The B Corp movement has been in the spotlight lately as it quickly gains momentum worldwide, and in the province. Social enterprises and companies built on a foundation of social responsibility are becoming more and more common as more consumers begin to demand ethical behavior from corporations.
Nicole Helwig, Manager at the Memorial University Centre for Social Enterprise, and Carolyn Wakeham, Senior Account Manager at BDC, helped us answer some key questions about B Corp. They discuss how the movement is present in Newfoundland and Labrador as well as what the future of B Corp looks like in the province.
BDC was the first financial institution in Canada to certify as a B Corp. BDC was eligible because they serve a purpose larger than money — they are the only bank exclusively dedicated to entrepreneurs.
What is B Corp?
So what exactly is a B Corp? As defined B Corps’s website, “B Corps are for-profit companies certified by the non-profit B Lab to meet rigorous standards of social and environmental performance, accountability and transparency.” A digestible comparison that is often made is that “B Corp is to business what fair trade certification is to coffee”.
Nicole Helwig explains that “B Corp falls on the spectrum of traditional profit maximizing companies and charities that are traditionally volunteer and donation run. It focuses on the bigger picture: global sustainability.”
The companies are still for profit but social responsibility isn’t limited to a department or foundation that accepts donations. This follows the triple bottom line way of thinking ̶; meaning that a company’s values people, profit and planet equally, and holds itself accountable to social, economic and environmental matters. B Corp is different than the traditional Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) because it exists in all aspects of the business.
I asked both Nicole and Carolyn for their thoughts on all things B Corp. Their responses provide insight on how the B Corp movement is influencing the world around us today, and how it will change our world going forward.
What does the B Corp movement look like right now in Newfoundland and Labrador?
The movement in NL is on it’s way! Both Carolyn and Nicole are optimistic about how B Corps can affect the province in the future.
- Carolyn: “It’s beneath the surface but big! It’s a movement of mindset. There aren’t yet any certified B Corps here but there are LOTS of entrepreneurs who run their companies this way. I’ve met many who are attracted to and exploring it.”
- Nicole: “B Corp fits really well into the interest in social enterprise in the province right now. The conversations are happening and awareness has been raised. We’re waiting for the first one!”
What are some of the opportunities and challenges of B Corp?
Having the certification can present several opportunities, as our interviewees explain.
- Carolyn: “You join a group of people whose values you share and who seek to do business with each other. It gives you a brand identity that’s clearer and stronger than those of conventional companies. Social media LOVES it. And there’ll be a line-up of millennials outside your HR door.”
- Nicole: “It can be a tough provable to raise investment in the first place. So there is definitely room for awareness, outreach, discussion and development.” However, building a social mission into corporate governance metrics allows the social entrepreneur to see the support of more traditional venture capital funding. There is the ability to provide returns, just on a different schedule, or at a lower profit margin in exchange for supporting a social mission. In other parts of Canada, investors are starting to invest in patient capital, an investment philosophy akin to impact investing and it’s only a matter of time before we begin to see more of it in NL.
BDC has a positive outlook on the investment prospect of B Corps.
- Carolyn: “At BDC we see that B Corps are as robust and profitable as conventional companies and tend to be well managed — and so more attractive to investment dollars!”
Is B Corp right for a tech start-up?
B Corp is not limited to any sectors. Adjusting from the traditional business model is all about innovation.
- Nicole: “How can we do things differently, what kind of approaches can we bring?” Sounds a lot like the tech sector! “B Corp is a way to build a business model when you’re starting up.”
- Carolyn : “To certify, a company needs at least two years of operation and one year of revenues. I encourage all start-up tech companies that want to build a better world through their technology to use the assessment as guide when growing their company.”
What does the future of B Corp look like in NL?
The future is bright. As we wait for the first certification in the province, we see these conversations and positive steps happening in the community. Memorial University’s Faculty of Business Administration has just launched Canada’s first master of business administration in Social Enterprise and Entrepreneurship (MBA-SEE). This innovative approach to business education is part of the changing ecosystem in terms of capacity building, outreach and awareness.
Furthermore, the Government of Canada through the Department of Employment and Social Development Canada (ESDC) is currently developing a Social Innovation and Social Finance Strategy. As Nicole Helwig says: “This could include financing for social enterprise including those interested in certifying in B Corp in the tech sector. So stay tuned!”
By: Megan Dobbin | Community Engagement Coordinator