The Economic Integration of Equity-Denied Groups

*Equity-Denied Groups (EDGs): women, BIPOC and other racialized groups, people with disabilities, LGBTQ2S+ communities, & Youth.


Centering Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (JEDDI) in Business Conversion means centering the communities who have historically been denied these very values. 

This page highlights the economic and labour experiences of specific EDGs, and some successes these groups have achieved through Social Purpose and Social Enterprise models. EDGs span many identity categories, each with unique lived experiences, including barriers and successes related to workplaces, education, entrepreneurship, and various other social and economic spaces. Their experiences highlight the need for continued reform in these spaces. 

EDG communities may feel more socio-cultural resonance with Social Purpose Organizations than with traditional business models, as the SPO model is founded on a variety of existing economic practices that have historically been leveraged by many different equity-denied communities.



BIPOC & Other Racialized Groups

People With Disabilities




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Across Canada, women continue to encounter issues of representation, gender equity, and accommodation in workplaces. 

Many Social Purpose Organizations provide childcare, flexible working conditions and other supports for better work-life balance for women. More than 60% of workers in the Social & Solidarity Economy worldwide are women, making these work environments more empowering and equitable.

At CWCF, we along with our partners have seen how the Social Purpose Organization (SPO) model and solidarity economics have helped women overcome not only workplace challenges, but also challenges in the home,  such as domestic violence and financial abuse. 

By reaching more women with the Social Enterprise message, we hope to inspire female power, and female autonomy over their employment and financial experiences.


→ Social Innovation Lab Pakistan: How Women are Uniquely Equipped as Social Entrepreneurs (3 min) 

→ DBS Singapore: 3 Women Winning at Social Entrepreneurship (4 min)

BIPOC and Other Racialized Groups

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Black, Indigenous, and other People of Colour have a history that is deeply rooted in SPOs (specifically co-operatives) and Solidarity Economics. 


Black History is Co-op History

Historically, the pre-colonial economic paradigms of African kingdoms were based on collective concepts, including:

  • Ubuntu, a Bantu term meaning “I am because we are”
  • Esusu, rotational community-based savings

These practices form the basis of what we now know as “co-operative economics” or “co-operatives”, and built many successful African empires which later attracted colonialists to the region. 

In North America, social enterprises and co-operatives are linked to African culture through the careful preservation of pre-colonial African economic values. 

  • Post trans-atlantic slave trade, the celebration of Kwanzaa was established in the United States in 1966 to commemorate African concepts of family, culture, and community. On the 4th day of Kwanzaa, the principle of “Ujamaa” is celebrated. This term is translated to “co-operative economics”, which to African-Americans (and other members of the diaspora who celebrate) signifies the ability to build their own businesses, control the economics of their community, and share in all its work and wealth. This closely parallels modern co-operative identity that is built on principles of worker-democracy, shared control, equality, and solidarity. 

  • Throughout Jim Crowe and other forms of anti-Black exclusion, the private practice of co-operatives enabled Black economic survival amongst laws aimed at the social and economic immobilization of African-Americans. 

Despite this history, Black-led and/or Black-serving SPOs are currently under-represented in the Social Economy and Co-operative sectors. Initiatives that directly support EDGs, such as the JEDDI Business Conversion project, are a vital means of challenging this dynamic.


→ Jessica Gordon Nembhard: Cooperative Economics and Civil Rights (15 min)

→ Twin Cities PBS: Discovering Black Cooperative Power (4 min)

→ PODCAST: Foundation for Intentional Community: Reviving the Black Cooperative & Intentional Community Movement Panel (with perspectives from the Caribbean and the U.S)



Indigenous Social Economics

In Canadian Indigenous communities, Solidarity Economics and Social Purpose are inseparable from socio-cultural values. Due to a natural cultural affinity towards interconnectivity and mutual aid, Indigenous-led businesses are well suited to become Social Purpose Organizations. 

Indigenous Co-operatives

Many Indigenous organizations and enterprises embody key characteristics of co-operatives, but are not formally registered with Canadian federal or provincial governments as such. Artist collectives, drumming and singing groups, and several band-owned organizations exhibit group-based ownership and operational models comparable to co-operatives. 

Although formal co-operatives were used by European settlers as a means of colonization and control over land and resources, a new type of “co-operativism” has emerged in recent years that centers decolonization, community-autonomy, and the revitalization of Indigenous ways of being. 

Other Indigenous Social Enterprise Models

Along with co-ops, these models are used as a means of mitigating long-standing community issues stemming from governmental oppression, including low employment rates, loss of cultural knowledge, and food insecurity. 

Indigenous communities have been leveraging the practices of Social Purpose Organizations since pre-colonization, including the re-building of Indigenous autonomy and economic stability post-colonization. Deeper engagement of Indigenous leadership and expertise is key to fully leveraging the social and economic power of SPOs and SEs.


→ Indigenous Innovation Initiative: Indigenous Social Entrepreneurship (1 min)

AKI Energy, Aboriginal Social Enterprise (9 min)

→ WEBINAR, ICCM: Indigenous Rights and Inclusion in Co-operatives



Other Racialized Communities

Social Purpose Organizations and Social Enterprises have been embedded in the fabric of many cultures worldwide since the conception of ancient civilizations. 

In Canada, the Social Purpose Organization space is largely culturally monolithic. The integration of cultural EDGs is key to strengthening the Canadian SPO sector, and to embodying the principles of equity and inclusion that SPOs are positioned to achieve.

People With Disabilities

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People with disabilities (PWD) have experienced numerous forms of exclusion in traditional employment sectors. 

In addition to providing a sense of structure and routine, meaningful employment provides connection to a larger community and a source of stable income. Several Social Purpose Organizations (SPOs) both advocate for and provide employment to individuals who have disabilities, while providing a variety of products and services to patrons.

However, the quantity of such organizations is yet to meet the employment needs of people with disabilities, who still face lower overall rates of employment due to barriers such as stereotypes, lack of appropriate accommodation, and transportation challenges. These individuals are potential employees, owners, and advocates for Social Purpose Organizations, especially as business closures and labour shortages increase.

SPOs that employ people with disabilities are leaders in embodying the values of justice, equity, diversity and inclusion, which most SPOs and Social Enterprises strive for. Due to their underlying values and modes of governance, SPOs are well positioned as inclusive work environments that facilitate employment for groups with disabilities. 


OneLight Firestarters Social Enterprise (1 min) 

→ SAAAC Autism Centre: Goodness Gifts (30 sec)


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The destruction and oppression of Queer communities, including their businesses, has been a global issue for centuries. Although many North American and European countries have made progress in bridging the gap between the economic rights of Queer groups and that of straight, cis-gendered individuals, the effects of the oppression of Queer communities are still strongly felt in North America and around the world, including on an economic level. 

In an effort to catalyze socio-economic improvement, many grassroots activists have begun using new strategies to initiate economic opportunities for LGBTQ2S+ individuals, many of which demonstrate strong characteristics of Social Purpose Organizations and Social Enterprises. 

In much of the Global South, Queer individuals are systematically excluded from mainstream economies, so most work in informal economies such as sex work or street performance. Alternative models of income generation have rapidly become the order of the day.

In North America, LGBTQ2S+ individuals experience increased loss of employment, reduction of work hours, and food insecurity before and during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Some Social Purpose Organizations (SPOs) have spearheaded the work of integrating more members of LGBTQ2S+ groups into the solidarity economy and social purpose movements.

Overall, LGBTQ2S+ communities are still underrepresented in the Canadian SPO sector, and there is still much work to be done to build a social economy that reflects the value and lived experience of Queer individuals.


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Youth are a particularly important group to engage in Social Purpose Organizations. They are largely considered as more open to alternative economic practices than older individuals, and are instrumental in effecting lasting change. Youth are also increasingly more aware of the adverse socio-economic and cultural impacts colonial power structures have maintained, and tend to be more active in social justice movements than older adults. Despite this wealth of potential, there is a general lack of awareness about SPOs and solidarity economics among Youth, as historically most post secondary institutions have not offered programs on this topic. 

Youth-led SPOs can contribute to solving social and environmental dilemmas while providing youth employment opportunities. As youth (especially those who belong to equity-denied groups) face disproportionate barriers to employment due to age and appearance related stereotypes, youth-led and/or youth-serving SPOs can help to bridge the gap between Equity-Denied Youth and sustainable employment. In Canada and around the world, policy makers have noted the transformative power of youth-led or serving SPOs.

At CWCF, we recognize that to fully mobilize this power, we must involve the perspectives and lived experiences of youth. Through the JEDDI Business Conversion Project, and our CreateAction Youth internship opportunity, we hope to prepare more youth to be true champions of social purpose.

Videos & Resources

 Vice News: Have you ever wanted to drop out of capitalism? (7 min)

→ OECD: Unlocking the power of Youth-led social enterprises (2 min) 

Slow Food: What is Indigenous Social Entrepreneurship by Indigenous Youth Leaders (5 min)

→ PODCAST: OECD – Young and yern? You need to start a social enterprise

Youth Ottawa: Listing of youth-led social enterprises

CWCF’s JEDDI Business Conversions Project is funded by the Government of Canada’s Investment Readiness Program