Young Upstarts

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[Interview] Bradley Fauteux Talks Social Entrepreneurship And Being An Agent For Environmental Change

Brad Fauteux

Bradley Fauteux has spent the majority of his career finding ways to champion the environment and enlisting others in support of sustainability initiatives and the preservation of our natural resources.

To a significant extent, that’s given him an inside/out perspective. Brad Fauteux, who today is an environmental consultant, has worked for years within the system as a leader of government agencies charged with protecting and promoting public lands in Canada. It’s work that has given him an understanding of what it takes to increase community awareness, support and, ultimately, broader advocacy for environmental imperatives.

Fauteux has added his insights, for example, to the team helping complete the network of paths along the 98 kilometer expanse of the Credit River Valley in Ontario, Canada. This is an effort 60-plus years in the making that is nearing completion through the Credit Valley Trail Strategy. Earlier in his career, he employed marketing principles to grow Ontario’s Learn to Camp program to over 8,000 participants in just four short years – creating a diverse new base of fans to appreciate nature’s offerings.

But, Fauteux believes there are whole new areas to explore as the sustainability movement accelerates. He’s particularly intrigued by the notion of social entrepreneurship – mission-driven enterprises that play the role of change agents.

When that mission is environmentally focused, everyone wins, Fauteux says. It’s an unwavering focus on the social/environmental mission that distinguishes the social entrepreneur from conventional ones and represents a baton that the next generation is keenly aware of and ready to grab.

After all, Millennials, he says, see climate change as one of the biggest issues of their lifetime. Moreover, they tend to view business as a force for positive social impact. What better a time, then, for social entrepreneurship that incorporates a mission around sustainability?

What do you believe are the forces that have caused the concept of social entrepreneurship to catch on in the public?

Bradley Fauteux: I think that just like the business climate has adapted and been disrupted by the kinds of changes we are seeing in it (Uber, AirBNB, Tesla) the social enterprise is also ripe for this kind of disruption. Old style social enterprises have long been successful in applying market driven business strategies to social purposes in both not-for-profit and for-profit models. Therefore, as entrepreneurship has driven the disruptive change in business outlined previously, the social entrepreneur has taken up the reins to disrupt in that context. I imagine that they see the needs of society as not just met by government or existing social enterprises and see themselves as either filling a gap or better meeting those social needs.

How effectively do you think Canada as a country has supported this concept? And what can we do to support and encourage more social entrepreneurs in the future?

As an innovation economy, Canada is seen as a world leader and one of the best places to innovate, so there is certainly support there to lean on. We also enjoy a cultural and political climate that encourages hard work and innovation and supports the entrepreneur in the development of the kinds of ideas and networks necessary for success.

That being said, there is so much more we could do to foster innovation hubs and other centres of excellence, particularly in communities that are struggling to achieve economic and social justice. The drive to be a social entrepreneur cannot just come from those communities that already have the means to support great ideas. Greater diversity of opportunity in this area would likely produce more impactful social entrepreneurs given that they may reflect back into communities with a more significant need for them. As an opportunity, I feel strongly we could find significant societal benefit were we to find ways of better supporting Indigenous youth and new Canadian communities to develop as social entrepreneurs, particularly in the environmental space where both are underrepresented.

Are there any particular Canadian entrepreneurs who focus on sustainability and the environment that you look up to and can you describe the kind of difference they’re making?

Chloe Dragon Smith is someone that I really admire. As the first winner of Nature Canada’s Young Women for Nature Award, Chloe’s leadership in helping to foster relationships with nature for kids is truly inspiring. In particular, her work with the Canadian Parks Council on the Nature Playbook reflects a deep sense of commitment to the betterment of Canadians, which I think is at the root of being a social entrepreneur. I know Chloe personally and she is so very wise, truly I have a lot to learn from her.

What are some of the major challenges that can hold this sort of entrepreneur back – and how do you suggest they be addressed?

Like any initiative, funding and communicating value or benefit, particularly to the funder can be a challenge at the startup phase. Lots of terrific ideas lose traction with the funder if there isn’t a very solid value proposition or if the benefit can’t be cogently defined early on. Often, this is the stage when good advice from someone who has a high degree of financial or strategic literacy can be really helpful. In many cases, this advice can be solicited through networks, although the entrepreneur will need to be sure of the authenticity of the advice and the ethics of the one giving it.

Another significant challenge lies in balancing the creative excitement of the effort with the development of mature, thoughtful strategy. Oftentimes, the excitement and enthusiasm surrounding the initial idea can carry it through to early implementation. However, if there is to be a longer term success that includes growth, there will need to be a robust strategy that can show how the value of benefit extends into the future as the enterprise develops. Again, this is an area where the social entrepreneur should seek advice.

What have you learned from your consulting roles that others can take from? Has applying your experience in the areas of government relations and natural resources as a consultant come particularly easy? Have there been challenges?  

At my core I am both:

  • a generalist with knowledge and experience in a broad variety of areas,
  • and passionate about nature and the environment, the North, social justice and reconciliation with Indigenous peoples.

I highlight these because my career to a certain extent has reflected that changes in the economy where technical skills have become very valuable, but where learning about content, knowledge and industry specific experience have become available to everyone.

I’m not understating the value of a person’s experience in a particular industry, only pointing out that fundamental advice on strategy, management, organizational design, and the frameworks for good decision making are surprisingly consistent across a broad range of enterprises big and small. Listening to your client and seeking to understand the challenge in the context of the industry or content with the freshness that comes with not being an existing part of that industry can be very helpful in the provision of advice. However, I have learned that the humility necessary for achieving that understanding cannot be understated. If you already think you know the answer, then you are not listening. This can be a serious challenge and will take a lot of self-reflection to ensure that you are not projecting the answer before you really know the question. It has not been easy at all, but I am motivated by ensuring that there is an inclusive process used and that the outcomes are impactful from the client perspective.

What are some of the most significant words of guidance you can provide young entrepreneurs from your years of experience? What do you think, from your perspective, is the most important principle they need to know as they begin their startup and entrepreneurial ambitions?

First off, thank you so much for trying to make the world a better place. Public service is everyone’s role in a just society. I appreciate you so much for the choice you are making to be a social entrepreneur.

Seek advice on everything. The more you get input, the better your decision making. Asking for help is not weakness but strength.

Resilience requires vulnerability. The typical leadership archetype needs to change. This will be essential to recovery from failure.

And most importantly, as you progress in your career, it can be so easy to lose sight of your values as you begin to have some success. Be certain of what those values are and check in with someone you trust to be sure that you are sticking to them. Leadership is authentic when it is lived through your values.

Thank you so much for your time. 

It was my pleasure.


Young Upstarts is a business and technology blog that champions new ideas, innovation and entrepreneurship. It focuses on highlighting young people and small businesses, celebrating their vision and role in changing the world with their ideas, products and services.

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  • Mathis

    We need more champions for the environment, now more than ever!

  • Zachary

    “Seek advice on everything. The more you get input, the better your decision making. Asking for help is not weakness but strength.” I feel like this is excellent advice for life, not just for entrepreneurs looking to head startups. It’s important to hear, and I wish I had been told this earlier in my own career!

  • Jacob M

    It’s true what Fauteux says, your values tend to go out the window once you achieve any real success. The best leaders hold themselves accountable for their actions and don’t lose sight of their core beliefs.

  • Jean Edouard

    i’m a millennial and totally agree climate change is the biggest issue facing my generation. if we don’t take care of our planet nothing else matters! super happy to see big business is taking more responsibility.

  • Lilly Berger

    Good to read Bradley Fauteux Interview.

  • J. William

    Great interview by Bradley Fauteux.
    Great reading.