• Measuring Up: 2012 Social Finance Forum in Toronto

    By Rebecca Byers, Community Manager of SocialBusiness.org

    In November I attended the 2012 Social Finance Forum at the MaRS Centre, which focused on impact investing and social return on investment. The conference was very well attended, with over 400 guests and only standing room in many of the sessions. It offered a variety of engaging and informative speakers and workshops, conveniently organized with a legend that signifies who a workshop is targeted toward, like not-for-profits and charities, investors and asset managers, market builders and financial service professionals, and social ventures and coops, as well as several targeted toward everyone.

    The conference began with opening remarks from Royal Bank of Canada president and CEO Gordon Nixon, who spoke adamantly of the opportunity of social finance and announced RBC’s investment of $1 million over five years in support of the MaRS Centre for Impact Investing.

    The conference’s opening panel featured Andy Broderick, Arlene Dickinson, and Antony Bugg-Levine, and focused on an investor insight into defining impact. The prominent investors discussed what they look for when they invest in social ventures, with the panel agreeing that the business does need to have a promise of investment before they can think of investing.

    I attended SiMPACT Strategy Group’s workshop session ‘Social return on investment 101,’ an Albertan firm whose community investment measurement and evaluation methodology has been used by ventures in the public, private, and third sector in the province since 1993. SiMPACT employs outcome-based evaluation measures, includes stakeholder perspectives, links program reach and implementation, and reflects intention within the program’s logic model, and maintains that SROI is “a story, not a number.”

    Overall I felt the workshops were well organized, specific, and highly informative. There was a consistent energy in the room, and I particularly enjoyed seeing the pitches from the students of the Ontario School for Social Entrepreneurship.

    The conference’s first day featured another announcement in addition to Gordon Nixon’s, as Federal Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development the Honourable Diane Finley spoke during lunch and announced the Canadian government first social finance initiative, a two-month (recently extended to January 31, 2013) call for plans on social finance, for which a website was created.

    I was uncertain at first as to whether or not Minister Finley’s announcement would be well-received – while some have in fact lobbied to Ottawa for recognition and support, like the MaRS Centre for Impact Investing itself, through its Canadian Task Force on Social Finance – however, as pointed out by Toronto Star columnist Carol Goar, they were seeking changes to tax code in order to allow “self-financing social organizations to qualify for tax credits,” and rewarding those who invest in social enterprise. It would seem then, that the general opinion is that the government is trying to alleviate some of the weight of providing basic help to those in need of it most, or, even more general, to private public services. It’s also obvious that some, as Carol Goar alludes, believe the call for concepts is asking those in the social finance realm to steer their time and efforts away from their own efforts, which could use support from the government instead of the other way around.

    I can’t say I entirely disagree with this view, but I also think it’s long overdue that the national government recognized the social finance at all, as this was the first official time. I think that it would be easy for this to be frustrating for social entrepreneurs who have been pushing social finance for years, and then to all of a sudden have it kind of thrown in with the government’s austerity measures.

  • Raising capital through impact investing

    By Tiana Reid, Senior Editor of SocialBusiness.org

    Social Business has attended two of SocialFinance.ca’s major conferences, the Social Finance Forum. In 2011, when I attended, the theme was significantly centered around impact investing. One piece of literature that was given out in conjunction with the conference was called “A New Tool for Scaling Impact: How Social Impact Bonds Can Mobilize Private Capital to Advance Social Good,” created by Social Finance, Inc. The summary stated:

     Today nonprofits have a new source of capital to scale evidence-based interventions: Social Impact Bonds (SIBs). Aligning the interests of nonprofit service providers, private investors, and governments, SIBs raise private investment capital to fund prevention and early intervention programs that reduce the need for expensive crisis responses and safety-net services. The government repays investors only if the interventions improve social outcomes, such as reducing homelessness or the number of repeat offenders in the criminal justice system. If improved outcomes are not achieved, the government is not required to repay the investors, thereby transferring the risk of funding prevention services to the private sector and ensuring accountability for taxpayer money.

     While SIBs are not a panacea, they might provide a unique way to make effective interventions available to far more people in need than the number that can be reached through traditional state contracts and philanthropy. The best candidates for SIB funding are nonprofits with strong track records of improving outcomes for a well-defined target population. These outcomes translate into government savings that can be achieved within a relatively short time frame and are large enough to cover the program’s cost and a reasonable return to investors.

     Social impact bonds (SIBs) are also known as “pay-for-success” bonds and contain characteristics similar to equity and debt, despite the name bond. The problem to be solved, if you will, is that charities and registered non-profits don’t receive the necessary long-term funding in order to be able to increase and innovate their services.

    In the Winter 2013 issue, Sasha Dichter, Robert Katz, Harvey Koh and Ashish Karamchandani wrote a piece for the Stanford Social Innovation Review (SSIR) on impact investing called “Closing the Pioneer Gap.” Here, the problem is the following: “More money than ever is flowing into impact investing, yet many entrepreneurs creating companies that serve the poor still find it difficult to raise capital, particularly at the early stages of their company’s growth.”

    Money from philanthropy and prizes can only get most social entrepreneurs so far, maybe through the seed stage of business development but the long-term and ongoing part is left by the wayside.

    “A broad definition of impact investing is in many ways appropriate because nearly all of this capital has the potential to create positive impacts on society,” Dichter, Katz, Koh and Karamchandani wrote. “But a broad definition also masks the fact that most funds—even those that talk about fighting poverty—bypass the more difficult, longer-term, and less financially lucrative investments that directly benefit the poor, and instead gravitate toward the easier, quicker, and more financially lucrative opportunities that target broader segments of society.” According to the article, only a few impact investing funds actually invest in “high risks and low- to mid-single digit annual returns,” which is essentially what defines these types of markets.

    Amidst it all, however, there seems to be a notion that as long as we recognize that there’s a long way to go, then we can develop impact investing, and thus, the strength of social businesses, through focusing on talent, infrastructure and solid business models. Dichter, Katz, Koh and Karamchandani close with a touch of optimism:

    Impact investing has come far as a sector. Just a decade ago, the notion that philanthropy could be used for investment was unheard of. The idea that direct grants to a for-profit company could be a mainstream strategy to fight poverty would have seemed absurd. The idea that pursuing social impact could be incorporated in an investing strategy—whether in public or private markets—was seen as a fringe notion. So much has become mainstream, so much more is possible, but only if we realize that we are just at the beginning.

  • 2013, Say hello to geniuses?

     By Tiana Reid, Senior Editor of SocialBusiness.org

    It’s 2013 and everything “new” will surely be popping up all around us. And maybe if not in IRL as they say, but then at least online and in lists on lists on lists. And so, say hello to geniuses (or whatever).

    In a popular (in clicks) CNN piece called “Unleash the world’s entrepreneurial geniuses,” Beverly Schwartz, vice president of global marketing for Ashoka and author of Rippling: How Social Entrepreneurs Spread Innovation Throughout the World discussed nurturing the world’s “up to 7 billion geniuses in this world.” Whoa. Wait – really?

    She considers:

     How can we nurture the world’s many talented people so they most effectively contribute to the world’s economic health? Start by figuring out what they need to flourish and how to overcome the barriers that stand in their way.

    I’m not talking about Silicon Valley software geniuses or corporate business tycoons. I’m talking about the geniuses who are all around us — maybe even the one staring at you in the mirror: Individuals who have solid ideas for developing or marketing products or services that benefit consumers.

     They could be immigrants who travel the globe searching for better opportunities for themselves and their families, entrepreneurs-to-be who could be breathing life into communities ripe for revitalization, or social entrepreneurs who find innovative solutions to social challenges and change the world for the better.

    Optimism is a virtue or maybe it’s an embellishment of a mix of hard work, luck and perhaps the most optimistic part of it all: privilege. The optimism that Schwartz was advocating, however, was more about supporting entrepreneurship that simply wide-eyed optimism. “Entrepreneurship is a powerful engine that can propel the global agenda forward,” she writes. “It is a major tool for reducing poverty, improving social conditions and confronting environmental challenges. It empowers people and generates solutions that help communities overcome old problems with new ways of thinking. It is an important driver of economic development, job creation and expanding opportunities for women and youth.”

    A genius and an entrepreneur (even a social entrepreneur!) is hardly the same thing, but  a headline with “genius” will probably garner more clicks on CNN than “entrepreneur.” Why is that though? There’s something about “genius” that precludes hard work and is simply something that just happens and the recipient of the so-called genius-ness in the mainstream is most typically that one person and not the many that the social entrepreneur is said, usually, to serve.

  • Representing the “Other:” Notes on Trinh Minh-ha’s Reassamblage

     By Tiana Reid, Senior Editor of SocialBusiness.org

    In terms of ethnographic film, many of the images presented in Trinh Minh-ha’s Reassamblage are conventional. For instance, shots of naked women, babies, women working and food preparation. At the same time, however, Trinh subverts what is considered “traditional” ethnographic film. Trinh asks, “what can we expect from ethnology?” and destabilizes not only what we expect from Reassemblage, but also what we are offered. Trinh does this with sound, narrative voice, and the use of silences. Trinh’s image is dark, with a muted colour palette and a sort of sandy composition. Another way in which Trinh challenges the tradition of ethnographic film is through repetition of statements.

    Trinh’s use of repetition of phrases like “something else i’ve lost,” “a film about what,” “speak near by” and “first create needs, then help,” draws attention to the norms and expectations of conventional ethnographic filmmaking as an objective and neutral form of description or recording. Trinh stresses the impossibility of assigning and imposing meaning to signs and symbols, which is why the narration never quite matches up with the image. Since there isn’t much narration, and it appears in a fragmented way, Trinh is able to emphasis certain phrases and ideas throughout the use of repetition. For instance, by repeating that she does not intend to speak about, but “speak near by,” Trinh shows how the film is told through her eyes, through her lens, and that there is no such thing as objective truth, or “flat anthropological fact.” Trinh’s use of repetition, in a manner that evokes poetry, also itself subverts the presentation of the film. Certainly, Trinh herself is recuperating, collecting and preserving the phrases she chooses to repeat.

    It has to be that the possible power disparities between Trinh and her objects of study (which they were indeed presented as objects, not subjects) are raised. Furthermore, the irony in the film may not be fully discernible all viewers. This is very similar to the Into the Heart of Africa exhibit, curated by Jeanne Cannizzo, at the Royal Ontario Museum, which was meant to criticize how Canada (mostly, white Canada) views Africa and attack colonialism. However, the black community in Toronto was outraged and viewed this museum exhibit as overtly racism. Both Cannizzo and Trinh’s work draw attention to the powers (and impossibilities) of representation of an Other.

  • “Doing” digital technology

    By Tiana Reid, Senior Editor of SocialBusiness.org

    “Digital technology” is something like a buzzword in social entrepreneurship communities. It’s a step up from “social media” (as a buzzword, not in reality) but it still carries some of the same resonances. Ok, but what exactly can digital technology really do for you? For your social business? For the world?

     Courtney E. Martin, author of Do It Anyway: The New Generation of Activists and Project Rebirth: Survival and the Strength of the Human Spirit from 9/11 Survivors, wrote a piece at the beginning of December for the Stanford Social Innovation Review called “Transforming Democracy Through Digital Technology: Five lessons from groundbreaking women,” which was essentially a delineation of what she learned from moderating a TEDxWomen conference panel called “Power of Technology to Transform Democracy.”

    Whether or not democracy can be “saved”  — and by technology no less — was the bigger question here. Martin broke it down into five easily digestible lessons from the panel: 1) “It’s not just you. No one’s got it quite right yet;” 2) “Don’t build it. They won’t come;” 3) “You are not the target user;” 4) “Data is where it’s at;” and last but certainly not least, 5) “Optimism is the technology we need most.”

    The point is that everyone is struggling and trying to negotiate digital technology with larger questions of democracy, civic action and citizenship. Martin’s last point, about promoting optimism, was echoed by the founder of Girls Who Code, Reshma Saujani. But the Girls Who Code ‘About’ page isn’t filled with optimism, really at all. Take a look at some of the stats:

    Today, just 3.6% of Fortune 500 companies are led by women, and less than 10% of venture capital-backed companies have female founders. Yet females use the internet 17% more than their male counterparts and represent the fastest growing demographic online and on mobile, creating more than two-thirds of content on social networking sites. Technology companies with more women on their management teams have a 34% higher return on investment, and companies with women on technical teams increases teams’ problem-solving ability and creativity. 

    The numbers speak for themselves. By 2018, there will be 1.4 million computer science-related job openings, yet U.S. universities are expected to produce enough computer science graduates to fill just 29% of these jobs. And while 57% of bachelor’s degrees are obtained by women, less than 14% of computer science degrees are awarded to women.

    And yet. “Forget the bells and whistles—a lot of these entrepreneurs voiced that the most difficult hurdle they face is getting people to believe in the political and democratic process again,” Martin wrote. “All the websites and apps in the world can’t substitute for the fundamental power of people believing that a) this nation is still ‘perfectible’ and b) they are part of the solution.” And so, maybe the reality of it all is that technology isn’t the place for answers but a place to create more questions about how to innovate, which means, how to fail and push forward in light of whatever it is you want to do with social entrepreneurship.

  • The art of unlearning

    By Tiana Reid, Senior Editor of SocialBusiness.org

    At the end of November, Business Fights Poverty wrote a post called “Unlearning to innovate: 7 steps entrepreneurs need to know when getting into inclusive business.” I’m not one for New Year resolutions, at least not anymore, but there certainly is something about a new year that brings change, well, at least a desire for change. And, despite my greatest fears, I’m always one for change. However small and also however overwhelming. Dr. Fernando Casado Cañeque, Director, Centre of Partnerships for Development outlined seven steps for unlearning when it comes to social business: “First step: The world is limited. There is only one earth; Second step: Population growth is the biggest challenge in our history; Third step: Profit is not revenue minus costs; Fourth Step: Organizations are obsolete; Fifth Step: The challenge is not to have ideas, but to implement them; Sixth Step: Talent evolves and migrates; Step Seven: Opportunities have moved.”

    Why is it important to unlearn? Can’t we jsut learn? Or relearn? Cañeque got into why unlearning is an important part of social innovation as a whole:

    It is typically in crisis situations when the absence of political leadership becomes most evident. In such situations, it is also when social innovation becomes most needed.

     However, as a concept, for innovation to be really social, it should challenge current thinking models and recognize that present decision-making parameters have not been adequate for solving global challenges. That is why it is now so necessary to start unlearning as a reflective method for critical inquiry, so we can fully analyze the limits of management promoting transition towards more inclusive and sustainable development.

     We need to unlearn in order to innovate. This proposal presents seven steps that will help the unlearning process towards social innovation, enabling entrepreneurs to generate new business models in times of crisis that are more inclusive and sustainable.

    When it comes to those dreaded “New Year’s resolutions,” they’re almost always individual. And of course, guided by the market, marketing and consumerism. I will go to the gym. I will be kinder. I will eat more local foods. The necessary “we” is almost always lost. But the “we” is what makes things complicated and heavy. A “we” is somewhat dependent on other people, on their actions and non-actions. Unlearning, when it comes to social business, has a communal aspect that requires for a creation and re-creation.

    There are countless — and I mean, countless — steps that could be added to Cañeque’s list. Some, perhaps, more necessary than others. At the same time, however, what is essential is a mind that is open to throwing certain ways of doing things out in the garbage.

  • Productivity and social entrepreneurs

    By Tiana Reid, Senior Editor of SocialBusiness.org

    As I’m on “vacation” in the Caribbean, I’m thinking about productivity. Maybe that’s a good sign, or maybe, it’s not. It’s here where I get my best work done—sometimes my fastest and sometimes not. I read about a dozen books, I write creatively (something I hardly ever have time to do) and I also get a little work in for my thesis and my job. Rest is needed in order to reboot and continue or recharge productivity. Some would say it’s a sin to “work” on my vacation but it gives me a bit of balance.

    Since I don’t work 9 to 5 anymore, I don’t have much of a schedule. But that doesn’t mean I have a lot of free time. In fact, it means I have to be a lot smarter about my scheduling and what I do with my time. I only have about eight hours of class time a week (usually a seminar), an hour or two of office hours with a professor, too many hours in the library to readily admit here. Then, I usually set in an amount of projects I want to complete in terms of work. And then there are errands, exercise, friends and family. Sometimes I try not to think about all of things I have to do, and sometimes, it’s exactly thinking (and writing) all the things that I have to do that makes me that much more motivated to tackle each and every thing on the list.

    My former editor, Marissa Brassfield, started the wonderful site Ridiculously Efficient that vows “helping solopreneurs pursue their passions and still have the time to live well.” There, I can go and lose myself (in un-productivity). But mostly, I get my advice from a tweet or from the efficient daily newsletter. Many of the tips she gives are apt for the entrepreneur or freelancer who creates his or her own schedule. Here are a recent few stress-free tips that she’s shared with her readers:

  • Social business and mentorship

    By Tiana Reid, Senior Editor of SocialBusiness.org

    The social entrepreneurship community — especially online — is intensely tight-knit. On Twitter, Facebook and email, there are copious amounts of exclamation points and thank yous, however genuine.  Pascal Finette recently wrote a piece called “Get Yourself a Mentor… Maybe Two” for the Unreasonable Institute. In it, he writes:

    Intuitively we all know that having a good support network of smart people around us will make us stronger, help us make the right decisions, allow us to see things from a different perspective, and pull us through those inevitable dark moments of being an entrepreneur. Leaders often don’t tend to talk about their respective mentors – but you can almost guarantee that any well-known (and less well-known) successful leader has a roster of other people they trust and rely on. When they do talk about their mentors, it’s often with a voice filled with admiration, passion, and love.

    A good mentor will become your mirror. The person you can be vulnerable with, who holds you up, cheers you on, tells you off when you do something stupid, and generally makes you a better person. And often they are friends for life.

    Interestingly a lot of young leaders don’t have a mentor. It is not due to lack of mentors, or a mentor’s unwillingness to work with people who haven’t cut their teeth in the world of business and entrepreneurship yet. It is because young entrepreneurs don’t ask. Often they think they either know the answer (they generally don’t), don’t want to be perceived as weak and vunerable (a misconception of leadership), or don’t have the guts to ask. Don’t be that kind of leader. You owe it to your idea, your employees, your customers.

    Interestingly, however, I have interviewed a few social entrepreneurs who haven’t been so optimistic about the value of mentorship. Sometimes it seems like more of a rite of passage than an actual source of knowledge and progress and social entrepreneurship. But for many, a mentorship is a valuable process for both or all parties involved.

    What is more, a traditional or more formal mentorship program is not always the most valuable. After interviewing dozens of social entrepreneurs at all stages of their career, many of them attest to being involved in less formal mentorship activities. For instance, maybe they seek out a friend for advice here and there. Many people also have found advice  through social media and people they’ve only met online. That can prove valuable since it’s sometimes a new relationship and thus, you and your social business gets the advantage of a fresh set of eyes.

    Have you had any fulfilling mentorship experiences? Or perhaps any horror stories?

  • How do we measure “progress”?

    By Tiana Reid, Senior Editor of SocialBusiness.org

    Ted Halstead and Clifford Cobb address the need to measure “progress” in a way other than GNP. How are we to measure standards of living or something qualitative happiness? Surely, some things are unmeasurable. Furthermore, every measurement needs to be accompanied by the question “for what?” For whom and under what circumstances?

    As the Sustainable Business Forum noted earlier in December, “Standard Gross Domestic Product (GDP) only considers the sum of goods and services produced by a country. As a consequence, even expenditures associated with oil spills and the consumption of alcohol and cigarettes add to GDP growth, but cannot reasonably be said to increase societal welfare. However, GDP has become exactly that: a commonly used measurement for the progress of a state’s welfare.”

    Simultaneously, Mark Anielski imagines the consummate examples of what kind of individuals would be “good” and “bad” for GDP: “The ideal economic or GDP hero is a chain-smoking terminal cancer patient going through an expensive divorce whose car is totaled in a 20-car pileup, while munching on fast-take-out-food and chatting on a cell phone. All add to GDP growth. The GDP villain is non-smoking, eats home-cooked wholesome meals and cycles to work.”

    Halstead and Cobb bring light to our assumption that GDP equals progress. It’s important to also challenge the very notion of progress. We see technology as an indication of our progress yet we simultaneously use these technologies to participate in wars that have killed millions of lives. Along the same line, emotional work and kinship are undervalued in our society. In a “Development and Livelihood” class, i once studied an Inuit community in Clyde River, Nunavut, Canada. Most of their transactions are money-free, and thus, would fall completely under the radar of measuring GDP. Moreover, this privileges the work of the dominant order and ignores female domestic labour. There’s a divide between the “economy,” those who work for it and the society at large. The so-called “corporate veil”  shields the poverty and inequality.

  • Rethinking CSR

    By Tiana Reid, Senior Editor of SocialBusiness.org

    I never went to business school, which is why, my first thought after reading Sandra Waddock’s “Hollow Men at the Helm” article was, “Oh, this doesn’t apply to me. I studied international development student. And now I’m doing my M.A. in black studies.” But it’s this kind of thinking that has left us all shifting the responsibility to others – either the government, business, social enterprises or NGOs. Although not a business student, I work with social businesses. A common definition of a social business is a company that follows business principles, but a company that is dedicated to working toward solving a social issue. All profits are put back into the company in order to create a sustainable business that doesn’t accept donations.

    While doing my B.A. at McGill, I spent learning not so much about “integrity” as Waddock refers to it, but more so about social and environmental awareness. Of course, I believed in similar things like equity (not simply equality) and social good long before I started my undergrad, but my ideas and beliefs have become not only stronger, but more my own. I’ve known many students who have studied management, business and/or commerce at school, but it’s safe to say that we have had a fundamentally different educational experience. While I’m a cynic about something like CSR, those who I have met who studied business in school are more optimistic about it. Published in the Globe and Mail, Konrad Yakabuski’s article, “The Kindness of Corporations,” really explored what I feel, for the most part, about CSR. I have been taught to see right through greenwashing and I am critical about many charities — international, domestic and local — not because I don’t care but because I know that most “aid” goes to paying for flights, salaries and the like. Most CSR is an attempt to sell more products by getting the consumer to think that the company is doing good – or even better, by getting the consumer to think that they themselves are doing good.