Social Enterprise Canada

June 11, 2014

Scale of problem indicates scale of solution

When it comes to the notion of scaling up, John Baker says there is no one size fits all solution for social enterprise.

As in the private sector, there is room for everything from small, family-owned businesses to large multinationals, he says.

The CEO of social innovation consultancy Aperio believes that vibrant communities include a mix of sizes and styles. Social enterprises need to consider what suits their venture and the problem they’re trying to address.

“Small certainly is beautiful for some of the problems we seek to address, but from my perspective some of the problems are so significant that only scaled solutions will make a dent in the challenge,” John says.

Different scaling models can cater to different scenarios, he explains, including increasing the operations of a venture and moving from 10 to 45 employees, for instance. Other scenarios include something like a franchising model, where an idea is replicated in different locations.

How do you increase your impact? That is always the guiding question, John says.

A starting place might be identifying the social need and an industry that can tolerate the scale required to address that need.

He cites three construction social enterprises in Winnipeg, where he is also based. The goals of BUILD, Inner City Renovations and North End Community Renewal Corporation are to hire people with barriers to employment. Construction is an industry that can absorb the kind of labour these ventures require. Each of them has scaled up, the former peaking at 160 employees.

For this kind of growth, support through access to capital is key, he says. Human capital is another major element of success necessary to run the expanded operations.

John suggests that ventures spend energy on keeping their house in order when they’re at a small scale, plan thoughtfully through scale, and move quickly and accordingly if a market opportunity presents itself. Sometimes this happens before planning is complete, so it’s important to plug into the ups and downs of the industry, he says.

This article is part of an ENP--CA news inquiry on scaling up social enterprise. To learn more, click here.

To engage via Twitter, use the hashtag #scalingupsocent

Writer: Patricia Marcoccia

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