WOSEN: Disrupting traditional entrepreneurship through equity and inclusivity

Why is WOSEN important?

The challenges facing women entrepreneurs in Canada are well-documented, from access to capital to structural and institutional limitations. Key among these challenges is access to the right entrepreneurial ecosystem supports. In Ontario, less than half (44.4 per cent) of small business and innovation organizations consider gender and diversity when recruiting new enterprises or clients, and only 6.8 per cent offer women-specific programming. An even slimmer 4.3 per cent of organizations specifically serve women entrepreneurs.

What are WOSEN’s core programs?

WOSEN has a wide range of programs that are designed to address the gaps in the current entrepreneur support ecosystem. In addition to supporting women-led and women-serving ventures, WOSEN provides the different stakeholders within the ecosystem — advisors, mentors, funders, investors — with the tools and knowledge necessary to create a more just and inclusive economy. The WOSEN programs include:

  1. The GROW program is for social entrepreneurs looking to take their business to the next level. Social entrepreneurs at the GROW stage have a validated business idea and are looking to refine their business model and strategy in order to achieve their next enterprise milestone.
  2. The RESILIENCE program is a responsive online program that provides social entrepreneurs with the support and resources necessary to adapt their business and strategy to our new reality in the pandemic.
  • Social Enterprise Ecosystem Developers (SEED): A convening of coaches, advisors, and community leaders to develop key competencies and learn how to respond to the needs of social entrepreneurs and innovators using an inclusive lens. The program includes a combination of training, online resources, and peer learning to help ecosystem developers learn socially innovative frameworks and support the community.
  • Funder Pair: Following the learnings and feedback from the pilot program in 2021, WOSEN launched its Funder Pair program in January 2022. This program creates a space for social entrepreneurs and social capital providers to engage and create human connections outside of the fundraising relationship. By engaging in conversation on equal standing, Funder Paid hopes to facilitate knowledge sharing and discussions that will help both parties contribute to ecosystem change.
  • Finding Funding & Investing for Impact programs: As a member of the ecosystem, WOSEN leverages its network to help social entrepreneurs find and access available capital through a variety of programs offered from various organizations including SVX, VERGE Capital, Ontario Catapult Microloan Fund, and more. At the same time, WOSEN mobilizes a network of social capital providers interested in supporting women-led enterprises and connects them to investment ready women-led ventures.
Testimony of a program participant from Pillar Non Profit

How is WOSEN creating systems change?

WOSEN is creating systems change through design principles, which are integrated into every program and service offered. By taking the time to facilitate open communication and understand the persons, communities, and system WOSEN serves, WOSEN aims to address the root causes of the systemic barriers that exist for women-led and women-serving ventures. By intentionally designing programs that follow these design principles WOSEN is fundamentally altering the structures and systems in place to create a more inclusive and equitable economy.

Inclusive & Accessible

Empowering all participants through respect, fair treatment, and equal access by considering each participant’s lived experiences and barriers to inclusion when designing programs and selecting participants.

Responsive

Design programs to meet people where they are by engaging in two-way communication and facilitating feedback to adapt programs and meet the needs of participants. WOSEN seeks feedback and input from participants to continuously iterate its programs.

Human-Centered

Understanding the emotional, physical and spiritual needs of the persons and communities we are looking to serve to create a space where everyone can be seen as their whole selves. By carving a space for empathy, WOSEN programs prioritize the experience over the tasks.

Systems-Informed

Integrating systems-thinking, systems mapping, and systems navigation to acknowledge WOSEN’s place within the systems and understand the barriers and influences affecting the system. This broader view allows WOSEN to thoughtfully design programs that can create systems change.

Decolonized

Acknowledging WOSEN’s place in the colonial system and the history of social entrepreneurship in indigenous communities and communities of color to create a space for knowledge sharing and decenter where knowledge is held. WOSEN creates a space for conversation and knowledge sharing surrounding decolonization in its programs.

Anti-Oppressive

Recognize the oppressions that exist in our society at all levels, attempting to mitigate their effects, and working to equalize the power imbalance in our communities by challenging systemic oppression and helping the WOSEN network navigate allyship and complex conversations. WOSEN integrates programming on power and privilege into its programs to recognize and challenge oppression.

Ecosystem Approach

Understanding the entrepreneurship ecosystem and its barriers to foster meaningful relationships, building an ecosystem of support for all entrepreneurs of systematically oppressed communities. Helping entrepreneurs understand their part in a larger movement against the inequities of the ecosystem.

WOSEN’s Design Principles from Pillar Non Profit

What are some of WOSEN’s success stories to date?

A Friendlier Company

A Friendlier Company (AFC) is a Guelph-based, women-led venture that aims to make the take-out food industry more environmentally friendly by replacing single-use containers with sustainable, reusable alternatives. The venture was started during the pandemic and has since raised $500,000 in pre-seed funding. Since its inception, AFC has successfully diverted 4,600 lbs of waste from landfills.

Foodpreneur

Foodpreneur is the only Canadian, Black-woman founded and led non-profit with a mission to advance racial and gender equality within the Canadian food industry. Foodpreneur aims to help food entrepreneurs from underserved communities realize their small, large, short-term and long-term business goals by closing knowledge and access gaps through its start-up and scale-up programs.

Troop

Troop is a platform that bridges the gap between local community needs and local businesses hoping to give back. Its mission is to create stronger and more connected communities by supporting local initiatives through empowering businesses to contribute. Every month employees receive a list of current community needs and can vote on what initiative the business’ contribution and support will go to.

What’s next for WOSEN?

WOSEN will continue to iterate and create programs that focus on creating systems change by applying its design principles. These programs will focus on supporting changemakers to create a more inclusive and flourishing economy. Be sure to check out the WOSEN website for more details on upcoming programming.

Photo by Valentina Conde on Unsplash

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SVX

SVX is financial services firm & impact investing platform connecting ventures, funds, and investors to catalyze investment capital for impact. #ImpInv #SocEnt