Social Enterprise in Canada—What We Can Learn?
4 June 2014 at 9:49 am
The social enterprise landscape in Canada has evolved into a vibrant social economy bringing together a wide variety of stakeholders but what can Australia learn from its experience, asks Quebec-based social enterprise expert Nancy Neamtan.
The social enterprise sector and the broader social economy movement has achieved landmark outcomes in Quebec and Canada through the adoption of a framework legislation for the social economy.
This new framework legislation recognises the contribution of the social economy to Quebec and imposes on all government ministries and agencies the responsibility to take into account the social economy in the development of its policies and programs.
It opens the door for social economy enterprises to access existing programs for the private sector, to increased public procurement opportunities and to capital through Investment Quebec, the investment arm of the Quebec government.
It recognises the Chantier and the Quebec Cooperative Council as the main interlocutors with government and creates a permanent Partnership Committee to assure ongoing dialogue, or what we call coproduction of public policy.
And most important, it imposes the obligation by government to produce a comprehensive five-year action plan and to report back to the National Assembly on the results of this plan.
At the centre of government policy is a recognition that social enterprises and other social economy enterprises make major contributions to both the economic and social fabric of the economy.
When we talk about the social economy in Quebec, we refer to a wide range of collective enterprises, be they cooperatives, Not for Profits or mutuals, that engage in economic activity, that produce goods or services, but that are distinct from traditional private enterprise on several levels.
The definition commonly accepted in Quebec is:
the objective of the social economy enterprise is to serve its members or the community, instead of simply striving for financial profit;
the social economy enterprise is autonomous of the State;
in its statute and code of conduct, it establishes a democratic decision-making process that implies the necessary participation of users and workers;
it prioritises people and work over capital in the distribution of revenue and surplus;
its activities are based on principles of participation, empowerment, and individual and collective responsibility.
Montreal and other Quebec cities have also made commitments to support the social economy, particularly in response to an initiative launched in 2009 by the Minister of Municipal Affairs, encouraging major cities to commit to increased public procurement from social economy enterprises. Several cities in Quebec, including Montreal, have signed a declaration called ‘L’économie sociale, j’achète’ (translated: The social economy: we are buyers).
The work undertaken in Quebec has been fostered through the establishment of networks to work on what unites us and not what divides us, to bring together labour, community and social organisations, and even certain of the more traditional cooperative structures to work together to find solutions by trying new ways of doing things.
In Australia there is not yet a holistic policy that supports the growth and development needs of social enterprises and the broader social economy, the lessons from Canada provide a wealth of information about how one province recognised the contribution made by the social economy and embedded the social economy into legislation as partners.
About the Author: Nancy Neamtan is a leading voice for social enterprise and the social economy in Quebec, and one of the world’s leading figures in local community economic development. She is a guest of Social Traders for a series of public events in Sydney, Melbourne, and Brisbane June 10 – 17, including the SE Masters Conference in Melbourne on 12 June.