• 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.

  • Three postcolonial concepts for social entrepreneurs


    By Editor of SocialBusiness.org

    Prayer on the Housetops, Jean-Leon Gerome, 1865

    Orientalism Orientalism is one of those books that changed the world. And in my undergraduate education, probably around my third year in university in Montreal, I was exploring beyond my traditional International Development Studies courses, and found myself in both a Gender and Postcolonial Lit class and a Theories of Difference English course. It was then that Orientalism changed me, too. Orientalism is a concept developed by postcolonial theorist Edward Said and is also a book published in 1978 under the same name. For Said, orientalism is “a manner of regularized (or Orientalized) writing, vision, and study, dominated by imperatives, perspectives, and ideological biases ostensibly suited to the Orient.” It’s essential to think about when entrepreneurs talk for or even about marginalized subjects. Orientalism creates objects, especially, as we see in Gerome’s piece, in art. It’s the way we (read: The West) talk about, present, re-represent and imagine the Other. Hybridity Hybridity is a term typically attributed to being developed to the postcolonial intellectual Homi Bhabha in his 1996 book The Location of Culture. It can be, and it is to me, a little more optimistic than orientalism. Hybridity, as you can imagine, is an in-between state. Or rather, an in between process. “The borderline engagements of cultural difference may as often be consensual as conflictual; they may confound our definitions of tradition and modernity; realign the customary boundaries between the private and the public, high and low; and challenge normative expectations of development and progress,”  writes Bhabha. Hybridity can be creative, it can also be a site of resistance so think about productivity and creativity when you’re straddling two worlds, whatever those worlds are. Maybe it’s business and social good or maybe it’s the United States and Kenya. Subaltern Antonio Gramsci’s idea of cultural hegemony laid the grounds for the postcolonial concept of the subaltern as it is viewed today. Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak is maybe the poster woman for “subaltern” as a concept and she insists that

    subaltern is not just a classy word for “oppressed”, for [the] Other, for somebody who’s not getting a piece of the pie. . . . In post-colonial terms, everything that has limited or no access to the cultural imperialism is subaltern — a space of difference. Now, who would say that’s just the oppressed? The working class is oppressed. It’s not subaltern. . . . Many people want to claim subalternity. They are the least interesting and the most dangerous. I mean, just by being a discriminated-against minority on the university campus; they don’t need the word ‘subaltern’ . . . They should see what the mechanics of the discrimination are. They’re within the hegemonic discourse, wanting a piece of the pie, and not being allowed, so let them speak, use the hegemonic discourse. They should not call themselves subaltern.

  • 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.

  • On momtrepreneurs and “having it all”

    By Tiana Reid, Senior Editor of SocialBusiness.org

    “Momtrepreneur” is a term I  loathe. What does it mean exactly? Simply put and obviously enough, it’s a portmanteau that melds mom and entrepreneur. It’s a term I’ve come across through Twitter headlines but never really clicked the link because I didn’t have a personal interest to learn more—for the most part. But as I was doing research for the Social Business ebook that we’re working on, I came across a “momtrepreneur” in the flesh (well, over Skype). When I interviewed her, I asked what she thought of the term and if she thought that it applied to her. She was, after all, a mother and an entrepreneur. But even more than that, however, her social enterprise was specifically child-focused. Is “momtrepreneur” a word that is given to you, imposed on you or chosen by you? Or all of the above? Or perhaps, none of the above?

    There are social, economic and cultural implications toward what it means and allows for women who are both mothers and entrepreneurs. It’s more than simply similar to “fashionista,” but rather, it’s akin to, say, “journalista” or “editrix” because it’s career-oriented, meaning that it can diminish the professional aspect that women have been fighting for even before the women’s rights movement.

    But others embrace the term and their dual status. They straddle both worlds: motherhood and entrepreneurship. It gives a sense of a community and a sense of belonging. There are meet-up groups and support groups and cocktail hours and business advisors and the like.

    For me, a non-mom, it can’t help but make me think of the dreaded “having it all” debate. It began with The Atlantic’s controversial cover story noxiously dubbed “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All” by Anne-Marie Slaughter where “all,” I guess, refers to both a successful career and a fulfilling home life—the “women problem” that has emerged since women have been working professionally in North America.

    The piece went viral and many responded whether via Facebook and Twitter or through editorials and op-eds. One such opinion came from Veronica Percia, a 27-year-old lawyer, who was quoted in the Washington Post: “It scared me, but men should be scared, too, because work-life balance is a human problem, not just a woman problem.”  And indeed, work-life balance shouldn’t be relegated simply to one gender, even though it commonly is.

    In a way, “momtrepreneur” could be considered a form of othering. By making distinct, it threatens to diminish. It’s important, I think, that women entrepreneurs in the social enterprise and social business spaces consider their roles as it plays out within gender, business and social good. Feminism isn’t a hot topic in the social enterprise world (or a lot of worlds actually), but no one is exempt.

    And it’s an even larger question on whether “it all” exists. It is, of course, a personal question and one that at twenty-two years old, I’ve considered and, well, don’t believe in. But hey, maybe I’ll end up proving myself wrong and re-imagine what “all” means.

  • Three unlikely quotes for social entrepreneurs

    By Tiana Reid, Editor and Community Manager at SocialBusiness.org.

    There are already a slew of “quotes for social entrepreneurs” blog posts out there but how can social entrepreneurs pull from other spaces?

    What’s so great about the tight-knit #socent community is that, well, it’s tight-knit. At the same time, however, sometimes, like all communities, it’s too inward-looking and can become a recycling bin for so-called best practices.

    In light of all that, here are three unlikely quotes for social entrepreneurs:

    “I must be a mermaid. I have no fear of depths and a great fear of shallow living.” – Anaïs Nin

    To say that Anaïs Nin’s writing has depth would be an understatement. This quote in particular is next-level cathartic. I mean, the social entrepreneur has feelings too. What’s more, for the business creator, it speaks to not only to diving deeper into models and impact, but also to mysticism. Surrendering to the outside, to forces beyond control (and not in a religious sense), can relieve stress and create a “breath in, breath out” moment.

    “The only problem with seeing too much is that it makes you insane.” – Phaedrus

    I chose this almost to counteract the Nin quote. (You see what I did there?) Social entrepreneurs, much like more “traditional” charities and non-profits, are bombarded with the need to measure everything. Sometimes it’s crucial to step back, look at the big picture and think like a toddler, that is, ask why. Why are you measuring this? Why is this measure important? Why aren’t I measuring something else? It could always be otherwise.

    “Feminism is for everybody.” – bell hooks

    Not simply a quote, this one is also a book on passionate politics. In it, hooks defines feminism as “a movement to end sexism, sexist exploitation, and oppression.” For her, feminism(s) is/are intertwined with race, class and sexual orientation (etc.) — the infinite intersectionalities. So, this stems beyond “mere feminism” and everyone, not just social entrepreneurs, needs to recognize and acknowledge privilege and oppression alike. What’s particular about social entrepreneurs, and anyone in the business of social change, is that people often think they’re always helping. On-the-ground services, donations in particular, can have positive and negative consequences on the market economy, local culture and the entire big bad globe. In particular, the way in which the West talks about Africa (not a country!) is often clouded with racism—in spite of, or perhaps because of, the seemingly altruistic nature of social good. Just look at this.