How WOSEN is Designing Inclusive Entrepreneurship

This month marks one year since CSI launched its first WOSEN program. As we celebrate Canadian Innovation Week (and move “from isolation to inclusion”), there’s no better time to take a look back at what a year of designing inclusive entrepreneurship means. 

The Women of Ontario Social Enterprise Network (WOSEN) works to unleash the entrepreneurial energy and capacity of women and gender non-binary entrepreneurs who have solutions that put people and the planet first. Together, WOSEN is redesigning how business supports are provided so these entrepreneurs can build skills that match their potential and help them succeed. 

Thank goodness because it’s clear the system needs a redesign. As we find ourselves in the midst of a “she-cession,” women are the majority owners of only 15.6% of Small Medium Enterprises in Canada. And the hits don’t stop there: only 2.3% of (US) venture capital funding went to women-led startups last year. As for gender non-binary entrepreneurs, the difficulty of finding relevant statistics is probably proof enough that support is vital and the current system needs to change. WOSEN intends to do just that. 

Designing for Inclusion Looks Like….

WOSEN programs launched across Ontario in the summer of 2020 to support women-identified and gender non-binary entrepreneurs from underserved and underrepresented communities. This includes Indigenous women, women in rural or remote regions, racialized women, newcomer women, LGBTQ2+, women with disabilities, and those who identify as gender non-binary. 

So far, CSI’s programs have supported 85 founders in taking the next steps for their social venture, including supporting over $2.5 million in grant submissions. Altogether, the WOSEN partners have supported 236 founders from across Ontario. 

Support at Every Stage 

From ideation to acceleration to investment, CSI launched three recurring programs designed to support individuals at every stage of their venture.

Three women posing for photo (one of them WOSEN program manager, Mitalie)WOSEN Start is a nine-week online ideation program designed to help fifteen early-stage women and gender non-binary entrepreneurs move from idea to action. Our WOSEN Senior Program Manager, Mitalie Makhani, and Social Entrepreneurship Lead Facilitator, Peggy Sue Deaven, co-facilitate the program through hands-on coaching, weekly workshops and peer-led support sessions, often supporting individuals who may never have considered themselves entrepreneurs before. One graduate of our Fall cohort had this to say about the program: 

 “The CSI Start program is more than a course on how to start a business. It is a holistic, values-based approach to social entrepreneurship that centres the participants’ interests and needs. Through it, I have been able to refine my business idea and learn how to communicate it effectively to others. But most importantly, the program has helped me develop a personal guiding principle that will extend beyond this particular business idea to influence all major decisions in my life.” 

Last summer, in response to COVID-19, Mitalie, alongside WOSEN partners, developed and led WOSEN Resilience, a program designed to help underrepresented and underserved entrepreneurs weather the pandemic. This, in addition to our Investment Readiness Supports program, provided WOSEN participant, Kelly Emery, with the support she needed to prepare for upcoming funding and grant opportunities. Last week, Kelly’s tech startup, Troop, closed its pre-seed round of funding at $300K. We are so proud! 

Looking ahead, WOSEN Grow is a three-month program starting September 2021. The program is designed to support women and gender non-binary entrepreneurs at the validation stage of their social enterprise through one-on-one coaching, learning sessions and more. If you’re interested, sign up to be notified as soon as applications open. 


Building Trust 

Photo of Jo Reynolds, Social Innovation Specialist “We want women and gender non-binary folks from all different backgrounds to bring their business ideas to reality to create good jobs and make meaningful change in their communities,” Jo emphasizes. “That is why the WOSEN collaborative is disrupting how entrepreneurial programs are designed and offered.”   

One way WOSEN redesigns entrepreneurship programming is through their outreach. Mitalie prioritizes relational ways of working, reaching out to communities outside of conventional sector channels and building trust through conversation. As WOSEN participant, Kelly Emery explains, At the beginning, even the smallest ounce of support can be the catalyst for success. For me, it was the phone call with Mitalie, when she told me about the WOSEN program. There I met a mentor, which led to an introduction to someone who would become an advisor, and from there, the first investment cheque.”

Mitalie does this, in part, by following the WOSEN collective’s eight design principles. All outreach, programming and facilitation is designed to be inclusive and accessible, anti-oppressive, decolonized, human-centred, responsive, systems-informed, and to take an ecosystem approach.

Reflecting on these design principles, Jo says “On a personal level, I can feel a shift happening when deep inclusion is intentional. At times it feels like a huge relief to recognize and reflect on ways we can change; and at other times, seeing my own blinds spots can be jarring. Over this year, our collective has done a lot of inner work that we see as fundamental to how we are all needed to break down barriers and make way for people to meet their potential.”

That inner work will soon result in large-scale change: WOSEN recently received three years of Innoweave funding to support bringing WOSEN’s Inclusive Program Design into the economic development ecosystem. 

Taking a Network Approach 

WOSEN is a joint initiative between CSI, Pillar Nonprofit Network, SVX, and the NORDIK Institute, with Lean 4 Flourishing supporting content design. The initiative was made possible through the Women’s Entrepreneurship Strategy. And while the term “women” shows up in its name, the collective sought to expand the initiative to include gender non-binary entrepreneurs. 

What is the value of a network? Jo explains, “Taking a network approach means we can access the resources and know-how of our partners. We bring  talented business coaches, impact investors, and many skilled professionals from across our partner relationships to meet entrepreneurs where they are at.” 

What’s Next? 

By the end of 2021, CSI’s WOSEN will have worked with over 200 founders through the Start, Grow, and Investment Readiness Supports programs. 

Jo elaborates, “We will have run Women in Innovation series in communities across Ontario specific to women in rural, and urban settings. We will have offered digital support services, grant and presentation writing services, investment readiness, and individualized coaching. As well, we will have launched our Inclusive Design Knowledge Products, and new entrepreneurial tools that we hope will help to change how entrepreneurial supports are offered.” 

We can’t wait to see it happen.

How 2020 Transformed Social Entrepreneurship 101

People are waking up to social entrepreneurship. Our collective crises continue to reveal the failings and fault lines of ‘business as usual.’ In this liminal space, individuals are forging new paths, prioritizing people and planet, as well as their bottom line. 

At CSI, we saw this influx firsthand. When the world shut down and our lives went online, individuals from different corners of the globe signed up in droves for Social Entrepreneurship 101 (SE 101), CSI’s eight-week course on social entrepreneurship. Why? As one SE 101 participant, Michael Szego, emphasizes “social entrepreneurs are going to be essential to help author a new social contract and reset the economy. […] SE 101 is a great place to start.” 

So, what happened? We checked in with our Social Enterpreneurship 101 Program Lead and Facilitator, Peggy Sue Deaven, to find out how 2020 transformed the program and what’s next for social entrepreneurship at CSI. 

What is Social Entrepreneurship 101? 

SE 101 is an eight-week, part-time online program that covers the foundations of social entrepreneurship, from making sure you’ve identified the right problem, to developing a solution, to turning your idea into a sustainable business model. As the world looks to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic, there’s no better time for the entrepreneurially-minded to step up to address pressing social and environmental challenges, and to develop the skills needed to succeed. That’s where Social Entrepreneurship 101 comes in. 

You don’t have to consider yourself an experienced entrepreneur or really, an entrepreneur at all, to sign up. In fact, that’s kind of the point. The program is for anyone who sees a problem or need in the world, wants to take action, and is asking themselves: 

  • How do I do that? 
  • How do I turn my idea into a social enterprise? 
  • Or even, what is social entrepreneurship?

The program was developed in partnership with Lean4Flourishing (a group of experienced social entrepreneurs, coaches, facilitators, and educators) and based on the learnings of over a decade of training social enterprises.

As we saw in 2020, it’s also an amazing way to build community. SE 101 alumnus, Mateo Tobar, put it best: “This course allowed me to understand how to transform ideas into feasible projects. I would recommend this course to any person that is looking to build connections […] and share their ideas with others. This course was one of my highlights of the year 2020 amidst the COVID-19 pandemic! This was an opportunity for me to get outside of Ecuador and learn with an international cohort from my house.”

What happened in 2020? 

Peggy Sue reflects back on the year: “So much about 2020 revolved around loss, and rightly so. However, last year, I also experienced the joy of discovery and creation as 125 strangers came together onto a digital platform to actively collaborate, vulnerably converse, and share ideas of how to make the world a better place with social entrepreneurship pursuits.” 

The initial move online left many of us with a lot of questions. Namely, how will we foster a sense of community from a distance? What will programming look like? Will people show up? While working online isn’t always easy, our SE 101 cohorts proved we didn’t need to worry. As Peggy Sue explains, people not only showed up, they dug deep: 

“The needs for community were so strong that it compelled participants to dig deeper, share more boldly, and imagine in a more innovative way. In 2020, the SE 101 course more than doubled in it’s offering size and reached an international audience that even extended beyond North America. As important and necessary as social change is, it does not happen in a vacuum, nor does it thrive in the dark. I witnessed BIG, bold dialogues about race, homelessness, prejudice, financial and social wealth, and mental health. The participants of SE 101 are some of the most fearless and courageous change-makers I had the privilege to facilitate.”

As we’ve seen, crises can become a catalyst for change. Many people who never considered themselves social entrepreneurs before, signed up for the program. Their reasons? When the pandemic forced many people out of work, they took a hard look at their life and realized they desired something more. Or, unable to look away, long-standing systemic inequities motivated individuals to reconsider their role in society. Social Entrepreneurship 101 is the perfect place to hone and direct that reinvigorated sense of purpose. 

Sensing an urgent interest in social entrepreneurship across Canada, CSI’s Social Innovation Specialist, Jo Reynolds, reached out to the Kingston Economic Development Corporation to see if they would be interested in offering the program. The call expanded. The SE 101 program has now been developed and run by the Small Business Economic Development Centres of Markham, Richmond Hill, and Vaughan. We can’t wait to see where SE 101 lives next! 

What are people saying about SE 101? 

Siddan Chandra from Toronto says: 

Social Entrepreneurship 101 has laid the groundwork for ongoing self development in an optimistic and promising realm. It has helped me begin to build the muscle of financial thinking and offered a vocabulary that honours both my values and my needs. 

Ashley Goff from Edmonton reflects: 

SE 101 strikes a thoughtful balance between the ‘whys’ and ‘hows’ of social entrepreneurship. The deep knowledge of the facilitator and the thoughtful support and engagement with the other participants was invaluable. I highly recommend it to anyone interested in social entrepreneurship.

Tim O’Hara from Kingston says: 

Amazing course that allows all users to feel supported and comfortable sharing and encourages individual and group learning of self and business. You are thoroughly guided along a well lit path and emerge a stronger and more confident entrepreneur on the other side. Complete with resources and learning tools and a network of like-minded business people that become friends. 

What’s Next? The Future of SE 101 

With that, the program is growing! Building on last year’s momentum, Social Entrepreneurship 101 is running six times in 2021, more than doubling the size of 2020’s offering. Continuing online, CSI’s program is expanding its reach across the globe, while also being replicated by social enterprise partners in other regions across Ontario. That means more people are identifying needs AND stepping up to spearhead solutions. SE 101 is one way we are building the Next Economy together. 

Want to learn the fundamentals of social entrepreneurship?

Registration for the June-July 2021 cohort is now open and will close May 30th.

Five fully-funded scholarships are available (thanks to Alterna Savings!). Apply by May 23rd to be considered for a scholarship. Head here for more program information.

Are you interested in offering SE 101 in your community?                                                                               

Reach out to Peggy Sue at

We’re All In This Together: The WOSEN Program

At CSI we believe in the synergies of connection, the explosive potential of partnerships, and the transformative power of movements. We see them happening every day with collaborators across Ontario and Indigenous regions.

We see them in one of our newest programs, Women of Ontario Social Enterprise Network (WOSEN), a provincial partnership which is part of the Federal Government’s Women Entrepreneurship Strategy. We are building strong connections with our partners in the project, Pillar Nonprofit Network, NORDIK Institute, SVX, Lean4Flourishing, Eve-Volution Inc., and The Social Enterprise Institute. It’s so exciting to be co-designing this work together – we can feel the sparks across our Zoom video calls each week!

Jo Reynold, CSI’s Social Innovation Specialist, says, “It just makes sense to work in collaboration with other social enterprise organizations. Together we share our practices, connect entrepreneurs, and better understand our impact. WOSEN is a model for how social enterprise services can be offered to better meet people where they are at.”

The story of WOSEN emerges out of trust built from past working relationships with the O.N.E. Social Enterprise Partnership, and beyond. Within those relationships we saw our potential to really shift how entrepreneurial supports are designed in order to unlock the potential of diverse womxn social entrepreneurs. The network allowed us to co-design, evaluate, and share knowledge that provided an emerging innovation eco-system with shared practices to us all meet our potential. 

The WOSEN project aims to support 150 new and 75 existing women-led social enterprises, offers ten women-centered innovation learning courses to 250 people, training for 35 business coaches and connections to investment opportunities through the Women Impact Investor Network.

In 2020 CSI will be offering three WOSEN programs: two Start programs and one Grow accelerator. Our Start program is geared for women who have not necessarily seen themselves as entrepreneurs but are interested in learning more and gaining entrepreneurial competencies along the way. Grow, on the other hand, is designed to support women who have already gained initial traction with their social purpose businesses. These women will receive increased support through coaching, networking, and peer-support in order to take their business to the next level. 

Prior to the launch of CSI’s WOSEN programs in May 2020 we conducted casual, one-on-one discovery chats with folks interested in applying to the program. These chats allowed us to listen to a diverse array of women from our surrounding communities to understand their ambitions and assess the barriers they face, taking into account the support systems that they require to achieve their goals. As a result, we are including things like child care services on site during workshop programming to support participants that have children. 

With women in mind, we are designing our programs around these needs to create a safe and supportive environment for women to learn, thrive and grow not only with their social enterprises but in their own personal development as a social entrepreneur. 

Our programming takes a more human centred approach and will encompass the following design principles at its core: inclusive & accessible, systems informed, decolonized, responsive to the needs of women, and incorporate an ecosystem approach.

“There is so much value created when we meaningfully integrate and practice the WOSEN design principles everyday. I love it when participants feel empowered to share their program engagement feedback to help us re-shape programming in a way that is more effective for them,” says Senior Program Manager, Mitalie Makhani, “Being responsive is not always easy but, it’s all worth it once you see how much more it catalyzes a participant’s journey and the positive impact in their communities. That’s what drives me.”

“When there are people in your community who are suffering, that is also your suffering.” – Desmond Cole

Desmond Cole — who is a former CSI Community Animator — recently published the Skin We’re In: A Year of Black Resistance. The book chronicles just one year—2017—in the struggle against racism in this country.

When in Halifax for a launch event for his book, Cole spoke to the CBC about why he thinks things are not getting better:

People are desperate to hear that we are, and people are also angry that when Black people are asked that question that we don’t say, ‘Oh yeah well we’re not in chains anymore so things are better.’ If there’s such a small Black population in this country, why are so many of us in jail? Why are so many of us being apprehended? Child apprehensions in Black communities in Toronto are going up. We are almost 40 per cent of the new child welfare cases. That wasn’t the case a generation ago. Why is that happening?

Not everything is on this natural, as people believe, upward trajectory toward everybody being great and equal. And I think that that really bothers people because they think, I don’t have to work for it. I just have to live off the avails and the fumes of being a Canadian, and if time passes things will automatically get better. Not if we don’t fight for it.

Until all of us are free, none of us are. So when there are people in your community who are suffering, that is also your suffering. If there are people in your community who are afraid to call out for help when they need it because they don’t think that the help is going to come, that affects the health and safety of the entire community. When some people live in fear it makes other people live in fear.

So anti-Black racism might not affect everybody in this province directly. It might not affect everybody in the country directly, but it creates a set of circumstances where our well-being is tied to one another. And so I wrote this book primarily for Black people first and foremost to see ourselves and to see our stories, but justice is a collective enterprise. It’s for everybody.

Read the full interview here.

Are you looking for a way to be part of a conversation about 600 years of Black history in Canada? CSI member Michael Bolé is producing The Melanin Project, an art show celebrating over 600 thousand years of Black History. The event invites collaboration by combining dance, poetry, music, and food while celebrating black excellence a culture of kings, gods, goddesses, and queens.

2020 – The decade of opportunity for Regent Park

The Community Benefits movement has empowered our Regent Park community with the tools to negotiate benefits to ensure that the main purpose of economic development is to bring measurable, permanent improvements to the lives of affected residents, particularly those in low-income neighbourhoods and communities of colour.

That process was informed by a vision and local voices, like the voice of thirteen year old Livity Hussey. In her deputation to our elected representatives at City Hall, she reminded everyone in the room that our efforts and advocacy is an attempt to impact the lived experiences of kids in the future.

Livity understands that economic tools are necessary to hold all stakeholders accountable to the investments necessary to make Regent Park a livable community in a livable city.

The Regent Park Community Benefits Coalition is driven by the community benefits movement and is supported by stakeholders and led by Regent Park residents. The Coalition encourages all stakeholders in the public sector to play a more strategic role in land use planning and urban development, and to leverage economic development subsidies toward the creation of good jobs, affordable housing, and neighborhood services that improve the quality of life for all residents.

The Coalition was formed by the Regent Park Neighborhood Association comprised of Toronto Community Housing Corporation and condominium residents, with support from community organizations and the Toronto Community Benefits Network. The Coalition’s purpose is to improve the redevelopment Request for Proposal process for strong community benefits and increased transparency for Phases 4 & 5 by negotiating a Community Benefits Agreement. The Coalition is working with community stakeholders to create long-term opportunities for residents to generate both social and financial wealth in Regent Park. Through these efforts, the Coalition wants Toronto Community Housing Corporation and the developer partner to set up key infrastructure that will continue to support the community for years to come and the means to hold them accountable through a community benefits agreement.

The Regent Park Community Benefits Coalition has devised a list of community needs contained within the Community Priorities Report that was submitted to Toronto Community Housing Corporation on October 15th, 2019. The Report builds off best practices, existing community benefits projects in Toronto and City of Toronto policies such as the Poverty Reduction Strategy (2015), Social Procurement Program (2017), and Community Benefits Framework (2019). The Report speaks on behalf of resident voices and is filtered through many community consultations, Social Development Plan working group actions and Regent Park Neighborhood Association consultations.

TCHC will use best efforts to negotiate the community benefits needs as identified in the Report during the negotiation period. During evaluation of best and final offer process, TCHC will have regard to the Report when evaluating how the developer partner will support conversations around community priorities in accordance with the appropriate rated criteria. After the BAFO is evaluated and the top-rated development partner is identified, TCHC will ensure negotiations are conducted to maximize the delivery of the community needs set out in the community priorities report document

In July 2019, city council voted to adopt a Community Benefits Framework to “co-ordinate and maximize the social and economic impacts of community benefits initiatives when the city buys, builds or provides financial incentives for construction or remediation,” as stated in a staff report. Residents of Regent park spoke in favour of investments in Regent Park through the social development plan and funding the priorities identified in the community benefits agreement through the coordination of all levels of government.

Members of the Regent Park Community benefits coalition met with elected representatives MPP Suze Morrison and staff of Member of Parliament Bill Morneau in January 2020 to secure support to fund the priorities identified by the Regent Park Community, We want developers to set up key infrastructure that will support the community for years to come and those priorities should be clearly defined.

Our community deserves better from the development of important public land that was designated to provide accessible housing and services. We can not afford a city for the homeless and millionaires. Through community action and by joining the community benefits movement, you can help us address the root cause of senseless violence that honors Ahmed Yakot and build a future that Livity Hussey and future generations can be proud of. A livable city, not a city of just millionaires.

Learn more about the Regent Park Community Benefits movement here.

It has been thirteen years since the Regent Park Social Development Plan was approved by City Council, yet there have been no financial investments in the Social Development Plan. Sign this petition to call on Toronto’s Mayor and City Councillors to support the call from community members to fund the SDP through the 2020 Budget process.

It is time for racial justice in maternal health care

Important conversations are finally happening in mainstream media about racial inequality in maternal health care. Several recent stories show that Black women in particular (including Serena Williams and Beyoncé) are at much higher risk of complications in childbirth.

Following the death of Kira Johnson, we reached out to get local context from Mommy Monitor founder Elsie Amoako. Mommy Monitor is a maternal health app+service that customizes care by organizing maternal health care services for women individually, through a combination of behavioral analysis, patient navigation, predictive analysis and case management. 

Recent data out of the United States showed that Black women are six times more likely to die from pregnancy-related birth conditions as white women. How does Canada compare?
We have do a very similar challenge in Canada, but we lack evidence that is focused on race to prove it. We have very limited studies that examine the experiences Black women have here, though there is some qualitative research from various academic papers. We are provided some evidence through the stories of women from the community. These stories demonstrate the inequities that are impacting the lives of African, Caribbean and Black (ACB) women, whether they are an immigrant or native born. There are common factors that are connected to the Black experience globally that increase the likelihood to have these same adverse outcomes, regardless of where we live.

Can you talk a bit about your Birth Justice Awareness series? What have been the best moments so far?
Our birth justice workshops began after I realized Black and racialized parents and parents-to-be to be did not have a safe space to share their experiences and ask questions. So we began focusing on engaging the communities and the parents and finding out what they wanted to know or understand about the pregnancy journey and providing them that information. The best moments thus far are just seeing the parents during the hour of the class that they share their own experiences and comfort one another. It feels good to see that they have a space to let go of some of the pain they have been carrying for years sometimes.

What is your biggest hope for Mommy Monitor? What does the world look like if all those hopes come true?
I would like for Mommy Monitor to become a global maternal health option that will provide governments and health care institutions with a cost effective way to provide care to those who need it. If this happens, I think we have the opportunity to revolutionize maternal health care and outcomes globally.

How has being a CSI member impacted your work so far?
CSI is an amazing family that is constantly patient and supportive of all of the work that we do without question. I always meet people who want to help me and Mommy Monitor and I always know someone will answer if I ask for help. This is extremely comforting.

How can CSI members (or anyone!) get involved in Mommy Monitor’s work?
We are a new start-up so we are always looking for individuals with more senior experience in technology or business to provide insight that may help us. In addition to any support for funding opportunities, people can follow us on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter. Spread the word about (and attend) our birth justice workshops and our Racialized Maternal Health Conference.

BONUS QUESTION. I know your work keeps you extremely busy. What is your favourite song to start your morning with when you need to get 100 things done in a day?
I don’t listen to music when I wake up immediately- I usually just check emails. But the one song that has been influencing me to work harder and not give up is “Never Enough” by Loren Allred. I do not listen to it a lot (I probably listen to more Cardi B lol) but- that song always inspires me and as soon as I am done listening to it I always feel like I can take over the world.

Do you have a desire to take over the world? Let CSI help! Become a member today!