Meet Jason Marin: Supporting Young Social Entrepreneurs

Jason Marin is the Director of Social Innovation and Partnerships at CatalystsX, a Toronto-based nonprofit that supports young social innovators and young social entrepreneurs. CatalystsX’s mission is to cultivate and accelerate catalysts by connecting them with the people, resources, and opportunities they need to survive and thrive; in turn, this work enables the CatalystsX vision of a world of thoughtful and responsible changemakers.

CatalystsX is a member of Socent7, a group of seven collaboratives funded by the Ontario Trillium Foundation’s Future Fund. Socent7 uses a collective impact approach to strengthen infrastructure for youth social enterprise in Ontario.

Socent7 sat down with Jason to interview him about youth social entrepreneurship.

What’s your definition of a social entrepreneur?

The definition I use (I didn’t come up with it, but it’s the one that resonates most with me) is that social entrepreneurs are driven to develop innovative solutions to today’s most pressing social issues by combining entrepreneurial skills with a passion for positive impact.

Do you consider yourself a young social entrepreneur?

I do. I think of entrepreneurship as a way of doing things, an approach. And I think of myself as a “civic entrepreneur” — I’ve always been engaged in governance (as a student council president, sitting on non-profit boards). I’ve always believed that you get to build the world you want to live in, and I want to live in a world that is passionate for social justice, full of strong communities of engaged people, a culture of giving back and compassion.

You’ve told me that you didn’t always consider yourself a social entrepreneur. What changed?

I had a profound personal experience when I went on the March of the Living trip, which is a Holocaust remembrance trip and involves travel to Poland and to Israel. At the time, I was working in a job where I’d sort of gotten comfortable, and I wasn’t thinking much about my impact or purpose in the world.

Then I went on this trip, and I was standing in front of a mass grave near a small town outside of Warsaw, and I began to think about how life can be so unpredictable. I asked myself: knowing that my time here is unpredictable, what is meaningful for me? What will be meaningful with the time I do have in life?

I reflected on my values and experiences so far. In this reflection process, I identified four threads that are important to me:

  • I want to be connected to the impact of my work,
  • I want to have a positive and tangible impact in other people’s lives,
  • I want to use my talents to serve others, and
  • I want to build community.

I came back from my trip, looked at my job, and I thought, “I can rationalize why I’m working here, but not in a way that really does justice to my values.” So I left… and started my journey into the social enterprise sector.

What was it like for you to make that transition?

It was a leap of faith. I quit my job, and I didn’t have anything lined up, and I had little savings. I was leaping off a cliff without a parachute. But I felt I needed to do it. I spent the next few months in the wilderness. I came to believe that my values would best align with my work if I sought something out in the non-profit world. I started to hear about social entrepreneurship and social innovation, and then a friend sent me a job posting at CatalystsX. I looked at what CatalystsX was doing: building a community of support for young social entrepreneurs and innovators. That work reflected my values, so I applied.

What do you love about the work you do?

I love the process of seeing a young person look at the world around them and being inspired, seeing them start to think, “There has to be a better way.” I love seeing them explore with others how to do something differently, and seeing them dig into their own experiences and values to find new approaches. It goes back to one of my personal motivators: you build the world you want to live in. Any social entrepreneur who decides to tackle a problem that has a positive impact for a community is helping build a world where folks can put a roof over their heads, have access to employment with dignity, have access to medical services, have equitable access to medical services, and more.

What themes or trends are you noticing in the youth social enterprise sector?

Entrepreneurial education is increasingly recognized and delivered as part of a college or university curriculum. I’d love to see more emphasis on social entrepreneurship, not just traditional entrepreneurship.

Something else I’d like to see is a change in the culture that allows more space for failure — particularly with funders who support young social entrepreneurs. Entrepreneurs know that failure is as integral part of ultimate success, so I’d like to see us lower the cost of failure for social entrepreneurs and accept it as a valuable part of the process.

You meet and talk to many, many youth social entrepreneurs in your work. What words of advice can you offer to any young person reading this interview?

The best piece of advice I can give to a young social entrepreneur is to trust their gut, follow their instinct, and talk to as many people as they can about their idea, or about the change which they seek to effect in the world. In doing so, they’ll learn to validate (or change) their assumptions, refine their idea, and meet new communities of colleagues, friends, mentors (and hopefully investors!). Ultimately, they’ll begin a process best understood by Marianne Williamson, who said, “As we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.”

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