Afterthoughts on Pathways and Barriers to Social Enterprise Success By Melinda Jacobs

 *Compliments of SocialFinance.ca

Following our symposium, “Pathways and Barriers to Social Enterprise Success,” the SIRG team quickly got to work writing and publishing white papers (which you can find here) to disseminate our conference lessons and take aways. The whitepapers were written as objectively as possible, and tried to factually document the discussion and accurately present the predominant themes and topics without favouring one opinion. However, after so much vibrant discussion, this was an immensely challenging task. As organizers and moderators, we were as engaged as participants, and were also learning and thinking, getting new ideas and challenging old ones. Here are some of the ideas I couldn’t include in the whitepapers, and some questions that will continue to drive the SIRG and our conversation about social enterprise in Taiwan forward.
Panel 1 – Financial and Human Capital

One of my main take aways from this discussion was how rooted we are in personal experience – we view problems and solutions in the context of our own organizations, often without considering what can be learned from others.

It was great to see these lessons as they apply to financial and human capital being addressed within the symposium, but that conversation was a tip of a very, very big iceberg: how can we better collaborate to train, motivate and advance young talent? How can we attract and foster the funding that would drive all of our organizations further? These are tough questions, but it is clear that the answers will come from collaborations requiring multiple stakeholders with many different experiences and interests at the table.

Panel 2 – Metrics and Evaluation

Although everyone clearly agrees metrics and evaluation are important, few are exceling at it in practice. From engaging with speakers and audience members, it was clear that the expertise, tools and time to implement metrics in diverse areas and deep niches are hugely challenging, and in fact a barrier for further growth. For organizations currently collecting metrics, they’ve yet to be coordinated and shared for cross-organizational learning – despite the fact that everyone is playing in the same sandbox (Taiwan). How can this be?!

There would be so much room to connect organizations and leverage learning if we had effective, comparable data that could be shared in a timely fashion. There’s a huge imperative to design, test and implement solutions – this has to be the next step forward.

Panel 3 – Working in the Margins

One of the biggest disconnects I see as a researcher is between researchers, who often focus on systems level knowledge, and “field” organizations, that are actually out there and doing the work within communities. How can we meaningfully use the experiences of organizations in the field to inform the research agenda? This conversation was certainly a step.

How can we use our collective knowledge about engaging in marginalized communities to create new demand for services, to direct empowering resources, and leverage empathy as a practice in engaging new stakeholders? It’s still unclear.

“Working in the Margins” is almost exactly where we do not work as researchers, and made me realize the need for mechanisms to connect the high level, policy and research driven peole and organizations with meaningful experiences within communities. I am particularly grateful to the organizations that have helped SIRG and exposed us to some of the challenges of working in the margins first hand. We all need to find ways to more meaningful connect to the people social enterprise really aims to serve and, ideally, empower.

Conclusions

As you can tell, the conversation we started has not stopped –it’s extended into coffee shops and classrooms, boardrooms and email conversations. The Social Innovation Research Group is very proud to be part of it, and we hope that with your help we can move it toward action.

Over the next few months, SIRG will be experiencing some changes – some team members will be leaving, while others just arriving. During that time we’ll continue to develop our programming and continue collaborating with our partners to create new value and leverage social innovation and social enterprise as a sector (especially in Taiwan). If you have internship postings, partnership thoughts, constructive comments, or just want to say hi, please be in touch – SIRG would love to hear from you!

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