Social Innovation Hub helps students build business skills with social impact

Students at the Social Innovation HubTwice a year, George Brown College Professor Natalie Wood teaches an elective course in social enterprise, introducing students to entrepreneurial skills for community impact. The seven-week elective has proven popular in the three years she’s been teaching it. Nearly every semester, the seats fill up quickly. 

“Right now in the community services field, non-profits are facing funding cuts and austerity measures,” says Wood. “They’re looking for new ways to bring in alternative revenue and further their mission, while including the community at the same time.” 

Social enterprise education can also prove useful in commercial contexts, she says. George Brown students who already run small side-businesses of their own, such as small beauty salons or catering services, can develop the skills to grow their operations into larger organizations with neighbourhood impacts.  

“Many start businesses without really seeing it as a business, or thinking about what it would be like to scale it up so it could provide more revenue or jobs in their communities,” says Wood. 

When two sections of the social enterprise course were scheduled concurrently this fall, Wood and her colleagues at the School of Social and Community Services decided to harness the momentum of student interest. They developed a resource centre that offered students an opportunity to flex their entrepreneurial muscle and put their social enterprise ideas to work in real-world applications, and piloted it in the fall.  

Called the Social Innovation Hub, it’s an immersive learning experience that has students working four days a week on projects such as helping local school boards come up with employment skills programs for students with disabilities, and developing family support and child care plans that could be used at colleges. The Hub has also partnered with George Brown student entrepreneur group Enactus to train participants in specific business planning tools such as environmental scanning and funding proposals.  

The first cohort to participate in the Social Innovation Hub are students from the Social Service Worker program; next winter, Child and Youth Worker program students will take their turn.   

“Plenty of programs teach students the skills they need to work at non-profits, or to continue their education,” says Wood. “We don’t often talk about what would happen if you want to start a non-profit of your own or develop a program within an organization.”  

While the Social Innovation Hub is still in its pilot stage, Wood is enthusiastic about the experience the first cohort of students has had. She and her colleagues are in talks with other schools at George Brown College to connect other programs to the Hub, and possibly extend it into the summer semester. 

If you’d like to keep up with the work the Social Innovation Hub has been doing, you can follow updates on Twitter at @SIH_GBC or on Facebook.