Six Big Ideas for the Next Economy

Lightbulbs drawn on dusty black chalkboard

At CSI, we believe we need an economy that is regenerative, equitable, and prosperous for all. Since 2012, we’ve been supporting nonprofits, social entrepreneurs, activists, and advocates as we work toward this Next Economy together.

The COVID-19 pandemic has made it impossible to ignore the failings of our current systems. Racism, poverty, the climate emergency: every time we look at a problem, we find our economic structure holding us back. If we’re going to make the world better, we need to design an economic system that puts people and planet first.

Luckily, many people and organizations from around the world have the same idea. They’ve been innovating new solutions, championing community-based, circular, participatory, equitable models that prove a Next Economy is possible.

Next Economy Conversations powered by Fiix is an opportunity to meet these leaders and hear about the solutions they have built and implemented. Tonya Surman, CSI CEO and serial social entrepreneur, facilitates the discussion, incorporating questions from the live audience. These conversations help us all learn, reflect, and integrate these ideas into our own efforts to build the Next Economy.

2021 is going to be a year of recovery, and we need big, bold ideas to get us started. We’ve chosen some highlights from each of our past events to cover in this blog, but if you want to fully immerse yourself in their work and optimism, you can watch all our Next Economy Conversations in full here.

On This Page

Failing so we can succeed

For our first Next Economy Conversations, we asked Bill Young to join us for a discussion about how he founded Social Capital Partners and why failure is necessary in creating systems-level solutions.

The thing about systems change is: it’s risky.

“Most funders don’t like funding things that aren’t working,” said Bill. “So the tendency is ‘let’s do things that will work.’”

Social Capital Partners is lucky to have independent funding. It means they have the freedom to experiment, to push boundaries, to do things that are inherently really, really hard.

“We flipped the script and said ‘no, we aren’t succeeding unless we are failing,’” Bill explained. “We will fail because we are trying stuff that nobody else is going to try. And that’s our role.”

They’re always aiming for the greatest impact they can have.

“How do we transform this economic landscape in the most powerful, equal way? How do we solve inequality? If we saw that what we were doing wasn’t going to get us there, whether it was branded a success or failure, it didn’t matter to us.

“To us, it’s kind of like a maze. In the centre of the maze is the magic of the biggest impact you could possibly have. To get to the center, you hit a lot of dead ends. You need to hit those to get to the centre. So we never look at failure or success as either failure or success. We look upon it as part of the road map on the way to have the most impact we possibly can have. ‘Is this the route to get there?’ If it isn’t, we change. Success and failure has nothing to do with it.”

Creating community-based solutions

Jeff Cyr of Raven Indigenous Capital Partners joined us in June to discuss what Community-Driven Outcomes Contract (CDOC) are and how they are serving the Indigenous community. This innovative new investment vehicle is changing the game in Canada — connecting social finance with deep-rooted respect for community.

The idea of an Indigenous intermediary came to Jeff a few months after the inaugural Indigenous Innovation Summit. His conversations with Indigenous entrepreneurs leading up to, during, and after the summit revealed massive barriers in access to capital.

“What didn’t exist was Indigenous investment vehicles. That’s the problem. We said: ‘We need Indigenous equity. I wonder if we can raise capital from the non-Indigenous world to invest in Indigenous enterprise and prove that this can be done.’”

They did! Raven Capital completed their sixth investment in June 2020. All of their ventures so far are promising — and one in particular sparked the development of a new social finance model for community-based solutions.

In a CDOC, the community in question determines its priorities and how they’re going to get there before they look for capital. It places control into the hands of the beneficiaries, rather than external parties that don’t fully understand the problems they’re trying to solve.

The CDOC itself is basically a pay-for-performance model: private investors upfront the investment and tag a rate of return based on success. The Indigenous social enterprise will work with the band to implement the solution. Once they hit success, the outcomes buyer (the government) pays the private investors back with a rate of return. Raven Capital acts as an intermediary between all three parties.

It’s an intentionally slow, deeply collaborative process.

“We will often say ‘we are now going to be in relationship with each other,’” explained Jeff. “At the end of the day, when things get tough you rely on relationships to see you through. So we spend an inordinate amount of time building relationships and trust.”

Using business as a force for good

B Lab Canada’s Country Manager Kasha Huk joined us in July to talk about using business as a force for good, stakeholder capitalism, and the stringent requirements businesses need to meet to maintain their B Corp Certification.

We often face silos when trying to address systemic inequities: “Nonprofits and governments are creating these policies on one side to do good, and then businesses are doing the work they want to do and donating money toward causes. But they were kind of seen as separate.”

This is where the B Corp comes into play: “The B Corp movement [is] this place where businesses are seeing that [they] can address complex social and environmental issues through their business model.”

Essentially, these are for-profit organizations that want to use their influence for good.

A B Corp (not to be confused with a Benefit Corporation, which is a legal structure) embraces the idea of stakeholder capitalism. They define what’s in the best interest of a company not solely by profit, but by thinking about different stakeholders.

Currently, there are over 260 Canadian B Corps – a number that has grown exponentially in recent years.

“We work with these companies to help them achieve greater impact through the assessment process,” Kasha explained. It’s a lengthy, stringent evaluation that asks businesses to consider all their stakeholders in their operations, and must be completed once every few years to stay certified.

While the B Corp Certification is available only to for-profits, Kasha encourages all organizations to use the free online assessment as a tool to track their improvements over time across five different areas: governance, workers, communities, environment, and customers.

“[The assessment helps you] understand how you’re doing across these areas, and gives you a road map for improvement.”

Measuring success with community capital

We spoke with Buy Social Canada Managing Director David LePage in August about social procurement and the Marketplace Revolution.

In the early 2000s, David realized that while there were lots of employment social enterprises doing great work, there was a stark lack of demand for social enterprises and the people they hire.

“The companies that were saying ‘we want to help’ were [also] like ‘we don’t hire these people,’” David recalled. “But they buy the products and services that hire people into entry-level jobs. So how do we […] create the demand side that says ‘I’m going to buy from the companies that will hire these people’?”

This is the foundation of social procurement theory, which proposes that the purpose of a marketplace is not to create economic value, but to create healthy communities. This means taking into account human, social, physical, and cultural capital along with economic capital – something Buy Social Canada calls “community capital.”

“When we start to measure success in community capital, we start to change the very activity of business,” said David. “So if you aren’t paying a living wage and beyond, if you aren’t environmentally sound, then you aren’t fulfilling your capitals.”

Social procurement is about looking past financial reward as a sole measure of success, and making intentional purchasing decisions that have a positive impact across all capitals.

Government support is imperative to driving this change in how we do business, and can support social enterprise through its procurement decisions.

“The whole policy system is set up to reward big business and financial gain. We need to make accessible the same supports for social enterprises that are available to private businesses,” said David. “We have to shift how we value. It’s not the lowest price, it’s the best value. And the best value is about community capital.”

Rethinking food waste

Marcos Igreja, Genecis’ Associate Director of Engineering and Operations, joined us in October to speak about the circular economy, turning food waste into biodegradable plastic, and the environmental and human costs of the products we use every day.

Genecis takes local food waste and turns it into PHA, a biodegradable plastic whose properties are almost indistinguishable from the traditional PET plastics many manufacturers currently use. It’s an excellent example of a business contributing to a circular economy.

“The circular economy is an economy that knows how to take into account the entire life cycle of any good that is produced,” Marcos explained. “You need to be able to understand everything that came before it – all the labour, all the resources – and what happens after… how it is disposed, where it ends up. Most importantly, you have to be able to connect the two ends back together.”

The startup has already seen interest from clients across multiple industries, from medical equipment (e.g. biodegradable sutures) to household food producers (e.g. packaging). It’s hard not to get excited about their PHA: it’s sustainable, locally-sourced, and most importantly, it minimizes externalized costs.

“When people say that petroleum is cheaper than biofuel or bioplastic, they’re not taking into account costs caused by disposal, the pollution this causes in oceans, greenhouse gas emissions which affect our atmosphere, and all sorts of other political conflicts created through the improper use of those resources,” said Marcos. “In a fair economy, you have to take into account those costs.”

Democratizing control of community resources

In December, SolarShare General Manager Chris Caners sat down for a conversation about democratic control, community-financed projects, and the importance of government support for systems change.

SolarShare is a nonprofit cooperative that owns, finances, and operates 49 solar facilities across Ontario. They’ve raised over $60M with their community financing model, and their values are rooted in giving communities ownership, access, and control over local infrastructure (specifically, a renewable energy source).

“Fundamentally, the thing I’m excited about is the participation and role of community in our day-to-day lives, and in SolarShare’s case, the infrastructure,” said Chris. “The co-op model is a great model. It speaks to me about democratic control.”

It’s a lot harder for a solution’s beneficiaries to get taken advantage of when they are also its owners and key decision-makers.

“It gets a lot better when we have resilience within the community, and are able to [supplement] it with external sources,” said Chris. “For me, democratic control of infrastructure is one path to a better, more equitable future for all of us.”

Chris acknowledged the challenges of scaling community-based solutions right now. We designed a system that rewards only a small group of people. So of course the people who benefit from this system – the ones who currently hold power – aren’t eager to disrupt the status quo.

“Fundamentally, we need to change the way we operate. If we want a better and more equitable future, we need to design it into how our organizations and our laws work,” he said. “There are lots of people doing lots of excellent work, like SolarShare, TREC, and CSI. But in order to make it scale, we need our governments to help.”

What’s Next

We’ve seen some common themes run across our conversations with these leaders: the need to think holistically about how businesses operate and who they impact, the importance of strengthening communities through democratic control, and the need for government policies that support the organizations creating change.

We’re excited to continue these conversations, and we hope you’ll join us on this journey! Our first Next Economy Conversations of 2021 will be with Paul Taylor, Executive Director of FoodShare Toronto, on February 4. Get your tickets!

Further Reading

Still hungry for more? Here are a few full-length recaps from the other conversations we had last year:

Visual learners, we’ve got you too. Watch all the recordings from Next Economy Conversations and Climate Ventures Conversations on YouTube.

CSI member Brett Matthews makes sure digital currency leaves no one behind

In most countries — Canada included! — our currency is easily differentiated by things like the colour and artwork of each bill or coin. But as the world moves away from cash and towards digital transactions, we are leaving behind approximately one billion illiterate and and innumerate (otherwise known as ‘oral’) adults who can’t read or write numbers like $1,250 or ₹24,300. This leaves them excluded from economic participation, contributes to cascading negative outcomes and perpetuates deep poverty.

With his My Oral Village project, CSI member Brett Matthews has created transaction records that everyone – including illiterate and innumerate people – can use safely, conveniently and independently.

In recognition of his systems changing work, Brett was made an Ashoka Fellow. Ashoka Fellows are the world’s leading social entrepreneurs. They champion innovative new ideas that transform society’s systems, providing benefits for everyone and improving the lives of millions of people.

We chatted with him about what this fellowship means to him, what the world looks like if My Oral Village achieves its goals, and how being part of CSI is making that happen.

Congratulations on becoming an Ashoka Fellow! What is the most meaningful part for you?
Ashoka gets what I’m doing, and believes in it. That is a big thing for me, because as I’ve been learning, they have been a transformational force in putting social entrepreneurship – in all its glorious impact and diversity – on the map. Getting to know them has been getting to know about this wonderful movement. There are Ashoka Fellows whose work literally takes my breath away. Their vision, energy and commitment provide a whole new benchmark for my own efforts.

What do you wish potential donors or supporters understood about people living in poverty?
Poverty, and the state of being in it, say nothing bad about a person. Poverty is not the result of a morally or intellectually deficient character. It is what happens when we humans create large-scale social organizations without thinking about the human consequences carefully enough. Poverty is a problem we have all created, and it is going to take all of us to fix it. And we can do it. In the Anthropocene, we can no longer say “the poor are always with us.” We must instead say – “what we created, we can fix!”

What has been the most surprising thing you’ve learned since you started working in Oral Information Management?
I remain utterly dumbfounded – I can’t think of a more accurate term – by the fact that the work I’m currently doing is even necessary. I have no idea why it wasn’t done a century ago. And the reasons for doing it have simply kept increasing in every decade since. Why would we not make it easier for illiterate and innumerate people to understand their own financial records by providing those in a form that this population can understand? We understand what we are trying to communicate to them, and we know that they have no chance of decoding our messages. Since we are code-makers, let us lever what they do know to fashion a code they can understand and use comfortably. How difficult can this be – honestly?

I studied Marshall McLuhan at the University of Toronto a decade ago. In one of his papers he put it like this: “We live invested in an electric information environment that is quite as imperceptible to us as water is to fish.” I didn’t imagine then that something as basic as text could be imperceptible to us as literate adults. Now, hard experience has taught me that he is right.

What is your biggest hope for My Oral Village? What does the world look like if all those hopes come true?
No parent should ever have to pull a child out of school because the price of chickens drops, or a disease sweeps through her flock. This is one of many ways that poor people suffer because they can’t use formal financial services. Subsistence farmers and landless labourers do a great job of managing complex portfolios of in-kind assets, promises and precious metals. But to get out of poverty permanently is really hard if they can’t add cash and financial assets to their portfolios. If we succeed, everyone on earth will be able to safely and confidently enter the formal financial sector whenever they need to, and accomplish what they need to there. The issues we target are particularly onerous to girls and women, because of gender norms that disempower their natural desire to learn how to work with numbers and money. We can’t eliminate those gender norms, but we can reduce their power.

At My Oral Village, we’re building the science of ‘oral information management’, and designing practical applications from it. We want to put an end to the days when humans in advanced technological societies can look at the rest of the world and say “they’ll figure it all out, and if they can’t, tough.” This sort of attitude can’t build a just global society, achieve the Sustainable Development Goals or help us adapt to the challenges of the Anthropocene. So in some ways our highest aspiration is to help to change thinking here. We don’t just have to take responsibility for the natural environment. We also have to take responsibility for human nature.

How has being involved with CSI impacted your work?
A lot! I discovered CSI in 2011 when we were renovating our house. I was a self-employed microfinance consultant at the time, and had spent most of the previous decade working in some of the poorest nations in Asia. I loved working in the villages in Asia, but had become very disillusioned by expat communities and the so-called ‘experts’ in microfinance and development. During my stint at CSI I met a lot of really beautiful people with really inspiring visions and the practical mindset and habits to realize them. It was an inflection point in my personal growth. I started seeing Toronto not just as a source of confusion and misinformation about global poverty, but also a genuine source of possible resources and solutions.

I’ll never forget a series of workshops I attended, organized and facilitated by Tonya Surman, at the newly opened Annex for social entrepreneurs working on new ideas. I was planning a new not-for-profit, to be called My Oral Village. She showed an immediate and genuine interest in what I was doing, and has kept that interest ever since. My work is different from hers, but she understands the challenges of building a social enterprise and a social movement, and her insights are always valuable. For our part we’ve been having our board meetings at CSI since our inception, and Tonya attended our first public event in Toronto, at CSI at 192 Spadina, facilitated by Doug Saunders of the Globe and Mail.

How can CSI members (or anyone!) get involved in My Oral Village?
We are currently looking for board members with experience in fund-raising, journalism or international banking and microfinance. We are also looking for volunteers in accounting, design and website development.


If you have an idea that will help build an equitable, regenerative and prosperous Next Economy, become a CSI member today!

Investment Readiness Program now open for second round of funding

Investment Readiness Program blog graphic

It’s not every day the government announces an $805 million investment in social innovation, but on November 21, 2018 that’s exactly what happened. We were excited then, and we’re just as excited now to share the first cohort of recipients funded through the Toronto Community Foundation thanks to the Canadian Government’s Investment Readiness Program!

Social Finance Fund Backgrounder

In June 2017, the Government of Canada created a Social Innovation and Social Finance Strategy Co-Creation Steering Group. Just over a year later the Group delivered its final report, Inclusive innovation: New Ideas and New Partnerships for Stronger Communities.

One of the report’s key recommendations was to create a Social Finance Fund to help close the financing gap faced by organizations that deliver positive social outcomes, and to help accelerate the growth of the existing social finance market in Canada.

And it happened! In late 2018 the Government made $755 million available on a cash basis over 10 years for a new Social Finance Fund and an additional $50 million over two years for social purpose organizations to improve their ability to successfully participate in the social finance market.

The fund gives charitable, non-profit, and social purpose organizations access to new financing to implement their innovative ideas, and connects them with non-government investors seeking to support projects that will drive positive social change.

Poised for Impact: the Investment Readiness Program

Working closely with the Community Foundations of Canada and the Toronto Foundation, CSI is pleased to have contributed to the local grant review (but not to the final selection process) and provide backbone financial support to help flow dollars to recipient organizations. 

As a part of the Social Finance Fund, the Canadian Government created the Investment Readiness Program (IRP). The IRP supports social purpose organizations (SPOs) as they contribute to solving pressing social, cultural and environmental challenges across Canada. Its goal is to help SPOs build their capacity to participate in Canada’s growing social finance market and prepare for Canada’s broader investment in social finance.

At the start of 2020, the Community Foundations of Canada opened applications for a first round of IRP funding. Organizations were invited to apply for $10,000-$100,000 in non-repayable capital to help launch, design, measure and scale their social enterprise and prepare to access investment in Canada’s growing social finance marketplace.

The Results of Round One: CSI Members Funded

It’s hard to believe that it’s been almost two years since the Government’s original funding announcement, and that today we are able to share the results from the first round of IRP funding.

The Investment Readiness Program provided $8.9 million in funding to 257 organizations across the country through its first intake. In Toronto, York and Durham, 23 organizations received funding. The issues the national projects address include poverty, well-being, economic opportunity, equality and climate change.

We are overjoyed to share that CSI members RainStick Recirculating Shower, StopGap Foundation, The Spent Goods Company, CSI alumni the Ontario Nonprofit Network and ZooShare Biogas Co-operative Inc., and community members, the Newcomers Kitchen, were among the organizations to have received IRP funding in round one!

“CSI is pleased to work alongside the Toronto Foundation and others to support the delivery of the Investment Readiness Program in the Toronto, York, and Durham regions. Helping to build the investment readiness of these organizations is so vital (especially in these uncertain COVID-times) to the ability of good ideas many of them with a triple social, economic and environmental bottom line to take root, to scale, and for their implementation,” says CSI’s Chief Operations Officer, Seana Irvine, “This is the work that CSI has been proud to support its members with over the past 16 years, through acceleration, education and connecting. The IRP funds are helping to build the field for this work to flourish.”

The first round of the program was highly competitive with over 200 applications submitted for these three regions alone. Toronto Foundation reviewed all the applications with their regional partners and volunteers. 

For a more interactive view, check out this map of all the first round IRP recipients in Canada.

____

CSI is proud to be a part of this historic moment in Canada’s social innovation history and we look forward to supporting the Canadian Government in its efforts to strengthen the social innovation and social finance fields. With this funding we can grow the Next Economy and Build Back Better.

Maybe you’re interested in doing that with us.

Applications for the second and final round of funding for CFC’s IRP program will be accepted starting September 8, 2020 until October 9, 2020. Apply today!

CSI Members Awarded First Round Investment Readiness Program Funding

Investment Readiness Program blog graphic

It’s not every day the government announces an $805 million investment in social innovation, but on November 21, 2018 that’s exactly what happened. We were excited then, and we’re just as excited now to share the first cohort of recipients funded through the Toronto Community Foundation thanks to the Canadian Government’s Investment Readiness Program!

Social Finance Fund Backgrounder

In June 2017, the Government of Canada created a Social Innovation and Social Finance Strategy Co-Creation Steering Group. Just over a year later the Group delivered its final report, Inclusive innovation: New Ideas and New Partnerships for Stronger Communities.

One of the report’s key recommendations was to create a Social Finance Fund to help close the financing gap faced by organizations that deliver positive social outcomes, and to help accelerate the growth of the existing social finance market in Canada.

And it happened! In late 2018 the Government made $755 million available on a cash basis over 10 years for a new Social Finance Fund and an additional $50 million over two years for social purpose organizations to improve their ability to successfully participate in the social finance market.

The fund gives charitable, non-profit, and social purpose organizations access to new financing to implement their innovative ideas, and connects them with non-government investors seeking to support projects that will drive positive social change.

Poised for Impact: the Investment Readiness Program

Working closely with the Community Foundations of Canada and the Toronto Foundation, CSI is pleased to have contributed to the local grant review (but not to the final selection process) and provide backbone financial support to help flow dollars to recipient organizations. 

As a part of the Social Finance Fund, the Canadian Government created the Investment Readiness Program (IRP). The IRP supports social purpose organizations (SPOs) as they contribute to solving pressing social, cultural and environmental challenges across Canada. Its goal is to help SPOs build their capacity to participate in Canada’s growing social finance market and prepare for Canada’s broader investment in social finance.

At the start of 2020, the Community Foundations of Canada opened applications for a first round of IRP funding. Organizations were invited to apply for $10,000-$100,000 in non-repayable capital to help launch, design, measure and scale their social enterprise and prepare to access investment in Canada’s growing social finance marketplace.

The Results of Round One: CSI Members Funded

It’s hard to believe that it’s been almost two years since the Government’s original funding announcement, and that today we are able to share the results from the first round of IRP funding.

The Investment Readiness Program provided $8.9 million in funding to 257 organizations across the country through its first intake. In Toronto, York and Durham, 23 organizations received funding. The issues the national projects address include poverty, well-being, economic opportunity, equality and climate change.

We are overjoyed to share that CSI members RainStick Recirculating Shower, StopGap Foundation, The Spent Goods Company, CSI alumni the Ontario Nonprofit Network and ZooShare Biogas Co-operative Inc., and community members, the Newcomers Kitchen, were among the organizations to have received IRP funding in round one!

“CSI is pleased to work alongside the Toronto Foundation and others to support the delivery of the Investment Readiness Program in the Toronto, York, and Durham regions. Helping to build the investment readiness of these organizations is so vital (especially in these uncertain COVID-times) to the ability of good ideas many of them with a triple social, economic and environmental bottom line to take root, to scale, and for their implementation,” says CSI’s Chief Operations Officer, Seana Irvine, “This is the work that CSI has been proud to support its members with over the past 16 years, through acceleration, education and connecting. The IRP funds are helping to build the field for this work to flourish.”

The first round of the program was highly competitive with over 200 applications submitted for these three regions alone. Toronto Foundation reviewed all the applications with their regional partners and volunteers. 

For a more interactive view, check out this map of all the first round IRP recipients in Canada.

____

CSI is proud to be a part of this historic moment in Canada’s social innovation history and we look forward to supporting the Canadian Government in its efforts to strengthen the social innovation and social finance fields. With this funding we can grow the Next Economy and Build Back Better.

Maybe you’re interested in doing that with us.

Applications for the second and final round of funding for CFC’s IRP program will be accepted starting September 8, 2020 until October 9, 2020. Apply today!

Join the League of Social Entrepreneurs

League of Social Entrepreneurs Blog header image

Help wanted!

Entrepreneurs! We need you! Toronto needs you! The world needs you! Are you ready for an entirely new kind of challenge? Itching to bring your talents to a new set of problems? Are you looking for a way to give back to the city that has given you so much? Ready to #buildbackbetter?

The Centre For Social Innovation is embarking on a new experiment, the League of Social Entrepreneurs.

We are recruiting experienced and emerging entrepreneurs interested in using their skills and creativity to find solutions to some of our city’s most pressing social issues. And we need you – in the middle of a pandemic that is devastating those most vulnerable in our city – to help us build solutions, right now!

Essentially CSI is looking to remix a ‘change lab’ with a ‘social accelerator’ to create intentional economic solutions that put people and planet first.

We have 4 areas that we are looking for entrepreneurs in: 

  • Homelessness & access to hygiene in Toronto 
  • Affordable housing solutions
  • Impact measurement and social technology
  • Affordable delivery systems to support retail businesses pivoting online

Here is the idea…. 

You, the entrepreneur, join experts from government, NGO’s and people with lived experience to co-learn about the issue, the challenges, barriers, what other jurisdictions have done and the opportunities that exist to solve this problem. We will facilitate a change lab with the goal of identifying solutions that we will turn into prototypes that you are leading, to solve this challenge.

This isn’t easy work. It isn’t for the faint of heart. This might just be the challenge of a lifetime as you bring your problem solving skills, creativity, tenacity, and drive to evolve new solutions that will help Toronto Build Back Better.

So, if you are keen to be kept in the loop on these kinds of opportunities, please answer a few questions in our survey so that we can invite you to the right conversations. 

At the very least, I promise that you will meet some other amazing entrepreneurs who give a damn about our future. 

We’re All In This Together: The WOSEN Program

At CSI we believe in the synergies of connection, the explosive potential of partnerships, and the transformative power of movements. We see them happening every day with collaborators across Ontario and Indigenous regions.

We see them in one of our newest programs, Women of Ontario Social Enterprise Network (WOSEN), a provincial partnership which is part of the Federal Government’s Women Entrepreneurship Strategy. We are building strong connections with our partners in the project, Pillar Nonprofit Network, NORDIK Institute, SVX, Lean4Flourishing, Eve-Volution Inc., and The Social Enterprise Institute. It’s so exciting to be co-designing this work together – we can feel the sparks across our Zoom video calls each week!

Jo Reynold, CSI’s Social Innovation Specialist, says, “It just makes sense to work in collaboration with other social enterprise organizations. Together we share our practices, connect entrepreneurs, and better understand our impact. WOSEN is a model for how social enterprise services can be offered to better meet people where they are at.”

The story of WOSEN emerges out of trust built from past working relationships with the O.N.E. Social Enterprise Partnership, and beyond. Within those relationships we saw our potential to really shift how entrepreneurial supports are designed in order to unlock the potential of diverse womxn social entrepreneurs. The network allowed us to co-design, evaluate, and share knowledge that provided an emerging innovation eco-system with shared practices to us all meet our potential. 

The WOSEN project aims to support 150 new and 75 existing women-led social enterprises, offers ten women-centered innovation learning courses to 250 people, training for 35 business coaches and connections to investment opportunities through the Women Impact Investor Network.

In 2020 CSI will be offering three WOSEN programs: two Start programs and one Grow accelerator. Our Start program is geared for women who have not necessarily seen themselves as entrepreneurs but are interested in learning more and gaining entrepreneurial competencies along the way. Grow, on the other hand, is designed to support women who have already gained initial traction with their social purpose businesses. These women will receive increased support through coaching, networking, and peer-support in order to take their business to the next level. 

Prior to the launch of CSI’s WOSEN programs in May 2020 we conducted casual, one-on-one discovery chats with folks interested in applying to the program. These chats allowed us to listen to a diverse array of women from our surrounding communities to understand their ambitions and assess the barriers they face, taking into account the support systems that they require to achieve their goals. As a result, we are including things like child care services on site during workshop programming to support participants that have children. 

With women in mind, we are designing our programs around these needs to create a safe and supportive environment for women to learn, thrive and grow not only with their social enterprises but in their own personal development as a social entrepreneur. 

Our programming takes a more human centred approach and will encompass the following design principles at its core: inclusive & accessible, systems informed, decolonized, responsive to the needs of women, and incorporate an ecosystem approach.

“There is so much value created when we meaningfully integrate and practice the WOSEN design principles everyday. I love it when participants feel empowered to share their program engagement feedback to help us re-shape programming in a way that is more effective for them,” says Senior Program Manager, Mitalie Makhani, “Being responsive is not always easy but, it’s all worth it once you see how much more it catalyzes a participant’s journey and the positive impact in their communities. That’s what drives me.”

Creating a Platform for Indigenous Innovation: A Next Economy Conversation with Jeff Cyr

Movements across the globe are calling for systems change to build a world that is sustainable, equitable, and prosperous for all. But what will that world look like, specifically? It’s easy to get lost in the jargon or talk vaguely about broad topics. What tangible policies, models, and actions will create the world we want to see?

Next Economy Conversations, our monthly tête-à-tête with industry leaders, brings the people building systems-level solutions to the table to break down their approaches, provide key insights, and learn from their successes and failures. Building the Next Economy takes all of us. Welcome to the conversation.

This month, our CEO Tonya Surman caught up with longtime friend and accomplished innovator Jeff Cyr. His tenure in government and impressive list of leadership positions led him to found Raven Indigenous Capital Partners, where he has continued to empower Indigenous communities and innovators.

Jeff spoke on a range of topics, including barriers to innovation in government, closing gaps faced by Indigenous social enterprises, and an exciting social finance model that puts solutions back into the hands of communities.

The conversation left us all amazed and inspired. In case you missed it, you can glean some highlights from our recap below (or watch the recording above).

The government is not built for innovation

Jeff Cyr: “Governments [...] are not rewarded for innovation, and they’re not designed to be that way. Failing is part of the process in innovation, and you learn from it. But if you run down the halls of the government and go ‘hey, my initiative just failed,’ then you’re probably not going to get that promotion.”

Before Jeff founded Raven Indigenous Capital Partners, he spent about a decade working in the Canadian government. His time there gave him perspective on the opportunities — and limitations — of our existing systems.

“It was massively rewarding and massively frustrating at the same time,” he said. “As an Indigenous person working there, you kind of look at it and go: ‘well, do we really want to make change? Because if so, why are we doing these policies and these programs in this way?’”

The caveat with government-funded projects, Jeff said, is that the government is often unwilling to give up ownership. They also tend to be laser-focused on reporting and hitting measurable goals. You could almost call it tunnel vision: not only does this behaviour impede the creativity of the teams they employ, the solutions that come out of the project are inefficient, and may not even address the problem they were trying to solve in the first place.

“There are certain things the government is very good at, and certain things it […] doesn’t do well. It doesn’t do well at looking at long-term issues — the causes — as opposed to the symptoms. Often government programs are focused on the fix, not on the problem at the core of it.”

This fixation on output rather than outcomes holds back innovation: “Governments […] are not rewarded for innovation, and they’re not designed to be that way. Failing is part of the process in innovation, and you learn from it. But if you run down the halls of the government and go ‘hey, my initiative just failed,’ then you’re probably not going to get that promotion.”

What the government can do well, said Jeff, is contract administration. There are so many individuals and institutions that have lived experience of the problems they want to solve. These people also know how to innovate and get things done. By engaging and empowering them through government contracts (and giving them the autonomy to do what they know will work), the government can effectively tackle systems-level problems through innovation.

Creating an Indigenous investment vehicle

Jeff Cyr, on the Indigenous Innovation Summit: "I was trying to bring 'mainstream' social innovation on a collision course with Indigenous community problem solvers."

After working for the government, Jeff became the Executive Director of the National Association of Friendship Centres (NAFC). During his tenure, he spoke with dozens of Indigenous entrepreneurs, identifying the barriers they face to growth.

These discussions led to the inaugural Indigenous Innovation Summit, a three-day conference that gave a range of stakeholders a seat at the table. They discussed the language of social innovation, highlighted Indigenous innovation projects, and explored the opportunities in social finance.

“I was trying to bring ‘mainstream’ social innovation on a collision course with Indigenous community problem solvers,” explained Jeff.

The idea of an Indigenous intermediary came to him 4-6 months after the summit. Founders had continued to reach out to him to ask where they could access capital. And his conversations with Indigenous entrepreneurs leading up to the summit revealed massive gaps in this area.

“What didn’t exist was Indigenous investment vehicles. That’s the problem. Given those who approached us, we said: ‘We need Indigenous equity. I wonder if we can raise capital from the non-Indigenous world to invest in Indigenous enterprise and prove that this can be done.”

In 2017, Raven started with a $5M demonstration fund. They expect to close between $15-18M this September.

They just completed their sixth investment in mid-June. (It can be done, even during a pandemic!) And all of their ventures so far are promising. Animikii, a digital agency that has done groundbreaking work in Indigenous digital sovereignty, and Cheekbone, a sustainable beauty brand, are just two examples. Both have seen explosive growth.

Jeff explained Raven’s investment approach: “We are an impact-first fund. We’re not there to be extractive of value. We’re there to help business grow […] in keeping with Indigenous epistemology and in keeping with what the business owners really want to do with their business at the end of the day.”

Creating community-driven solutions

Jeff Cyr and colleagues having a discussion at the Energy Lab

Raven Capital’s Community-Driven Outcomes Contract (CDOC) is a social finance model that places control of solutions into the hands of the beneficiaries, rather than external parties that don’t fully understand the problems they’re trying to solve. The community in question will get to determine its priorities and how it’s going to get there before they look for capital.

“It has flipped the power dynamic,” said Jeff.

In 2017, a social enterprise called Aki Energy put in a proposal to the Indigenous Innovation Demonstration Fund. Their idea was rejected — not because it wasn’t viable, Jeff explained, but because the funds wouldn’t do anything for the problem they were trying to address.

Aki Energy was trying to reduce the barriers that prevent Indigenous communities from accessing clean energy, employment, and energy sovereignty. It was a policy problem, and it was a problem worth solving. So the McConnell Foundation (one of the backers of the fund) spearheaded a peer input process to see how they could help Aki Energy bring their idea to life. Jeff was invited to participate.

“An unusual cast of characters sat around the table to problem solve, and [Aki Energy] turned their back while we talked among ourselves,” he recalled. The process was unique — and empowering.

Remember, funded projects tend to be inefficient because of two things: a focus on outputs, not outcomes, and an inability on the funders’ part to relinquish control of decision-making. The investment innovation coming out of this process tackled both problems. Jeff explains:

“We thought: Why don’t we upfront the investment from private investors, and tag a rate of return based on success — a pay-for-performance model […] The Indigenous social enterprise leads and installs with the cooperation of the band. The band becomes owners of the social enterprise at the end of the day. Once they hit success, the outcomes buyer — the government — would pay [the private investors] back with a rate of return.”

And so, the CDOC was born. Raven Capital took on a role as a middleman. For each project, they have contracts with the government, the investors, and the service provider.

As Jeff’s team built out this new investment vehicle, they innovated along the way. (That’s how the idea of a rate card — one that values social outcomes as much as economic ones — was created!)

It was a genuinely collaborative process, intentionally taking more time to build a relationship with the community and ensure their needs are met.

“Everything we do is in relationship. So we will often say ‘we are now going to be in relationship with each other,’” explained Jeff. “At the end of the day, when things get tough you rely on relationships to see you through. So we spend an inordinate amount of time building relationships and trust. We go into communities, we host meetings there.”

Today, Raven Capital is working on their second CDOC project: a suite of interventions for the diabetes epidemic within Indigenous communities. As with Aki Energy, Jeff and his team hope to prove that the solution works in one community, then scale it across the country (and the world)!

In actuality, the CDOC is applicable to most community-level problems — and there has been a lot of interest internationally. But as Canada’s first Indigenous intermediary, the Raven Capital team is committed to creating change at home before going anywhere else.

“We’ll lend our expertise as we can,” said Jeff, “but we see ourselves as having direct obligation to Indigenous communities in Canada first. So we’ll concentrate here and when we have the bandwidth, we will expand.”


Reading our recap of this conversation is one thing. Hearing these words directly from Jeff is another. Remember, you can watch the full recording of our conversation here, or do some further reading at the links below.

Want to hear more from the leaders building the Next Economy? Save the date: July’s edition of Next Economy Conversations is taking place on July 22 at 12pm!

Investing in Proven Climate Solutions: A Conversation with Laura Witt

CSI Climate Ventures Mornings are a chance to hear from climate solutions innovators and leaders.

This month, we got a chance to chat with Laura Witt, General Partner of the Drawdown Fund. Laura gave us insight into the mechanics of the Drawdown Fund, challenges in the sustainable investment space, and reasons for remaining optimistic about investing in climate solutions.

Read on for highlights from our conversation! (Or if you’ve got an hour to spare, get the full experience by watching the recording below.)

Climate solutions already exist

In the early 2010s, Paul Hawken worked with the world’s leading researchers, scientists, and policymakers to map and model 100 existing climate solutions. Then, they ranked them on their ability to stop climate change. This was the beginning of Project Drawdown.

What Paul and his collaborators found was this: the biggest challenge climate solutions face is implementation. We already have most of the solutions we need, but they aren’t being funded and implemented on anywhere near the scale we need.

Of course, implementation requires funding. So in 2018, Paul sat down with Erik Synder, now the CEO of the Drawdown Fund. They identified existing climate solutions that could be accelerated by capital or market mechanisms, as opposed to philanthropic dollars, government dollars, or culture change.

(That’s a fancy way of saying they went down Paul’s list of climate solutions and pinpointed the ones that could be best realized through commercial ventures.)

Thus, the Drawdown Fund was created. Today, they invest in three focal areas: sustainable cities, food and agriculture, and energy. They’re continuing to look for funders and growth-stage companies alike, with hopes of growing the fund to $250M and investing $10-30M in each of the ventures.

Making the investment case

We’re in the knowledge economy. It’s all about attracting the best talent to your company, and people are voting with their feet to work for mission-driven companies.

In recent years, the conversation around climate action has grown – but that hasn’t been reflected in the way we invest. Climate-focused ventures are still struggling to find capital.

“The way they manage big asset pools, they say: ‘Okay, we’ve got an allocation for technology investing, we’ve got an allocation for healthcare investing, we’ve got an allocation for investing in industrials. We don’t have a set allocation for investing in sustainable businesses,’” explained Laura. “Some people, unfortunately, look back to CleanTech 1.0 and say: ‘Venture capital had losses in CleanTech 1.0. What’s going to be different now?’”

It’s a bit of a chicken and egg situation. Investors want teams with successful track records, but few firms have proven their potential to drive strong investment returns while delivering measurable climate impact. After all, sustainable investing is still relatively new.

It’ll be a while before there is enough data to make a solid case for this area of investing. This prolonged time frame is a challenge in itself: “A lot of these companies are hard technology. They take a long time to build. It will likely take four, five, six, seven years for these companies to get through the life cycle, to get to liquidity events that show good returns to investors.”

Laura shared a story to drive the point home: “We’re talking to a company right now that looks interesting to us as a growth-stage company: millions of dollars of revenue, hundreds of customers. I was looking back at the company history and was reminded that this was a company that was founded in 2006. They signed their first commercial contract at the very end of 2013. So it took 7 years to commercialize this technology, to bring to market, to get it through pilots, and then get that first deal signed, and bring in the first revenue dollar.”

Knowing this, the Drawdown Fund is looking for investors who see the urgency of climate change, and are therefore willing to take on more risk and be patient. They’re more likely to be family offices, where key decision-makers all sit in one room, than institutions, who are more risk-averse. Institutions are seeing increasing demand from their clients for sustainable strategies, but are cautious about making commitments to these newer sectors.

Fortunately, public opinion has shifted and there have been louder, more frequent calls to support companies with sustainability built into their missions. Just look at Amazon, who recently announced a $2B Climate Pledge Fund for companies working to decarbonize the economy and protect the planet.

“We’re in the knowledge economy, and it’s all about attracting the best talent to your company. People are voting with their feet to work for mission-driven companies,” said Laura. “And consumers want to buy more from companies who have these mission statements.”

We’re all moving toward the same goals

There is potential for businesses that drive climate solutions to grow fast and generate high returns for investors.

With this sort of shift in demand, there is potential for businesses that drive climate solutions to grow fast and generate high returns for investors.

As we move into pandemic recovery, Laura remains optimistic. This is a chance for us to make decisions that build a more just, equitable, and prosperous world for all (what we at CSI call the “Next Economy”).

“I think it’s really promising. We are going to have a debate about how we direct these [stimulus] dollars in a smart way,” said Laura. “I saw the International Energy Agency release a big report outlining 60 cost-effective solutions where we could be putting stimulus money to work. […] They’re saying because these are such cost-effective solutions, you could actually generate more than a point increase in GDP growth over the coming years if you invest stimulus money in ways with positive climate effects.”

Her optimism is, in part, inspired by the entrepreneurs she’s met through the Drawdown Fund: “I’m meeting the smartest, most driven people who have chosen to dedicate their lives to this work.”


Our conversation with Laura covered so many topics, it was difficult to pick out a few to highlight in this recap. You can watch the full recording here, and do some further reading at the links below:

If you are or know a growth-stage company that could benefit from the Drawdown Fund, get in touch with Laura and her team. And if you want to hear more from the world’s climate leaders, keep an eye out for our next Climate Ventures Mornings!

CSI Raises $1.9M in Record 41 Days to Build the Next Economy 

Wow! 

We launched the 2020 Community Bond on May 15th, and truly expected to be at it all summer: a summer full of Q+As, emails, webinars, and the personal, one-on-one conversations that make Community Bonds a community experience. After all, it took four months to raise to the original $1.4M we needed for Annex! It took over 200 days to raise the money we needed in 2014 to buy CSI Spadina. 

But here we are. With profound gratitude (and more than a little surprise) it is our great honour to share that, in just 41 days, we’ve raised more than $1.9M using Community Bonds to help build the Next Economy. These investors are our members, staff, neighbours, and community foundations; people like you and I who know this old economy is broken, and who know we deserve better.

The record success of this campaign, during this unprecedented time of hardship and activism, speaks to the moment: great challenges demand that we rise to meet them. As a society, we’re emerging from a time of quiet reflection, during which many of us have, for the first time in our adult lives, been given a moment to catch our breath and think about our work and our values. The potential we have today to reshape ourselves hasn’t existed since the post-war era.

What is a Community Bond?

For those unfamiliar, the Community Bond is an innovation in social finance that allows a nonprofit or charity to leverage its community of supporters to raise money, pursue its mission, build its resiliency, and create more vibrant communities.

CSI invented the Community Bond in 2010 as a means to turn a non-profit’s social capital into financial capital. 10 years later, the Community Bond is a household name in impact investing, having been replicated around Toronto, and the world.

We used the first Community Bond to raise $2M to purchase our first commercial office building at 720 Bathurst, CSI Annex, in 2010. We used the Bond a second time in 2014 to raise $4.3M from 227 community investors to buy another location: CSI Spadina.

Unquestionably, our tremendous growth over the past 10 years is linked to the success of the Community Bond.

10 Years Later the Community Bond is Still Evolving 

The 2020 Community Bond is focused on impact, which is itself an incremental innovation: Traditionally, Community Bonds have been used to finance infrastructure. They have been used for the past decade, by CSI and other organizations, to finance student loans, solar energy projects, food co-ops, biogas plants, and other large capital projects. But never before to finance investments in scaling programs. 

While we were structuring the campaign, this raised a few questions (and eyebrows). But the important thing to remember is that CSI invented the Community Bond, so in the Bonds case, ‘traditional’ really just means what we did for the first time, last time.

Programming for Impact 

Aligned through six Sustainable Development Goals: Quality Education, Gender Equality, Decent Work, Reduced Inequality, Sustainable Communities and Climate Action, the 2020 Community Bond builds on, and scales, CSI’s existing work in these areas, with the overarching goal to contribute significantly to building the Next Economy: one that puts people and planet first. 

Our community of impact investors are some of the most committed people in Canada. They saw the opportunity, CSI’s track record of doing the work and proving that big ideas are possible, and they wanted to be part of the solution. So they bought-in.

A Tool to Help Build the Next Economy

If you’re following our work you know that CSI is focused on building the Next Economy. We first wrote about it in the 2018/19 issue of our magazine, The Collider. Back then we were asking ourselves, what is the Next Economy? We knew that it had different names in many different sectors, and that its overarching goal is to unite these sectors in response to the world’s biggest challenges.

Over time we’ve come to this definition: the Next Economy is regenerative, inclusive, equitable, and prosperous for all.

But what does that really mean? How can we begin to make the policy, culture, and market changes necessary to achieve it? And how has the COVID-19 pandemic affected this movement?
These questions are top of mind at CSI.

The Community Bond is a concrete solution in the push to build the Next Economy. We have seen the power of the Bond to leverage community support and build financial capital with social purpose. It’s proof we can find market-based solutions while being socially and environmentally conscious. Using the funds raised this year for our impact programming we’ll take the movement further and build back better by catalyzing more ideas, tools, solutions that put people and planet first.

____________________

Kyle Shantz is CSI’s Director of Growth, and has managed CSI’s Community Bond portfolio through three renewal periods and two capital raises. 

 

Call for Federal Action to Achieve an Inclusive Economic Recovery

Leading organizations call for federal government to invest in capital and capacity solutions

“Investment into the ecosystem of organizations that build capacity and skills will bolster Canada’s inclusive recovery, support economic development in communities across the country, and unlock the potential of thousands of organizations that work to put people and the planet first. This will provide a strong recovery that builds back to a better Canada with a vibrant, inclusive and just economy.” – Adam Spence, CEO and Co-Founder, SVX

Community capital and capacity organizations across the country, including the Centre for Social Innovation, are issuing a public call to action for the federal government to invest in capacity and capital solutions that lead Canada to a path of economic recovery that is inclusive, regenerative, and prosperous for all.

Over the past three months, Canadian organizations that provide vital support and capital to strengthen social purpose organizations have united to rally around a Community Call to Action to address gaps in the collective response to the economic and social impacts of COVID-19. Three priority action areas were identified addressing the need for capacity, capital, and systems infrastructure to provide both short-term emergency relief and advance long-term recovery and regeneration. Following a bottom up community development process, the collaborators have developed detailed recommendations regarding the first two priority areas, including capital and capacity solutions. A comprehensive set of recommendations on community capital institution infrastructure will be brought forward in the months ahead.

Two specific actions have been identified for the federal government:

  1. Investing an additional $150 million over the next two years into ESDC’s Investment Readiness Program (IRP) supporting capacity and skill-building organizations and social purpose organizations; and
  2. Accelerating the deployment of the Social Finance Fund to move $400 million over the next two years to capitalize indigenous funds, as well as current and emerging national and place-based funds.

These recommendations recognize the role the federal government has in accelerating nation-to-nation dialogue with First Nations, Métis, and Inuit governments to identify investment priorities for their communities as part of a strong and inclusive recovery. It is also recognized that these investments must take an intersectional lens to the needs of the most vulnerable Canadians, and that they can help collectively advance gender-based and racialized equity. Moreover, the second recommendation represents a key component of a unified national proposal of the National Impact Investment Practitioners Table (NIIPT) and CAP Finance to accelerate the deployment of the Social Finance Fund.

The recommendations would seek to:

  • help 10,000 social purpose organizations (SPOs) adapt to the crisis;
  • maintain and create 10,000 jobs, particularly targeting women, newcomer Canadians, youth, and Black and Indigenous and other people of colour;
  • mobilize $800 million in capital for social enterprises and organizations across Canada through existing and new impact investing funds;
  • create a resilient and effective community of 100 existing and new intermediary organizations building capacity and providing capital to SPOs across Canada; and
  • tackle pressing social, economic and environmental challenges at a local level including food security and food sovereignty, health and wellness, climate change, and inequality, in line with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)

Social purpose organizations (SPOs) include any for-profit, non-profit or charitable organization that seeks to advance a social, cultural or environmental mission. Examples of SPOs range from nonprofit affordable housing providers to community power co-operatives to for-profit sustainable food delivery businesses. There are an estimated 10,000 social enterprises in Ontario and 25,000 across the country. The social economy in Québec represents more than 7,000 organizations which generate approximately $40 billion in revenue and account for 215,000 jobs. There are an estimated 170,000 charities and non-profits in Canada that employ two million people and contribute over eight (8) percent to Canada’s GDP, which have been natural adopters of social innovation and social finance practices.In Canada, there are over $14 billion in assets dedicated to companies, organizations, and funds seeking to generate positive social and/or environmental impact alongside financial return.

“Canada is stronger in every sense for the work of these social innovators and entrepreneurs. Like technological and business innovation, social innovations thrive in environments where a rich ecosystem of entrepreneurs and specialized supports drive innovations through each developmental stage. These organizations can and must play a role in creating the Next Economy, one that is regenerative, low carbon, inclusive, equitable, and prosperous for all.” –Tonya Surman, CEO, Centre for Social Innovation (CSI)

In June, a full letter and backgrounder was prepared and submitted to federal government representatives, and partners are connecting with these representatives in the days and weeks ahead to discuss the recommendations in further detail. Over 80 organizations from across Canada participated in the community engagement process for the development of the key recommendations. Over 100 individuals and organizations signed on as supporters to the Community Call to Action at ImpactResponse.ca.

“As we work to advance a more sustainable future and address critical challenges facing Canadian communities, it is critical we continue to invest in, and strengthen collaboration in support of, social enterprise to ensure they have the support and resources they need to flourish and lead an inclusive and regenerative recovery effort. Community foundations in Canada are ready to help advance and invest in this important work.” – Andrew Chunilall, CEO, Community Foundations of Canada (CFC)