Our Approach

If social entrepreneurs are the extreme athletes of the professional world, SSE Ontario is their coach and sport psychologist.

Our programs launch students on a journey of learning done differently. In fact, it’s so different that we call it “unlearning.”

At SSE, students unlearn all the messages that are holding them back. Messages like “you need to be anointed as a leader.” Or that “ordinary people can’t take action when they see something wrong.” And, “the answers to society’s problems have to look a whole lot like the broken ‘solutions’ that came before.”

“I have done a lot of post-secondary education: two degrees and many residencies and other learning experiences.


I can say unequivocally that [SSE] has been the best learning experience I’ve had. I feel personally transformed.” –Robert Labossiere ’14

Our unlearning approach consists of several core elements: learning from difference, Action Learning Sets (ALS), witness sessions, expert sessions, mentoring, and project visits.


Our Unlearning program challenges deeply held personal and cultural assumptions that inhibit meaningful change. At the beginning, Unlearning can feel like being a fish swimming in a lake conscious of: the “exterior” world of sand, plants, and insects; the interior world of hunger, pain, and fatigue; and the interaction between exterior and interior elements.

Unlearning then invites participants to stop looking through the water, and begin looking directly at it. The water represents participants’ lens and paradigm for action (the concepts, theories, standards, and default problem-solving approaches that mediate internal and external worlds).  Once participants critically examine this lens, they may remove the smudges and blind spots, or grind themselves an entirely new lens leading to much more productive problem-solving.

Learning from Difference

When students work to build bridges across societal boundaries, they learn the skills to succeed in a complex, interdependent world. With individuals hailing from a wide array of ethnic, sexual, and socio-economic backgrounds, the passionate SSE Ontario community represents a veritable microcosm of Canadian society.

SEF '14 Graduation

SEF ’14 Graduation

Action Learning

The hallmark of our teaching approach, Action Learning Sets (ALS) involve a group of people solving real problems through thought-provoking and inspiring questions.

In ALS, students take turns sharing a current challenge they’re facing in their ventures. With the help of peers posing non-judgmental and powerful questions, students reflect on their actions and find a different way to approach the challenge. SSE Fellows consistently rate ALS as a deceptively simple and extremely powerful form of learning. In fact, many Fellows continue organizing ALS sessions even after they graduate.

Watch: short animation on Action Learning Sets at SSE

Eyewitness and Expert Sessions

During “eyewitness” sessions, students hear from experienced social entrepreneurs who share their hard-earned successes, the mistakes they’ve made, and the challenges they’ve faced. Alongside ALS, SSE students consistently consider witness sessions as an extremely effective way to learn.

Because social entrepreneurs need a lot of technical advice and guidance, subject matter experts in fields such as financial management, business planning, sales, marketing, and HR make regular appearances in the classroom.

Examples of witnesses and experts that have been involved at SSE Ontario include: Diane Dupuy (Famous PEOPLE Players); Anil Patel (Managing Director, GrantBook); Farah Mawani (Founder, Farahway Global); Kaela Bree (Co-Founder, AussieX); Sarah Margles (Diversity Consultant); Robert Wakulat and Nabil Dhirani (Wakulat Dhirani LLP); Jim Stewart (CEO, ProfitPath); Jeff Dennis (Entrepreneur in Residence, Fasken Martineau); Simon Brightman (Venture Coach, AcceleratorU); and Jennifer Love and Alyssa Lioutas (co-owners, Duet PR).

Mentoring and Tutoring

Speed Mentoring Event SEF 2015 at RSA Insurance

Speed Mentoring Event SEF 2015 at RSA Insurance

SSE Ontario students are paired with seasoned mentors who offer personalized advice and guidance, contacts, and other support. These relationships often continue long past the completion of the program.

Tutors act as coaches for students in areas where they are facing technical challenges. Bringing their subject matter expertise, tutors are important members of the student support team.

Examples of mentors and tutors that have been involved at SSE include: Perry Gladstone (serial entrepreneur); Ashley Good (Founder/CEO, FailForward); Allyson Hewitt (Director of Social Entrerpreneurship, MaRS); and Ahmed ElBedawy (Co-founder, Experience Entrepreneurship).

Site visits

Site Visit SEF '14

Site Visit SEF ’14

Site visits provide students with an excellent opportunity to question and seek inspiration from fellow social entrepreneurs. Through the visits, students gain useful mental models for success and see social enterprises in action.

Examples of site visits include: Signs RestaurantSt. John’s Bakery; Mountain Equipment Co-Op; Paintbox Bistro; and St. Stephen’s Community House‘s conflict resolution consulting practice.



SEF Huddle '14

SEF Huddle ’14. Photo credit: M. Nguyen

Social entrepreneurs need to inspire people with their ideas and mobilize their support. Through pitching events such as the “SSE Huddle” and Canada’s national Social Finance Forum, students get the opportunity to build their confidence in presenting their ventures to strangers. (Here’s SSE Fellow Najeeb Khan ’14’s reflections on pitching.)

Examples of pitching coaches who have helped SSE students include: Naki Osutei (Director of Public Affairs, Pan/ParaPan American Games); the Executive Director of a coalition of angel investors; Mark Satov (Founder, Satov Consultants); Barry Martin (Creative Director, Hypenotic); Garrick Ng (Founder, Studio Amarelo); and Elisha Muskat (Executive Director, Ashoka Canada).

Critical Reflection

Reflection, Photo credit: Solana Cain

Reflection, Photo credit: Solana Cain

Critical reflection is a key component in adult learning, and is the cornerstone of SSE’s action learning methodology. Reflection is often missing in traditional classrooms which tend to focus more on memorization of information. But, without reflection, learning runs the risk of becoming an activity of memorization, versus a transformational experience.

With a view to creating deep, meaningful, and long-lasting learning, we ask students to extract personalized meanings from their experiences at SSE. For our students, personal reflection has come through intensive personal exploration workshops with innovative training partners like le playground, and in critical reflection exercises.

Because personalized meaning is unique to every individual, the reflective exercise takes very different forms, from beautiful narratives to slam poetry to hand-sewn books and re-purposed trophies.

Emerging Approaches

SSE is developing new learning approaches including innovative training in human-centered design, play-based learning, frugal innovation, and systems thinking. Watch this space for more information about our experiments with unusual, high impact learning!