Finding the Social Return in Entrepreneurship

St. Paul's GreenHouse

Tim Jackson

Tim Jackson is convinced we need a new way of addressing the challenges of our world. Jackson, lead executive for the Toronto-based MaRS Centre for Impact Investing, is passionate about supporting social entrepreneurs.

“If you look at the really large problems we face as a society, governments simply don’t have the resources to tackle them. Social entrepreneurship has a significant impact in making the world a better place for future generations.”

In fact, Jackson believes the only way we’re going to meet these challenges is by adding entrepreneurs with a social bent to the mix. “What GreenHouse is doing — bringing together young entrepreneurs — is exactly how we’re going to address today’s big challenges.”

During Jackson’s time running a venture capital firm, he became widely involved in the larger community. This became much more than a feel-good experience: It was an education. “Very quickly, I learned that leaders of non-profits were just as talented as CEOs of for-profit companies.”

However, Jackson soon saw a contrast in the way that social entrepreneurs are supported and funded, and the way other startups are treated.

“If someone came to us looking for capital to start a business, we would often give them more than they were asking for,” says Jackson. “We know that the only way we’ve ever made advances is by innovating, and that requires the freedom to try things and make mistakes. But too often, we don’t give talented social entrepreneurs the same level of support. Instead of doubling their request, we ask them to operate on far less.”

Jackson also learned about the inter-related nature of many societal problems. “When I was the chair of the Food Bank of Waterloo Region,” he says, “rarely was food the only issue someone was dealing with. It was one of a complex and interconnected series of challenges, and it needs a holistic response.

“That’s why I think GreenHouse is a key to finding a solution, because each social entrepreneur is dealing with a different idea and challenge —but in bringing them together in an incubator like GreenHouse, we create the climate for innovative solutions. Bringing folks together and providing them with the resources they need for social enterprise is fantastic.”

- Susan Fish is a Waterloo-based writer who operates Storywell, an editing company, and who has two published novels (Seeker of Stars and Ithaca).

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