“We romanticize the rust of aging systems, paint the exterior of collapsing buildings that house who we thought we were because it’s what we know – because it may serve us even, because demolition is destruction and destruction seems destructive. We forget the first step in constructing anything is to destroy what’s not working.” – Timaj Gerad
When you think about the type of support that social entrepreneurs need to start and sustain a successful business, what comes to mind? Immediate thoughts may include business consulting, coaching or access to financing. While these are all areas where many entrepreneurs need help, they’re also areas where women* entrepreneurs, especially those from equity seeking groups, struggle to access support.
* When we refer to "women entrepreneurs" this includes ALL women. WOSEN recognizes the vast spectrum of gender diversity and as such programming is also inclusive of Two-Spirit, non-binary and genderqueer individuals. Admittedly, our learning of inclusive language continues to evolve.
The reason for these inequities stem from the larger systems of colonial capitalism, patriarchy and white supremacy that are set up to serve white, cis males and don’t consider the needs or value the experiences of others outside this group. Additionally, the accepted elevation of profit and progress as more important than human and planet wellbeing, the fear of something different and loss of power, the convenience of the status quo, and general lack of knowledge or recognition that these issues exist mean many don’t question or challenge the way things are.
These are wicked problems to unravel, but ones that must be addressed for our collective prosperity, wellness and survival as we rebuild post-COVID. To work towards re-imagining the economy for shared prosperity, the Women of Ontario Social Enterprise Network (WOSEN) offers supports both directly to women entrepreneurs and to coaches, advisors and community leaders in the social enterprise entrepreneurial support ecosystem. WOSEN’s Social Enterprise Ecosystem Developers (SEED) program helps these coaches expand their knowledge of the current economic system, build awareness of the barriers perpetuated by that system and inspire alternative approaches to support.
SEED can be compared to a liberal arts education where participants are exposed to concepts like the history of colonialism and capitalism, the need for changes in power dynamics and the importance of centring equity and identity for systems change. The program also focuses on the importance of developing self-reflective practices that allow participants to examine their identities and roles within oppressive systems and emphasizes the importance of building authentic relationships to strengthen learning and future collaboration.
Cultivating these ways of knowing is critical in order to create the internal change that compels people to mobilize for greater systemic change. Given the positional power held by this group of people, the hope is that the learning will create ripple effects within the communities that will influence decisions, processes and policies in order to create systems change and pivot toward a more equitable economy through empowering women entrepreneurs.
Understanding the unique power of art to move and inspire the interpreter, the WOSEN coaches worked with Storyteller, Performer, Arts Educator, and Creative Consultant, Timaj Garad to create a series of spoken word pieces encapsulating the content of each session, incorporating her own experiences. At the opening of each subsequent session, participants viewed the video from the previous session and were asked to reflect on what resonated with them and how it impacted them.
The poem below, Legacy, beautifully weaves together so many of the critical themes from the SEED program: how we must hold brave space values to collaborate productively, how we must embrace creative destruction to create new systems and approaches, the tension between old systems and new ideas, and perhaps most importantly, the concept of one’s personal legacy and responsibility to be a good ancestor for future generations.
We invite you to watch Timaj’s video and to intentionally listen while considering the following:
What stands out for you? i.e. words, phrases, imagery, tone
What do you feel when you listen?
What surfaces for you when you hear the line, “Legacy lives both within us and beyond us at once”?
Thanks to the reflective and relational approach of the program, SEED facilitators have heard first-hand from their students that the curriculum and learning environment shifts perspectives and behaviours and compels folks to create change in a heartful, human-centred way. One program participant shared how the program has deeply transformed their personal and professional paradigms.
“The lens with which I view relationships, actions (or inactions) as well as program design has changed greatly. Previously, I would have a more hard-line stance centred in (perceived) fair competition, personal drive and achievement as a basis for inclusion,” they said. “Now, understanding the framework of historical and systematic oppression of many segments of society, I understand that thought process has to change and why.”
The teachings from this program can and should be applied outside of the social enterprise and entrepreneurial support ecosystem. Understanding systems of oppression and their effects, collective learning, meaningful relationships, critical self-reflection, consideration of future generations and centring equity are important lessons for us all, especially those engaged in social purpose work. With this framework, we collectively reimagine what an equitable and inclusive economy, and future, can be.
For further reading on WOSEN read about the program Design Principles and visit wosen.pillarnonprofit.ca. In the spirit of shared learning, if you found this article helpful, please share it with a friend within the entrepreneurial ecosystem.