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The making of a social entrepreneur​​​​​​​​ in the virtual classroom

Shopify Staff (Retired)
Shopify Staff (Retired)

We believe that learning through experience is the best way to enrich their skill set and build for their future. 


Ottawa Catholic School Board (OCSB) implemented experiential learning techniques in their Social Entrepreneurship Program (SEP). Educators from across the Ottawa Catholic School Board from Kindergarten to Grade 12, are offered the SEP program as a Deep Learning opportunity in their classroom.


In partnership with community business volunteers, educators and students participate in an enriching, business-oriented, and student-led initiative where they can gain entrepreneurial experience, develop innovative mindsets and build global competencies. Through this opportunity, they take action and make a difference in the world they live in. The students collaborate in choosing social entrepreneurship ideas, products, and business models best suited to achieve their goals from start to finish.


And then the COVID-19 pandemic hit, and the way students learned changed completely.


In March 2020, SEP program coordinators were faced with the challenge of bringing the entrepreneurial experience online, where previously the program had been completed in person, from product creation to sales. With the help of Shopify’s Open Learning Program, they were successful in transferring this program online. 

Students start by identifying a social issue through the Sustainable Development Goals, then begin working with mentors and educators on developing a plan and an online store to address that issue. The concept of seed funding and sourcing is also introduced with schools and programs offering a little funding through student-led proposals.


By giving students access to free Shopify stores, the program shifted from making products in-class to working with local producers to develop new supply chains. Last year, students sold things like coffee with The Artery Community Roasters and laser-engraved ornaments and pet tags with the Algonquin College Makerspace. Our involvement also allowed students to experience the importance of e-commerce in entrepreneurship and safely shop and interact online. 


The partnership between Shopify Open Learning and OCSB found the silver lining during a tumultuous time. Finally, students had an impact to look forward to, and they were able to run online stores and raise money. It also helped to build a network between the schools within the district, showcase their projects, and build a support network between educators. 


Students became social entrepreneurs by building businesses to share the stories of issues they care about most. 


In 2020, the Social Entrepreneurship Program engaged more than 600 students, with 27 educators and 22 volunteer mentors. Using Shopify, 21 social enterprises were created to sell and raise money for various charities. They sold more than $20k worth of goods, leading to profits of more than $15k raised for the charities. The students shared their experiences via videos.  


What’s next for the OCSB SEP program, and how can you get involved!


In 2021, OCSB’s SEP hoped to share its program with over 1000 students and get more educators and mentors involved. Shopify has worked with them to develop orientations and resources to assist in this scaling. The partnership between OCSB SEP and Shopify Open Learning has yielded significant insights, brainstorming and overall impact in the Ottawa community. It also provides us with a model to share across the district and potentially enter new ones globally. 


Would you like to get involved in guiding students on their adventure through social entrepreneurship? OCSB SEP is looking for volunteer business mentors to help students navigate supplier sourcing, profit margins and fundraising. They hope to reach all the students; they need more business mentors than ever. All participation will be done virtually and consists of about an hour per week of your time. You can help inspire the next generation of social entrepreneurs by signing up as a mentor


Suppose you would like to learn more about Shopify’s Open Learning program and how we work with educators in sharing the principles of social entrepreneurship. In that case, you can explore our enrollment page.