Northern communities are currently facing many social and economic challenges. The non-profit, voluntary, and co-operative organizations involved in the social economy sector assist communities with these challenges by empowering them through the development of social and human capital. This article is part of an initial evaluation of the potential of the social economy to assist northern communities to deal with these challenges and develop this capacity. It offers an initial description of the state of the social economy in Canada's North through an examination of the results of a census of these organizations and a subsequent survey. The analysis shows that social economy organizations are particularly important to northern communities: they are more numerous and have more of an economic importance than in other regions of Canada. At the same time, these organizations are facing several important challenges that affect their ability to assist these communities such as a lack of funding, finding volunteers, retaining paid staff, and training.