Our Blog

How much do you know about Social Enterprises in Ontario?

Which social enterprise has been running the longest?

How many Ontario volunteers contribute their time to social enterprises?

How many people do Ontario social enterprises actually employ?

If you’re interested in the social enterprise space, you’ve likely heard a lot of fascinating stories about social enterprises (SE). Social enterprises that are hiring people who face barriers to employment. SEs which are helping farmers sell food locally or are sharing our culture through museums and theatres. I love to hear and share these stories. But in my work at CCEDNet, I get asked more difficult questions. The “how many” questions. The “what’s the real impact” questions.

It’s because of these kinds of questions that I was really excited to work with my colleagues at CCEDNet to conduct the BALTA survey of nonprofit social enterprises for Ontario, the first provincial study to focus exclusively on social enterprise. [1]

We sent the survey to more than 1,000 nonprofit social enterprises across Ontario and 363 responded. That data has now been analyzed and the report is about to be published. Inspiring Innovation: The Size, Scope and Socioeconomic Impact of Nonprofit Social Enterprise in Ontario will be released at next month’s ONN provincial conference.

We call the report Inspiring Innovation, because once we start looking at the facts about social enterprise in the province, it really is inspiring.

This picture shows a few of the significant points we learned about social enterprise, but let me get specific and share a few numbers too. In 2011 these enterprises:CCEDNetarticleimage

  • generated at least $143 million in sales
  • paid at least $117 million in wages and salaries
  • employed at least 5,355 people
  • trained 65,900 people
  • involved almost 18,000 volunteers
  • provided services for at least 2.7 million people, excluding their customers

And what’s amazing is that these figures represent only a fraction of the total contribution of the nonprofit social enterprise sector in Ontario.

Impressive as these accumulative numbers are, people often tell me that they really are more interested in knowing about the impacts of individual enterprises. Because of research ethics, we can’t share data about particular enterprises of course, but in many ways averages are even more interesting and give us significant insight. On average, responding social enterprises each:

  • sold $548,700 worth of goods and services
  • hired 17 employees and 13 contract workers
  • paid $517,600 in wages and salaries
  • generated net revenues of $42,000
  • engaged 57 volunteers
  • trained 209 people
  • provided services to 9,120 people, excluding their customers


These numbers highlight exciting impacts based on our entire sample of social enterprises, but the data lets us breaks things down into more helpful pieces. In the report we provide extensive analysis based on five unique subsector categories: arts and culture, farmers’ markets, thrift stores, social purpose enterprises (providing employment or training to those facing barriers), and miscellaneous that did not fit into any of the preceding categories.

These subsector divisions help to capture the diverse nature of the social enterprises and how they interact with the market economy. The report also pays particular attention to francophone social enterprises, urban/rural and regional distinctions, years of operation, and specific mission focus.

Beyond the data analysis we also felt it was important to set the context for the survey findings, including some of the key historical influences and components of the broad sector of activity of SE, a brief snapshot of some of the community organizations and networks supporting SE in the province and a picture of the provincial landscape of financial supports available to SEs.

Ontario’s Special Advisor on Social Enterprise recently stated that governments need to work with communities to create “an integrated, co-ordinated and collaborative social enterprise strategy that supports innovative organisations” and our review of government connections with social enterprise certainly supports that approach. [2]

What the report and the baseline data we have captured also mean for building the social economy is that there are benchmarks for future surveys to be able to track developments within the sector over time.

A second survey is expected within the next two years and we want to ensure more social enterprises are included in both data collection and new platforms, like an upcoming online database and marketplace for nonprofit social enterprises.

What needs to come next is for government and the sector to create an integrated, co-ordinated and collaborative social enterprise strategy.

So going back to that first question about the oldest social enterprise. The answer is a farmer’s market in the city of Kingston, started in 1780!

What social enterprises are operating in your communities? Does your nonprofit have access to the space?

Paul Chamberlain supports the Ontario network and leads CCEDNet‘s provincial social enterprise research and infrastructure development working in collaboration with the Ontario Social Economy Roundtable. He also led CCEDNet’s national projects demonstrating the impacts of CED on poverty reduction, immigrant social enterprise and youth peer mentoring. pchamberlain@ccednet-rcdec.ca


[1] The model for this study is based on the work of the BALTA (British Columbia and Alberta Social Economy Research Alliance), which has conducted similar surveys in other provinces over the past five years under the direction of Peter Elson, Mount Royal University and Peter Hall, Simon Fraser University. All of these reports contribute to a better understanding of a national entrepreneurial movement within the nonprofit sector.

[2] “Lessons from Ontario: how government can help social enterprise”, by Helen Burstyn, The Guardian, April 10, 2013


Comments are closed.