Dalal Al’Waheidi recalls a vivid interaction with the organization Atfaluna Society for Deaf Children in the Gaza Strip.
“Atfaluna provides services for differently abled children – especially the deaf – by generating income for their families, so they can support their children,” says the executive director of WE Charity. “They also teach these children and their mothers vocational skills, such as carpentry, sewing, embroidery and rug weaving, making them artisans in their own right, and generating an income for the charity through the sale of Palestinian embroidery items.”
Atfaluna became a self-sustained social enterprise just three years ago. It is this kind of mutually beneficial social business that has driven Al’Waheidi, a Palestinian refugee herself, and her team to reach out to Canada’s young people.
Statistics confirm Generation Z wants to ensure their careers are making a difference. According to a 2017–18 study by Global Entrepreneurship Monitor, 41 per cent of Gen Z wants to pursue an entrepreneurial career path, with 64 per cent saying they consider inspiring work an essential part of any job.
“Young people are eager to support social causes. During high school and early post-secondary education, they want to choose courses that can generate a social impact,” says Al’Waheidi. “Our hope is that some of these young people consider starting up a social enterprise.”
The newly launched WE Social Entrepreneurs program plans to help youth embrace the future. By working with the WE Schools, a network of more than 7,000 Canadian elementary and high schools, the program’s initiatives will help inspire a national movement of young entrepreneurs and give them the skills to combine business and social good through curriculums, resources, mentorship and networking. Programming will begin with WE Incubate, which will build on the current business ecosystem to allow more scalable and successful social enterprises.
When you ask most people what a social enterprise is, Al’Waheidi admits some confusion still exists. At their core, social enterprises are organizations that use the skills and models of business to advance the well-being of individuals, communities and the environment, similar to the WE group of enterprises, such as ME to WE Chocolate That Changes Lives. This business model marries an entrepreneurial spirit with a program that, in this case, provides education and income for local children and cacao farmers in Ecuador.
“Negotiation, how to develop a business plan, asking for funding and understanding the framework of social impact are just some of the 21st-century skills students will be exposed to,” explains Al’Waheidi.
By 2020, the goal is to provide this programming to at least 3,000 young social entrepreneurs across Canada, with 25 per cent of those students coming from vulnerable populations. Within that period, WE hopes to help scale 30 self-sustaining social enterprises.
“It’s a win-win situation,” says Al’Waheidi, “because these students are learning the soft and hard skills of business and how to earn a profit, while also advancing a social cause they’re passionate about.”
In the second program, students can progress to WE Scale Up, which provides guidance for long-term success. It will help those under 35 years of age initiate their business plans through three key areas: business support, including human resources, productization and accounting; social impact support, such as working with underserved populations and measuring social impact; and capital investment support, meaning opening investor relations through WE, providing pitching training and tailored mentorship.
For Al’Waheidi and WE, not only are social enterprises beneficial for society, but they also make economic sense.
“If you look at the traditional charitable model right now in Canada, we know it is outdated,” she says. “The average person is donating much less than they used to, and overall it’s not a scalable model. We wanted to look at how we could marry social impact with good business practices to support [a successful] ecosystem.”