Hiring Students - Social Innovations in Ontario

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Social Innovations in Ontario: An analysis of self-help groups, cooperatives, diaspora businesses and social enterprises among African-Canadians and racialized people 

Lead principle investigator 
Dr. Caroline Shenaz Hossein, Associate Professor, York University 
chossein at yorku.ca

GTA (City of Toronto, Vaughan, Richmond Hill, Markham, Mississauga, Brampton, Oshawa), London and Ottawa 

Executive Summary

This research project examines the role of the social economy–comprised of community organizations and socially conscientious businesses that support societal well-being–among African Canadians and racialized people in the GTA, London and Oshawa. The project will document how racialized people, especially women, are excluded from economic development programs (e.g., those created to support Impact Ontario) and how people cope with exclusion by relying on local social economies. Empirical evidence derived through community-based research will be mobilized to influence policy discussions about how the province can more equitably support social innovation that benefits racialized minorities, and to develop narratives that demonstrate the economic ingenuity of marginalized people. This project will also shed light on small businesses owned by diaspora Canadians that are making a difference in society, and the role they play in the field of social economics. 

This project represents a significant advance in research on self-help groups, small businesses, cooperatives and social enterprises in Toronto, Oshawa, Richmond Hill and London - all locations that have sizable African-Canadian and immigrant communities. I have substantial non-academic work experience in the social enterprise sector for large bi-lateral and non-profit agencies which will assist me in the execution of this project. I feel that I am amply qualified both as an academic and former practitioner to move this project toward public policy outcomes. The central premise of the project is that long-overlooked self-help groups focused on the collective, reciprocity and community-based models (e.g. cooperatives, self-help groups and social enterprises) have socially innovative lessons in community economic development.


  1. To understand the factors that contribute to the engagement of African-Canadians and other racialized Canadians in the social economy (including the small business sector) in Ontario; 
  2. To determine what investments go into self-help groups, cooperatives, social enterprises and diaspora businesses to build assets and create access to finance for racially marginalized Ontarians; and 
  3. To build knowledge-sharing between cooperatives, self-help groups, social enterprises, diaspora small businesses and community experts, policy-makers and academics focused on the Black and racialized experience.

The proposed research in the GTA and London will deepen and expand the current empirical research into other Ontario communities, and will enable my research team to meet more African-Canadians to understand broadly how cooperatives, self-help groups, diaspora small businesses and social enterprises help these communities and individuals counteract business exclusion. Little is known about the African-Canadian experience in the social economy, and this is glaringly apparent in the low level of disbursement of funds towards social innovation projects occurring among Black Ontarians. To build a fair and equitable Ontario, research is needed to expand our knowledge about these institutions. Therein lies the main question: Can self-help groups, cooperatives, small diaspora-run businesses and social enterprises run by racially marginalized people make both the society and business sectors more inclusive? Scientists Pickett and Wilkinson (2011) seem to think that cooperatives and self-help groups build greater equality in societies. And Karl Polanyi (1944) found that a ‘double movement’ emerges when people oppose extreme forms of capitalism, and they will push for markets that are mindful of the social life. Having inclusive markets aligns with what the province wishes to do with its investments in the social enterprise sector, so the proposed research stands to be very instructive. And now that we know this how does the province spend its money to support such diverse community economies? 

The project will address this question by centring its analysis on the Black social economy – i.e. the part of the social economy that is grounded in the Black experience, and is deeply rooted in African traditions of collectivity, reciprocity and trust, which are intended to counteract their social and financial exclusion in Canada (Hossein 2018 forthcoming; 2016; 2014; 2013). I will investigate localized systems in the social economy sector–which are rooted in solidarity and cooperation to learn whether they have helped excluded Ontarians and how we as Canadians can benefit from these hidden forms of entrepreneurial activism and cooperation. The hidden forms of self-help, cooperation and social enterprises among racialized Ontarians is a reminder of the ways in which people who are excluded will work towards creating alternative spaces to live and work, and this is human capital that the province can benefit from. 

Strategic Value to Ontario

This research contributes to building an inclusive province that directly benefits Ontario's Innovation Agenda in the following five ways:

  1. Developing a comprehensive understanding of how provincial policies and practices contribute to systemic exclusion within racially marginalized communities is the foundational knowledge required for developing policies and programs that can strengthen thriving social economies (e.g. social enterprises, cooperatives, nonprofits);
  2. Documenting the social economy of African-Canadians through film is core to the project and may contribute to social cohesion and cultural benefits to the society;
  3. Embedding the research methodology within local communities (via community organizations and local assistants) creates a knowledge transfer between everyday people, activists and academics and this can inspire a new generation of researchers interested in economic innovations & self-help initiatives;
  4. Sharing empirical evidence on social exclusion, active social capital and the social economy with policy-makers and practitioners can better inform policies for inclusive economic programming of oppressed groups, and this has global implications; and
  5. Merging connections between academia and community so that young Ontarian researchers can critically engage in the political economy in ways that are socially-conscious and grounded in the lives of visible minorities and indigenous people will enhance Ontario’s academic reputation worldwide.

Job Description and Requirements

Hiring students this summer! 

DEADLINE 15th March 2018 – apply to chossein at yorku.ca

All students (Undergrads, graduate and community assistants) working on this project report to the principle investigator (PI) to this project, Dr. Caroline Hossein. Undergraduate students should be in the 3rd or 4th year of study. Must be ready to work independently. Should have strong writing and people skills. Able to travel and meet heads of organizations and businesses is required. 

All documents should be submitted in a timely fashion. Failure to produce work based on the target of 25 interviews will result in no payment (or very small fraction of pay). Student in applying should decide where they will research and which organizations they will interview and why. A time line of the work should be developed. Once hired, students will read over the documents related to the project. 

Period for work: April or May, ending by 31 July 2018. 

A list of the work required: 

  1. All student researchers will complete training in human ethics. 
  2. The primary work is to carry out a set of individual interviews based on the case study material required. An interview tool will be given to the student to use. One interview should be 40 mins based on the tool.
  3. Students will transcribe their interviews into the interview tool. 
  4. Targets: 20-25 interviews for this job. Guidance and meetings with professor to finalize the list is required. The number of interviews: 5 social enterprises; 5 cooperatives or credit unions; 5 nonprofits and 10 diaspora small businesses. All must be either led and focused on Black and racialized Canadians. This is a requirement. About 30 hours (or 10% of time) on actual interviews and 20 hours short-listing the 25 cases. 
  5. Some time must be reserved for travel and meeting with the professor. 
  6. Develop a detailed contact list in excel. 
  7. Students will write up the case study based on the template (5 pages detailed case and short two-page summary in MS Word). A bibliography must be listed at the end of the documents. The remaining time: entering the responses from tool into the e-version of interview tool and writing the long version of cases (and later a short summary of each case, after long version is approved). Two to three revisions will be expected. All cases will adhere to a template. 
  8. Additional library and on-line research is required to complete the case study. 

Undergraduate students only: Two or three undergraduates from York U will be hired from May, June and July. Ideally 3-months inclusively, averaging 20-35 hours/week. Students will cover different parts of the GTA to carry out this work. Preference will be given to students able to carry out research in this order: Vaughan, Oshawa, Markham, Brampton and Mississauga. York U’s undergraduate students must qualify under RAY and apply through the RAY program (Research at York). All materials will be submitted on-line through the RAY system by a certain date. This is a competitive process so please ensure all required documents are uploaded to the site. The pay will be between $15-18 per hour. See more at: sfs.yorku.ca/employment/apply 

Community-based researchers with at least ten years of full-time economic development experience can apply directly to the professor. Payment is part-time and includes no benefits. Salary will be commiserate with person’s experience. This work will start in August or September and run through December.

Non-York U students should be ready to carry out work in either London, On., or Ottawa. Apply directly to the professor attaching: a cover letter that speaks to the project and what organizations will be interviewed based on the required targets, a suggested plan of work/timeline, writing sample (no more than 10 pages), copy of a transcript and an academic Cv. Work will be for 3 months in the summer averaging between 20-35 hours/week. The hourly pay is between $15-18. 

This is a five-year project funded by the Ontario Ministry of Research, Innovation and Science for the Early Researcher Award (2018-2022)

15 Mar 2018
York University
GTA, London, and Ottawa  Ontario
New Canadians
Research & Development
Social Economy & Social Enterprise