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Social Innovation by (Im)migrants, for (Im)migrants

Wealth generation in Canada, as underpinned by businesses and institutions’ possession of the rights of the free market has driven the national economy, producing the GDP growth rate between the steady range of 3-5% from the year 2000 to 2023 (Gellatly & McCormack, 2023). However, this form of “improvement” and “growth” as defined by the market value is not without consequences. It has simultaneously fragmented marginalised communities and their livelihood, especially among precarious migrant communities as a lasting result of deregulated labour and capital markets (Gellatly & McCormack, 2023). The Canadian Council For Refugees describe many to be economically exploited in the forms of being forced to pay illegal recruitment fees, wage theft, and difficulty in obtaining or renewing visas, which are directly linked to their ability to reside and make a living in the host country. Moreover, unprecedented macro events such as global or regional armed conflicts, increasing trade flows between and lack thereof, and global recessions, have all been factors that contribute to a high influx of transnational flows in recent years. Among this migrant population, About one in five — 58.71 million people lived in North America, one of the most major hosts of immigrants (Budiman, 2020). Aside from refugees, migrant workers, climate refugees and economic migrants also tend to immigrant due to reasons like the pursuit of economic opportunities through migrant worker programs, family reunification through family immigration pathways, and international student migration.

Social Entrepreneurship: A Potential Solution?

Social entrepreneurship has been recognized as an innovative, skillful approach to resolving inequality challenges within wealth generation. The core aim of the endeavour is to produce both social and economic value as a company (Getaway, n.d.). Although government

support programs and services help strengthen public welfare, non-citizens and migrants struggle to obtain citizenship that allows them to experience the collective benefits of these solidarity approaches, directing attention to socially-responsible market solutions as an alternative. Deemed a symbol of freedom for wealth generation and prosperity, social enterpries have been shown to address development challenges in marginalized communities from national unemployment to environmental degradation in local neighbourhoods through innovative and tailored resiliency approaches. Evaluating the tension between profit and purpose in organisations helps to distinguish corporate social responsibility (CSR) from a social enterprise and refine the understanding of social entrepreneurship (Borza and Crisan, 2012).

Source: Government of Canada (2019). Start, build, and grow a social enterprise: Start your social enterprise

This diagram visually exhibits the spectrum of social entreprises in Canada, providing a range of operational examples ranging from the left most of the spectrum, charities, and right most of the spectrum, fully commercial operations. Projects exist at or among the distinctions of (1) an organisation that accumulates that provides donations to a civil issue and (2) an organisation that engages in business activities in sight of company profit (Government of Canada, 2023). A CSR policy adopted by profit-driven organisations is seen as a business decision that extends beyond the economic and technical interests of the company (Caroll, 1991). This commitment will drive the firm to become involved with standalone projects or corporate networks that seek to maximize revenue and social benefits with minimal risk (Borza and Crisan, 2012). Given that a social entrepreneur is widely understood as a person who engages in innovation and risk-taking to produce social value, Borza and Crisan (2012) suggest that social entrepreneurship arises when people motivated by a social mission enter competition with entrepreneurs, transforming products and services for the betterment of their mission. This definition places the field at the intersection of private sector and public sector development. Social progress becomes redefined through the combination of both market forces and societal problems to establish a meaningful, innovative organisation.

The Nature of Canadian Immigration

The Distinction between (Im)migrants

An important note of distinction is the difference between the immigrant and the migrant. The immigrant is an individual who “makes a conscious decision to leave his or her home and move to a foreign country with the intention of settling there” (IRC, 2018). The immigration process often subjects them to go through a lengthy vetting process to immigrate to a new country. Many immigrants eventually obtain the status of lawful permanent residents and citizens, as they have not only already passed through a series of vetting procedures, but have been admitted due to meeting requirements like high level of education. In comparison to migrants, they are framed as “economic”, and beneficial to the Canadian economy.

A migrant, on the other hand, is one who moves either internally around their country, or across borders, primarily pursuing seasonal, temporary work. Migrants admitted through temporary worker programs, like the Federal Skilled Worker Program (FSWP), the Canadian Experience Class (CEC), and the Provincial Nominee Programs (PNP), are eligible to apply for an extension of their work visas, and even permanent residency if their employers offer them a permanent job offer (Canadian Immigration, n.d.). However, Statistics Canada (2020) illustrates that most temporary foreign workers are hired for industries like crop production, private households, and gasoline services. Choudry and Henaway (2012) explain that the turbulent nature of the industries hiring for temporary workers, which these workers are dependent upon for their temporary work visas are often mistaken for reliable means for ultimately acquiring stable permanent work. Instead, the distinctly precarious sectors these jobs primarily are part of place these temporary workers into a perpetual state of segmentation from mainstream Canadian society — their participation in these labor markets serve as a constant reminder of their lack of citizenship.

The term Diaspora originated from the Greek word “διασπορά”, holding the meaning of “scattering” and “dispersion”. The diaspora population often categorizes people who are involuntarily withdrawn from their home country to foreign countries due to wars, political instability and religious persecution. For instance, the removal of Africans through slavery, and more recently, Ukrainian refugees produced by the Russian-Ukranian conflict (Fajutag, 2016). Migrant workers are rarely considered to be part of the diaspora population, often known for their migration for economic instead political reasons. However, migration scholars like Van Hear (2009) are increasingly encouraging the view of migration through a holistic lens, shedding light on reasons for displacement often being mixed. In other words, political and cultural conflicts are often catalysts of, or closely intertwined, with economic decline of the diaspora populations’ home countries. Thus, to simply state that migrant workers are not pursuing economic opportunities simultaneous to their experience of diaspora is rather an oversimplification of these movements.

Migrant workers remain systemically excluded from the economic growth benefitting the Canadian population today. Growing levels of income and wealth inequality highlight this group in the bottom ten percent of national earners (Myers, 2021). According to Ornek et al. (2022), many migrant workers across the globe have been increasingly participating in precarious employment that is characterised by unfavourable work conditions. Job insecurity, low income, an absence in worker rights, as well as exposure to unjust treatment are faced repeatedly, confining them within the precarious workforces and subsequently poverty (Black, 2018). Karl Gardner, Dani Magsumbol and Ethel Tungohan (2012) address this problem in the Canadian context, through their argument on the contradiction beneath Canada’s immigration system, namely that migrant labour is treated as simultaneously essential and disposable. The nature of Canada’s economic demography supports this hypothesis in how the decline in national fertility rates in the 20th century prompted immigration to become an alternative way to sustain the labour force (Statistics Canada, 2018).

Effectiveness of Social Entrepreneurship

Social Enterprises by (Im)migrants, for (Im)migrants

The unique sociocultural perspectives immigrants enter a new country with can become valuable for innovation and creativity within entrepreneurial endeavours. Linter (2019) addresses this by analyzing the relation between the European economic crisis and migration. In Italy, entrepreneurial ventures founded and operated by migrants are able to

unravel their agency, “confronting constraining socioeconomic conditions and restrictive immigration laws”. It echoes the UN’s sentiment of entrepreneurship as a tool for obtaining freedom through innovative counter-strategies against difficult personal and structural circumstances. The migrant background is shown to equipt them to “build bridges between the grassroots-level and the policy-level, between different cultural understandings, and between different actors in society” (Harvind, 2020). Migrant entrepreneurs are more likely prioritize migrants’ wellbeing as they have a sense of empathy and understanding for their fellow community member; they are more likely to set aside language requirements or have prejudice against the inability to speak fluently or possess qualifications obtained in Canada. This leads to sustainable and long-term benefits if precarious migrants are employed by these economic migrant entrepreneurs, creating an independent ecosystem that financially benefits both the entrepreneur employer and their employees. Although migrant workers are generally considered to be part of economic class migrants, the fact that they generally enter the country via temporary migrant worker programs make them dependent on the temporary visa to stay in the country. Being given the opportunity to work for a social enterprise or a company owned by a migrant entrepreneurship could potentially be an effective way for them to extend their stays.

Further, migrant entrepreneurship is not only effective in assisting vulnerable migrant communities in attaining social and economic stability/ mobility, it is also proven to greatly benefit the host country’s economy. Although this is written in the context of the United States, Conda (2023) states migrant entrepreneurship creates millions of employment opportunities, contributing to local economies and reducing unemployment rates. A study conducted by the National Foundation for American Policy stated that immigrant-founded businesses, on average, create 760 jobs per company. These enterprises play a role in bolstering local, state, and federal tax revenues, thereby supporting public services and infrastructure advancement. Furthermore, immigrant entrepreneurs frequently reinvest their profits, serving to additionally invigorate economic growth and development. mmigrant entrepreneurs, as per research by the Kauffman Foundation, exhibit a higher tendency to file patents and establish businesses in high-tech sectors. This role they play in promoting innovation and technological progress has earned them a strong reputation is thus representative and symbolic of the dual aspiration to generate profit while simultaneously creating positive social impact — responsible capitalism. Public opinion aligns with this trend of building a purpose-driven economy (Lubberink et al., 2017).

Why Social Inclusion?

Canada’s Commitment to the SDG Goals

Confronting systemic socioeconomic challenges to promote sustainable development becomes a responsibility for not only local and national level actors, but global actors. The United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (also known as the Global Goals) are a collection of 17 targets that seek to address today’s most pressing social, economic and environmental challenges (United Nations, 2023). Canada has complied to work towards achieving all stipulated objectives including Goal 8: Decent and Work and Economic Growth for All. The nation’s plan for implementing this goal focuses on the provision of quality jobs and sustained economic growth for Canadians. While programs and services for minority communities who struggle economically are included in this framework, statements on the ambition to fulfil Goal 8 use ambiguous and broad language that does not recognize the barriers to financial stability rooted in colonial prejudice.

Legal Arguments

As the United Nation has passed for the signed compliance of Canada’s signed compliance with Global Goal 8 must carry through in concerted action that allows all Canadians to gain equal access to resources and opportunities. Social inclusion in the Canadian economy and society calls for both state actors and non-state actors to accelerate movements towards sustainable employment for migrants and non-citizens who remain economically-disadvantaged. Developing initiatives at the local level, national and global level coordinates public understandings towards the economic challenges of citizenship with governmental knowledge, effectively mobilising the implementation of Goal 8.

Economic/Moral Arguments

The moral importance of implementing social inclusion and realising Goal 8 in Canada stems from the economic importance. Immigration helps to support national labour market needs and economic expansion in Canada, however barriers to citizenship damage the integration of newcomers as well as refugees and non-citizens (Canadian Council for Refugees, 2014). Increasingly difficult exams, financial investments, language requirements and long approval delays prevent these individuals from gaining residency and participating in Canadian society with all rights- including the right to quality employment (Canadian Council for Refugees, 2014). Although constructing new pathways to employment is a

complex and challenging process, successful attempts showcase multi-fold, long-lasting gains. Economic development programs and services centred in equity can produce new foundations for generational wealth in economically-disadvantaged communities.


It is evident that with the increasing rates of migration globally, systemic discrimination of these communities and the barriers they experience are ever present and deeply embedded within economic and social structures. Social entrepreneurship is proven to be a symbolic blending of profit and purpose, which greatly benefits the economy while creating sustainable labour opportunities for struggling migrants. Given the nature of the free market, the appropriate tools and resources are the stepping stones towards migrant social entrepreneurship if society aims to reap the mutual benefits provided by social entrepreneurship. The support of social entrepreneurship for migrant communities by governments and corporations become pivotal.

The making social enterprises could take the following steps: Identifying a social issue, developing an idea to tackle the issue, optimizing existing networks and leveraging cultural and linguistic diversity brought by (im)migrants. However, it cannot be done without the support of government, which could take form in policy reformations.Therefore, what follows are 3 key recommendations for the Canadian Federal Government:

  1. In-depth Research: The Ministry of Citizenship, Immigration and International Trade could conduct further research and gather holistic data on immigrant entrepreneurship to obtain a more in-depth understanding of the needs that lie in these communities. This data will provide more colour for policymakers at the federal, municipal, and local level to establish better infrastructure to support social entrepreneurial endeavours.

  2. Entrepreneurial Visas: The government could legislate an entrepreneurial visa that grants permission for foreign immigration to Canada or create a new immigrant category if they are already Canadian residents using a temporary nonimmigrant visa or a temporary work permit like the study permit (for international students).

  3. Relevant Product and Services: Federal, municipal, and local agencies could create and promote products such as websites and apps that serve as a centralized resource for immigrant entrepreneurs and members of the (im)migrant community.

  4. Collaboration with Community Organizations: Local governments could explore the possibility of entrusting products and services to non-profit organizations or existing social enterprises with stronger connections to these communities or engaging a team of contractors capable of serving a diverse group of (im)migrants.

We understand that the work of community organizations and government institutions alone are not adequate to establish a sustainable economy that blends profit with purpose. ESG, the acronym that refers to a set of environmental, social, and governance standards that guides socially conscious investors to select investments, is becoming widely adopted to serve as stepping stones for a purpose-driven economy, along with Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) programmes. In the past decade, the social enterprise sector has experienced substantial growth and demonstrated its ability to consistently secure the necessary capital for expansion. A study found that social enterprises have maintained business partnerships with corporations for over three years, and a notable 72% have worked with five or more corporate clients (Hope, 2022). Among those who sought investment, a significant 65% successfully raised more than $250,000, with 17% securing investments surpassing $2 million. These figures emphasize the capacity of social enterprises to establish enduring collaborations with multinational corporations, reflecting investor confidence in their long-term viability and the endorsement of their corporate associates. While controversies exist in whether they are “primarily motivated by political concerns and a potential drag on returns”, it is thus even more critical to consider how CSR and ESG programmes can be designed to effectively support the social entrepreneurship space (Henricks, 2023).

For corporations, I offer 3 key recommendations for corporate-social entrepreneur partnerships:

1. Offer Resources and Support: Provide financial support, expertise, access to network, and mentorship through grants, investments, or partnerships, in areas like strategy and operations. Corporations can provide funding to help social enterprises develop and scale their initiatives. Assist social enterprises access markets and distribution channels, facilitating their growth and sustainability.

2. Innovation Challenges: Organize and support innovation challenges or competitions that encourage social entrepreneurs to develop solutions aligned with ESG and CSR objectives.

3. Employee Engagement: Encourage employees to volunteer their skills and time to support social enterprises through collaborative capacity building programs with social enterprises. This could include collaborative research or development projects with social enterprises, especially in areas where their expertise can drive innovation and social impact.

Reference Material and Future Reading:

Budiman, A. (2020, August 20). Key findings about U.S. immigrants. Pew Research Center. ts/

Black, S. (2018). Community unionism without the community? lessons from labor-community coalitions in the Canadian Child Care Sector. Labor Studies Journal, 43(2), 118–140.

Canadian Council for Refugees. (n.d.). Migrant workers - the issues. Canadian Council for Refugees.

Canada GDP growth rate 1960-2024. MacroTrends. (n.d.).

Choudry and Henaway. (2012). Migrant work & employment in the construction sector - ILO.

Fajutag, J. (2021, March 8). Diaspora: The dispersion of people from their homeland: GPI. Globalization Partners International.,exile %2C%20and%20refugees%20of%20Syrians.

Conda, D. (2023, May 14). The positive impact of immigrant entrepreneurship on the US economy. LinkedIn.

Gellatly, G., & McCormack, C. (2023, March 9). Reflecting on the third anniversary of the COVID-19 pandemic, this presentation provides insights into a range of issues that are currently impacting the economic and Social Lives of Canadians. these include an overview of recent economic and labour market developments, financial pressures related to inflation and affordability, and trends related to excess mortality and well-being. Government of Canada, Statistics Canada.

Government of Canada, S. C. (2018). Population growth: Migratory increase overtakes natural increase. Government of Canada, Statistics Canada.

Harvind. (2020, February 10). Social entrepreneurs with a migrant background are leading the way. SPEAK Blog.

Henricks. (2023). What financial advisors have to say about the ESG controversy. SmartAsset.

Hope. (2022). Corporate-ready - acumen fund.

International Labour Organization (2011) “The economic crisis and discrimination against migrant workers”

Institute of Entrepreneurship Development. (2022). 5 social enterprises supporting refugees around the world in 2022. Institute of Entrepreneurship Development. ound-the-world-in-2022/

Koseoglu Ornek, O., Waibel, J., Wullinger, P., & Weinmann, T. (2022, July 1). Precarious employment and migrant workers’ mental health: A systematic review of Quantitative and Qualitative Studies. Scandinavian journal of work, environment & health.

Lintner, C. (2019). “If I have to clean, I clean my own shop”: Migrant entrepreneurship as a form of emplacement in times of crisis: The example of Italy. Ethnicities, 19(2), 414-432.

Lubberink, R., Blok, V., Van Ophem, J., & Omta, O. (2017, May 5). Lessons for responsible innovation in the business context: A systematic literature review of responsible, social and Sustainable Innovation Practices. MDPI.

Martin, R. L., & Osberg, S. (2007). Social Entrepreneurship: The Case for Definition. Stanford Social Innovation Review, 5(2), 29–39.

Myers. (2021, December 10). These charts show the growing gap between the world’s richest and poorest. World Economic Forum. or/

Parks Canada Agency, G. of C. (2022, December 1). West Indian Domestic Scheme (1955–1967) National Historic Event. Parks Canada Agency, Government of Canada. Retrieved April 15, 2023, from

Migrants, asylum seekers, refugees and immigrants: What’s the difference? The IRC. (n.d.). s-difference

WeAreAddbloom. (2022, June 28). The impact of Social Entrepreneurship and why is it changing the world. GGateway. ng-the-world/

Watt, M. (2015, May 11). Canada immigration law firm, Work Permit to Permanent Residency. Canadian Immigration. esident/#:~:text=If%20you%20are%20working%20with,the%20Federal%20Skilled%2 0Worker%20Program

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