Taking the time to have detailed conversations is important in the process of co-creation. As obvious as that might sound, the challenge is being able to make that time and space available especially in a world of busy schedules and tight deadlines. This is no less true for the students of the Sheridan Business Council (SBC) at Sheridan College in Brampton.
When we were initially approached by Andrew Holeton at Social Enterprise Toronto (SET) about facilitating a session to strategize on the creation of a student social enterprise at Sheridan College, we were very excited. After all, students have been at the forefront of social enterprises for generations – successfully running student centres, cafes, bars and copy shops at campuses across Canada. At Sheridan, the students were starting out on that process, had some ideas and wanted to learn more on how they could get there.
On March 25, 2014, we drove up to Sheridan’s Davis Campus in Brampton. Andrew and Robyn Hoogendam of Learning Enrichment Foundation (LEF) opened the session with a primer on social enterprises before we launched into a workshop on building the social enterprise. After taking stock of what participants thought about social enterprises along with the challenges and opportunities on campus, we went into an ideation session.
As the afternoon progressed, it started to become apparent that the key issue in the room was that as busy students, the group as a whole had not really ever sat down to discuss what they were building this social enterprise for. Importantly, there was a needs discussion that was happening had not yet occurred. Participants were identifying all sorts of student needs on campus and it was obvious that they would have to spend some more time to dig behind all the issues. While this meant that there could not be a detailed conversation on business planning as originally intended, it was nevertheless a necessary and worthwhile discussion.
In the end, the students identified 3 broad themes to move forward: something that would provide more student/recreation space, something that would allow for more student connections and something that would promote sustainability. Ideas that emerged included community gardens, a games room and having more sporting events on campus. Having had this conversation, there was definitely a sense of momentum and empowerment among participants. SBC members could start to see the path forward and would now be in a position to dive deeper into the themes and find a way forward.
Our take away was seeing just how spending the right time to have productive and creative discussions can make a difference. As was the case here, it’s not always easy to find that time, but without doing so, key issues can go undiscovered leading to poorly defined problems and ultimately incorrect solutions. As facilitators, our job is to help our clients chart out a strategy for these discussions, discover the issues and frame problems appropriately.
We want to thank the wonderful folks at SET, LEF and the students and staff at Sheridan for inviting us to this amazing session. We wish the SBC the best of luck and look forward to hearing about when their social enterprise will be opening!