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Eureka! What We Must Do: A Review of Gar Alperovitz’s “What Then Must We Do?”
by Natalie Robinson
on May 04, 2014

Gar Alperovitz

As a systems thinker focused on sustainability, this is my favourite book right now. In order to democratize wealth and build community-sustaining economies, nothing short of system change is required. Alperovitz spends most of the book explaining why that’s so and contrasting system change with political movements. The following quote, originally from a US presidential adviser, provides an apt summary: “working within the system will not succeed in the end when what is needed is transformative change within the system itself.” But isn’t the system beyond our control? It’s difficult, surely, to translate the lofty goal of system change into a coherent and compelling action plan for citizens, but this is what Alperovitz has done.


Last Updated on May 08, 2014
On Our Bookshelf: Inner City Renovation: How a social enterprise changes lives and communities
by Elisa Birnbaum
on November 16, 2013

Inner City Renovation book coverThe Book: Inner City Renovation: How a Social Enterprise Changes Lives and Communities, written by Marty Donkervoort, published by Fernwood Publishing.


The Blurb: With the backdrop his work with Inner City Renovations, a social enterprise in the construction industry dedicated to helping those on the margins in Winnipeg’s North End find productive livelihoods, Donkervoort profiles his own efforts and examines the value of social entrepreneurial initiatives and their potential to impact communities and create a more just society.


The History: Before Marty Donkervoort took on the role of General Manager at Inner City Renovations, he was a corporate executive on Toronto's Bay Street. His career then transitioned from working with co-ops to policy work, before it landed in social enterprise. It was quite a transformation, as Donkervoort shares in the book: "I went from wearing business suits, flying in corporate jets and traveling around the world to working in one of the most challenging inner city communities in all of Canada."


The Basics: The book is divided into three parts: the first is a compelling depiction of the highly respected social enterprise that Donkervoort led, Inner City Renovations. Next, we get a personal account of the author's career trajectory, what prompted his career choices, the challenges and successes along the way. Finally, Donkervoort offers his take on social enterprise, its opportunities and obstacles as well its impact here in Canada and around the world.


The Impact: Donkervoort's experience running one of Canada's venerable social enterprises provides important lessons and takeaways for anyone wanting to learn how it's done - right. Bringing readers beyond theoretical constructs into the real-life ups and downs of a venture-in-action has tremendous resonance and impact for anyone interested in this complex field of social enterprise.


Read our interview with Marty Donkervoort here.


The Takeaway:What compels a corporate big-wig to give up the glamourous life of Bay Street mid-career in favour of social justice and social enterprise? How does business savvy come into play when running a venture that must somehow balance profit with purpose? What struggles does a social enterprise face when working with marginalized communities? How are social enterprises effecting lives in Canada and beyond? How does policy impact the empowerment of communities? Those and other questions are examined fully in this book with honesty, candor and the use of compelling, on-the-ground narratives.


The book also provides important lessons learned for any practitioner or social entrepreneur-wanna-be. Rather than offering a rah-rah-rah tale of social enterprise, Donkervoort intersperses the feel-good sentiments with realistic fodder of the challenges involved with running this type of venture. In that way, it's a veritable must-read for anyone interested in effecting change through social enterprise. They come away with knowledge, reality checks and inspiration to move forward.



Last Updated on November 20, 2013
On Our Bookshelf: Creating Good Work
by Elisa Birnbaum
on September 02, 2013

The Book: Creating Good Work; the world's leading social entrepreneurs show how to build a healthy economy, edited by Ron Schultz, published by Palgrave Macmillan.


The Blurb: In this ultimate guide to social entrepreneurship, author and founder of Entrepreneur4Change, Ron Schultz, brings together some of the world's leading social entrepreneurs who share invaluable insight, lessons learned and guidance on how to run your own venture that strives to make a positive impact.


The History: Ron Schultz is the founder and executive director of the microfinance/micro-enterprise lending program, Entrepreneurs4Change, providing entrepreneurial education and neighbour-to-neighbour lending programs for social businesses, veterans, and marginalized communities. This is his 23rd book to date.


The Basics: The book is divided into three parts: theory, application and practice, each one offering compelling, personal stories from social entrepreneurs in the field who've achieved immense success and impact, as well as practical takeaways for anyone wanting to devote their lives in a similar fashion.


The Impact: Unlike many other books out there that tell great stories but offer little practical substance, this one proffers pragmatic tools and advice that can be used effectively as the bible of sorts for social entrepreneurial wannabes and those already working in the field. For anyone interested in deliberative disruptive design - eschewing the traditional design and replacing it with a new approach - the book is a must-have.


Read our interview with Ron Schultz here


The Takeaway: With such an impressive pool of social innovators lending their wisdom and practical advice, the takeaways are many. Add those to the brilliant insights offered by Schultz, a social entrepreneur in his own right, and any reader will feel smarter and more empowered upon the book's completion.


One of the more powerful takeaways comes from the discussion on collaboration - best achieved, offers Schultz et al., when focused on alignment not agreement, since the former is focused on working toward a shared goal, while the latter is opinion and ego-based.


The book also provides important lessons learned when it comes to the concept of change, probably one of the more challenging goals for social entrepreneurs today. Using theory and examples, we learn what works, what doesn't and how one can most effectively create the favourable conditions for change, making Creating Good Work that much more possible.


Last Updated on September 04, 2013
Hot Docs Movie Review: A Whole Lott More
by Elisa Birnbaum
on July 02, 2013

Elisa BirnbaumWhen a town’s primary industry faces a downturn, the issue of employment, sustenance, no doubt becomes central to its impassioned conversation. When company employees facing potential layoffs have developmental disabilities, the discussion becomes more heated still. Add some internal politics to the mix and you’ve got the highly acclaimed documentary, A Whole Lott More.

On our bookshelf: Givenomics
by Elisa Birnbaum
on June 02, 2013

Givenomics Book Review

The Book: Givenomics: How giving creates sustainable success for companies, customers and communities, by Richard Morris, published by Anoma Press.


The Blurb: Same old, same old is not proving effective in the world of business. "These models may hit short-term sales targets but they don’t build long-term shareholder value and have little or no benefit for the communities we all live and work in," says Morris. The sad truth is that the traditional business model is broken and new models are needed to address the growing challenges faced by charities, retailers and consumers alike.


Businesses can be used as a force for good, Morris offers, proving the point by creating his own social enterprise and, effectively, a new model that he calls Givenomics. The book draws upon his personal experience and learnings bringing that idea to fruition, detailing how the new business model makes sense economically and socially - and offers guidance for other businesses wanting to adopt it into their practice.


The History: Richard Morris has been a pioneer in Silicon Valley and the UK, having built the internet infrastructure and services used as utilities today. Deciding it was time to focus more on effecting change and creating social impact, Morris co-founded TheGivingMachine™, a not-for-profit social enterprise that enables online shoppers to generate free donations to the causes of their choice. To date, TheGivingMachine™ has generated over 800,000 free donations in the UK and that's just the beginning.


The Basics: Participating online shops pay TheGivingMachine™ a sales commission for directing shoppers to them. That money is forwarded as free cash donations to the shopper's chosen school or charity.


The Impact: Retailers not only benefit from referred sales, their brand and relationships with customers are enhanced too. Charities gain much-needed donations. And consumers get to be more proactive in their giving (they can select the charities/schools they want to support). Win, win win. We're not talking CSR here, by the way, which is part and parcel of a business' HR practice. Givenomics ties the giving element of a business directly to its commercial activity, taking a more holistic approach to commercial success and engagement.


The Takeaway: If your business is looking for a new model that not only allows it to be a force for good and a supporter of community, but that enables it to adopt new ways of engaging its customer base, Givenomics can be a great starting point. Chapter 9 is particularly helpful, as Morris outlines, step-by-step, how to implement Givenomics. Important details like donation tracking, brand differentiation, costs and marketing opportunities are discussed, with examples offered. The book, and Morris' own personal experience running TheGivingMachine™, offer tangible tools for those looking to do well by doing good.


Last Updated on June 17, 2013
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