Crowdfunding takes uOttawa students to international social enterprise competition
The first time uOttawa alumna Stéphanie Beaulac ventured into the world of crowdfunding, it was to support a cause dear to her heart: the uOttawa chapter of Enactus, a student-run, global non-profit organization.
Beaulac, who graduated with her Bachelor of Commerce degree in 2012, was impressed by Enactus uOttawa’s mandate. Through the organization, student volunteers apply their classroom learning to create social enterprises, including projects to alleviate food insecurity both at home and in Canada’s North.
“The work they’re doing to help people in need is amazing, and they’re doing all of this while going to school full time and working part time,” says Beaulac, who now works for CARE Canada.
In the fall of 2015, Beaulac discovered that the student club had launched a crowdfunding campaign to raise money to send 24 uOttawa students to compete in the Enactus World Cup in Johannesburg, South Africa. Contributing to the campaign was an easy decision.
Crowdfunding uses social media to raise funds for a project. It invites large numbers of unrelated donors to donate online. In this case, donations enabled the uOttawa students to compete against teams from around the globe in Johannesburg by pitching their social enterprise projects before a jury of international business leaders.
To support the uOttawa team, Beaulac simply clicked on the link she’d received through social media. Then, the University’s own crowdfunding platform walked her through the process, step by step. After donating, she got updates about the students’ experiences along the way, and followed their trip through social media.
Beaulac says the platform “was extremely easy to use, and I could see all the information I needed on one page. If I wanted to learn more I could dig deeper.”
Thanks to 102 donors, including Beaulac, Enactus uOttawa raised just over $15,000. In Johannesburg, the team placed in the top 16 out of 36 competitors.
“The crowdfunding campaign allowed us to engage with our supporter base,” says commerce student Corey Ellis, president of Enactus uOttawa.
“All our supporters hear about what we do and like what we do, but this really gave them a tangible opportunity to contribute and do something meaningful for our team and for Enactus.”
The campaign enabled the group to reach donors who might not typically give to a faculty-led or Development Office initiative, Ellis added. Because the outreach involved social media, donors were wide-ranging, from students’ friends and family to alumni like Beaulac.
Managing the innovative crowdfunding campaign was another critical skill to master for Ellis, 20, who will have managed eight social enterprises, interviewed and hired dozens of students and administered a $200,000 budget by the time he begins his fourth year at uOttawa this fall.
Like the other Enactus projects, the crowdfunding campaign allowed the uOttawa students to take the risks that are critical to eventual entrepreneurial success. It made it possible for them to learn from other social innovators at the competition, and further turn learning into action, a hallmark of the uOttawa experience.