract more than 200 scholars, researchers, practitioners, policy makers, educators, business leaders, and community members from across the globe to showcase their contributions to the field of social entrepreneurship.
Southeast Asian Conference supports global movement toward social enterprise
Ngo hopes the conference, titled Promoting Vibrant Social Entrepreneurship, will spark the beginning of a collaborative network, looking at ways to promote social enterprise through research, training education, effective practice, and policy development. The multi-layered event will focus on several emerging countries in southeast Asia including Cambodia, Vietnam, and Laos and will move to a different nation every other year.
While the focus is on Southeast Asia, Ngo says the conference is relevant to Canada and requires us to shift our usual perspective on development. He says the University of Phnom Penh already offers graduate training in social enterprise, while in Vietnam proactive groups are working with policy makers to consider different tax arrangements for social enterprises, with the goal of encouraging more community investment.
“This is not simply the 'haves' being generous and coming to help 'have not' communities,” says Ngo, “That’s not the spirit. It's more we recognize the inspiring work these countries are doing that we can learn from and at the same time share our ideas. We are going to come together and think about how we do social enterprise in a powerful, reciprocal way.”
Hieu Van Ngo will be presenting on social entrepreneurship Thursday, Feb. 9 at 10:45 a.m. in the Alberta Room, University of Calgary Dining Centre, as part of the International Development Week 2017 event From Theory to Practice.
Find out more about the social entrepreneurship conference in Southeast Asia May 22-24: Promoting Vibrant Social Entrepreneurship: An International Conference.