MaRS, the Toronto-based incubator of business innovation, is expected to announce the creation of a new Pecaut Centre for Social Enterprise – in honour of the late David Pecaut, an indefatigable champion of Toronto and one of the founders of the annual Luminato arts festival.
The announcement is scheduled to be made Tuesday night by Helen Burstyn, on the eve of the second anniversary of her husband's death Dec. 14, 2009. He was 54.
Although details have not been fully worked out, it's likely that several organizations will underwrite the costs of the new centre, including the Boston Consulting Group, where Mr. Pecaut had been a senior partner, The Ontario Trillium Foundation and MaRS.
Social enterprise can be defined as entrepreneurship that pays a dividend to society, either by tackling problems – the Task Force on Modernizing Income Security for Working-Age Adults that Mr. Pecaut co-founded looked at flaws in the assistance to people with low incomes – or by building on strengths, as in the case of Luminato.
"The centre will be based very much on the work that David did in the for-profit and not-for profit [sectors]operating as social enterprises," said Ms. Burstyn, former chair of the Trillium Foundation and currently co-chair of the Ontario government's Partnership Project.
The dynamic Mr. Pecaut was instrumental in launching several innovative social programs, including Career Edge, an internship program for young graduates, and he was the driving force behind CivicAction, the not-for-profit organization formed to address challenges to the Toronto region's social and economic future.
"All of his accolades as a visionary and an activist really relate to his volunteer work as a social entrepreneur," Ms. Burstyn said. "We hope to bottle and capture that spirit."
Ms. Burstyn said the new centre, expected to open next spring somewhere within the MaRS Discovery District, will focus in two areas: a talent hub to help build, via fellowships and mentorships, the next generation of entrepreneurs; and a knowledge hub, to measure how various programs deliver returns on social investment.
"We know anecdotally that such programs are making an impact," said Ms. Burstyn. "But we want to put more discipline around that."
Ms. Burstyn said discussions about the new centre, which began a few months ago, had focused on ways to build on the social enterprise work that MaRS is already doing. "We don't want to duplicate anything that is already there or trample on space already occupied."
Allyson Hewitt, director of Social Entrepreneurship at MaRS, said the new centre would leverage off her organization's current activities, using the expertise of groups like Boston Consulting to develop social impact metrics: the measured benefits of programs – jobs created, tourism dollars generated – versus the costs.
"It's sort of the next level up from the work that we are doing," she said.
No cost figures for the centre have been announced. For the moment, says Ms. Burstyn, "everyone is contributing resources in kind to get this off the ground."
If Mr. Pecaut were still alive, she said, "he'd probably say you have to work faster and do more. David was always very ambitious, very impatient for good things to happen."
As a general principle, however, she said the centre will "start small and go a little slow and make sure we get it right."