• 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.

  • Africa is ‘On the Up’

    By Rob and Nikki Wilson, Co-Founders of On the Up and READ International


    How often do you read a good news story about Africa? Not often enough in our opinion. That’s why we made it our personal mission to uncover Africa’s most exceptional changemakers. In late 2010 we got married and throughout 2011, we took an extended honeymoon and traveled over land from Cape Town to Cairo to find these stories. This year we’ve released a book about our adventure, On the Up.

    From a Zen Buddhist who is training rats to sniff out landmines, to an ex-playboy millionaire who is using his fortune to tackle multinational mining firms, the people we profiled are not your archetypal charity workers. We were specifically seeking out ‘social entrepreneurs,’ people who are shedding fresh light on social and environmental issues. Ranging from social businesses, to registered charities to mass movements – the means that social entrepreneurs use to achieve their goals can be multifaceted and diverse. What makes them unique, however, is that they have created innovative solutions at a grassroots level. From the bottom up, they are driving real, lasting change that larger players, like governments or international charities, often fail to achieve.

    Thanks to networks like Ashoka, we managed to identify an incredible suite of social entrepreneurs across the continent.  And to our delight, getting them to share their stories has been a total pleasure. With open arms we have been welcomed in to spend a day or two with each individual, giving us plenty of time to unpick what makes them tick and their projects fly. Reliably thought-provoking and always deeply inspiring, we are yet to visit anyone whose work did not leave us moved. And in reading our book, we hope our followers will be left feeling the same.

    No matter what flicks your switch when it comes to a good news story, On the Up has something for everyone. Here’s a taster of the kinds of people and projects featured:

    South Africa – Charles Maisel. As controversial as he is kindhearted, this is one man whose view point shakes up charity thinking. Founder of many social start-ups including the award winning employment agency Men on the Side of the Road, Charles takes a founders fee from his portfolio of projects and earns himself a tidy wage in the process!

    Zimbabwe – Betty Makoni. Betty’s incredible organization, Girl Child Network, has empowered hundreds of thousands of girls across Zimbabwe to stand up for their rights and speak out against the injustice of abuse. But Betty has given up more than most to achieve her vision, and has been forced to live in exile by the Mugabe regime.

    Zambia – Simon & Jane Berry. After years of development, Simon and Jane have developed an aid container which fits neatly into the excess space in Coca Cola crates. In a world first, they are about to kick off a trial to deliver essential medical aid to remote areas of Zambia using the Coca Cola distribution network.

    Tanzania – Bart Weetjens. At the bottom of the Uluguru mountains in Tanzania, Bart Weetjens’ organisation, APOPO, is training African Giant Pouched Rats how to sniff out landmines. This story is guaranteed to make you think differently about the powers of our furry friends!

    Rwanda –Mary Kayitesi Blewitt. Without Mary, organizations set up to support the survivors of the Rwandan genocide would not be where they are today. Her efforts to build the capacity of numerous Rwandan NGO’s has helped thousands of widows and orphans to move on from the past and build a brighter future.

    Uganda – Alexander Maclean. African prisons are not pretty places. But at age 18, Alexander set about bringing hope and dignity to the inmates at Ugandan Prisons. His organization,  the African Prisons Project, is dedicated to providing healthcare, education and justice to society’s most condemned.

    Kenya – Nick Moon & Martin Fisher. A new spin on micro-finance, Nick Moon and Martin Fisher founded KickStart to develop and promote technologies that can be used by dynamic entrepreneurs to establish and run profitable small scale enterprises.

    Sudan – Emmanuel Jal. A former child soldier, Emmanuel has transformed his life and is now a world renowned rap star. Using music as his medium, he is inspiring the Sudanese youth to overcome destructive divides and unite for a better future.

    On the Up became a reality thanks to generous support from the Vodafone Foundation and the Winston Churchill Memorial Trust. If you’re looking for funds for an inspirational journey, this might just be the place to start! You can buy the book on our website. Please ‘Like’ our page on Facebook.