Social Impact Forum 2011: Investing in Good Deals
December 13th-14th, 2011, Toronto, ON
Is it possible to make a good business deal, while fulfilling your role as a global citizen?
This was one of many of the questions posted by individuals who attended the 2011 Social Finance Forum, hosted by the MaRs Centre for Social Impact Investment in Toronto December 13th and 14th.
As a current Sauvé Scholar, I consider myself an “accidental” social entrepreneur. With a background in development and social enterprise, followed by years in management consulting in the public and private sector. Currently, I am on the horizon of starting my own social venture related to engagement of young professionals through the use of technology and new media, in order to spur engagement in social issues. An alternative news network, if you will – a MTV meets 60 minutes flavor, that is accessible, smart, and edgy. As I take this year as a Sauve Scholar to launch my project, this conference was of special interest to my own learning, and professional development.
On the evening of Tuesday, December 13th, the group of 8 Sauve Scholars attended the opening reception to kick off the conference, hosted at MaRs, home of the newly launched Centre for Impact Investing in downtown Toronto. This year’s conference - 2011 Social Finance Forum: Investing in good deals – marked the anniversary of the Canadian Task Force on Social Finance landmark report, Mobilizing Private Capital for Public Good, launched in December 2010. During the evening’s cocktail reception, we were treated to keynote speaker Antony Bugg-Levine, formerly of The Rockefeller Foundation and now head of Nonprofit Finance Fund.
Mr. Bugg-Levine was the guest speaker for the evening, as he spoke about ideas related to social entrepreneurship, including trends and challenges, articulated in his recent publication, Impact Investing: Transforming How We Make Money While Making a Difference. During his keynote address, he iterated that impact investing offers a fundamentally optimistic vision about what can be achieved when all our assets work in unison with our values and beliefs. Bugg-Levine shared that his work helps to chart the path of a new industry, showing how “impact investing is and can be a positive disruptive force”. He affirmed that impact investing can be a successful venture to entertain, and provides an opportunity to address social and environmental problems with investments that generate financial profits. In short, you can still conduct business with sound process, with a degree of ethics, while turning a profit and making the world a better place.
Likewise, his keynote serviced to set a strong foundation for the sessions offered by the forum the following day, on Wednesday, December 14th. Targeting social ventures, impact investors, and mainstream finance practitioners, the forum featured pitch sessions, workshops and keynote addresses by renowned leaders on social finance, to further drive the development of the impact investment marketplace, and network in Canada.
As a group of Sauve Scholars and emerging social entrepreneurs, the practical education and professional development we received was invaluable to the development of our own personal ventures. Importantly, we received multiple opportunities to connect and learn from social entrepreneur gurus, mobilize support from both public and private sector individuals, while exchanging great ideas and forming important relationships for further collaboration.
On the morning of Wednesday, December 14th, the forum’s main activities were kicked off with a panel discussion entitled “Progress and Potential: A look at the Task Force recommendations in today’s social finance community”. The purpose of this discussion was get an in-depth look at the development of impact investing as it relates to the recommendations made by the Canadian Task Force on Social Finance in 2010. Representing foundations, the community and private markets, the following industry leaders discussed their experiences with moderator Antony Bugg-Levine, in an interactive morning plenary session with all attendees:
- ¥ (Moderator) Antony Bugg-Levine, CEO, Nonprofit Finance Fund (NFF)
- ¥ Stanley Hartt, Chairman, Macquarie Capital Markets Canada
- ¥ Nancy Neamtan, President & Executive Director, Chantier de l’economie sociale
- ¥ Stephen Huddart, President & CEO, J.W. McConnell Family Foundation
- ¥ Bill Young, Founder, Social Capital Partners (SCP)
The panel was engaged and addressed a number of key questions, posed by moderator Antony Bugg-Levine, and a very engaged audience. What are the most important and/or exciting opportunities in Canada for new policies and instruments for social investment? Amidst a changing mindset, what is it going to take to achieve the goals of impact investment? How do we mobilize our communities and partners from across sectors, to recognize legitimacy in this line of work? There was not one answer – but rather an interesting discussion across the panel members and audience members.
Without a doubt, it is clear that the line between charity, non-profit, and for-profit organizations is becoming increasing blurred. Previously, in my role as a development officer and donor relationship manager for a non-profit organization in Toronto, I saw this shift starting to happen over 7 years ago. At this time, non-profits and charities started to realize and see the benefit of private sector partnerships, and the impact of shared skills and resources could make to the impact of their programming and mission. What continues to be unclear are the rules of engagement, namely the criteria for partnership, timing, and the policies governing the relationship between the two entities.
Later, following my work in the management consulting sector, working with public and private sector clients, including work in a specialized consulting wing working with social enterprises and non-profit organizations, I witnessed the pressure this sector is under generate cash flow to support operations and deliver on their respective mission statements. Clients often asked at what point is a charity, non-profit, and for-profit no longer solely playing in its legally defined space? Rather, can a charity or non-profit behave like a business, but still retain its identity at the core of its operations?
These are the types of questions and discussions that occurred over the course of the day, both in the opening plenary session, and in smaller workshops. J.W. McConnel Family Foundation CEO and President, Stephen Huddart, shared his thoughts on overcoming this period of transition, and lack of definition in the policy space for social investors. Huddart strongly believes that it is possible to create capacity within this sector to increase legitimacy in this line of work, following the examples set by early adoptors. Examples of social investment projects in Hamilton, Edmonton, and Ottawa has seen organization commit to investing 10% of revenue in social projects, making it a key organizational priority to invest back in their local communities. Huddart stressed that a “broad based approach at all levels is required, including dialogue between leadership in all sectors” to redefine the rules of engagement in this space.
Likewise, Nancy Neamtan, President & Executive Director, Chantier de l’economie sociale, agreed with Mr. Huddart. She stressed that success stories to be “systematized”, and cited the need for greater investment in a social enterprise market, including the creation of favorable market conditions to attract investors from across sectors. Moreover, Stanely Hartt, Chairman of Macquarie Capital Markets Canada, emphasized that private capital allows governments to not “use their own balance sheets to invest in projects”, and is being used to fund projects that governments may have funded in the past. Hartt contended that since “traditionally charities and business do not meet….we need rules to be put in place for a social impact bond that could be sold under our securities laws….we need a tax law to motivate investment in this space – in order to develop the appropriate instruments to support social investment.”
Following the panel discussion, Amit Bouri, Director of Strategy & Development, Global Impact Investing Network (GIIN), presented and outlined his thoughts on Global Perspectives on impact investing, based on reporting released GIIN. Following this presentation, we had our choice of attending one of several workshops that were the highlight of the conference.
In the morning, I participated in “Idea Jam”, which provided an opportunity to engage in a structured networking and problem-solving session, with a variety of leaders in the impact investing space. At my table, I was able to connect with senior leaders from Engineers Without Borders (EWB), the 519 Centre in Toronto – an umbrella network supporting a number of smaller community organizations, a policy analyst/researcher from the Ontario Government Economic Forum, and two non-profit management leaders. Our conversation was fascinating!
Working with our facilitator from the MaRs Centre, we contributed to a discussion that mapped our thoughts and challenges about impact investment, and recommendations for specific actions that need to be undertaken to stimulate further activity in this space! While each of the 12 groups in the session shared their group’s recommendations, a scribe captured the output of the session in an interesting way! Having worked in the consulting sector for a number of years and having been responsible for countless client workshops and “mind mapping” activities, this was one of the most creative (and fun!) outputs of our session I have ever seen (See picture inserted).
In the afternoon, a few of the scholars who have developed an idea and structured plan for their social venture attended a valuable session, entitled “Insiders Guide: What Investors Want”. During this session, a group of Canada’s largest and most influential impact investors shared their advice on what it takes to get a deal “done”, secure funding, and successfully launch your venture:
- • (Moderator) Annie Malhotra, Project Coordinator, Social Venture Exchange
- • Andrew Heintzman, Co-founder, Investeco
- • Beth Coates, Financial Manager, Canadian Alternative Investment Council
- • Geoff Moore, Founder, TBC Capital
Key questions moderator Annie Malhotra posed to the group included: How do investors determine if an organization is deal-ready? What are the deal breakers, the dealmakers and the things you may not realize matter to investors? As the audience contained a mix of medium sized non-profit organizations, grass root charities, and corporate entities, the types of discussion and subsequent discussion that was generated was fascinating. Andrew Heintzen emphasized to group, who inquired funding opportunities for their respective groups, that organizations must be clear about who they are, their goals and objectives, and ultimately what they want. Importantly, when making a pitch to a social investor, indivduals must understand their audience, and have a good understanding of who they are talking to (i.e. understanding the background, history, and needs of the social investor). This session was extremely important, as it identified that many groups are just looking for funding, and are not always clear of what their value proposition is to the social investor they are engaged with. Without clarity in the objective, purpose, and impact of the venture the group is pursuing, they run the risk of not being successful in obtaining funding.
I attended this session with two fellow scholars, Jeeshan Chowdhury and Alia Whitney-Johnson. With a background in medicine and philosophy, Jeeshan is spending his year as a Sauve Scholar launching accessible health care technology projects, while Alia is focusing on creating structures to foster organizational growth and development within her non-profit organization in Sri Lanka. One of the observations we made during the session was the lack of business acumen and business development skills within the non-profit and charitable community. Given my personal background in non-profit, and then consulting for non-profit clients, this session was a gentle reminder of the importance of capacity building in this sector. With my own clients – across sectors and industries – many organizations are dealing talent management and capacity building issues, mitigating through the challenges of the current economy.
Following the session, we had the opportunity to spend time with Geoff Moore, founder of TBC Capital, and engage in a dialogue with him about the future of investment in social enterprise, nad the landscape for social investment. If only these organizations and their leaders had an opportunity to participate in something similar to the Sauve Scholarship Program, he remarked. Geoff encouraged Jeeshan, Alia, and myself to continue to look for professional development opportunities in the social investment space, and continually refine our “project pitch” to acquire the funding required to launch our initiatives. We are delighted to have the opportunity to continue our dialogue with Geoff in the new year, during his planned visit to the Sauve Scholar House in Montreal. During this time, we will have the opportunity to engage with Geoff, in a more intimate setting, to continue to develop our pitching skills, and work through ways to acquire funding for our projects from the social investment community, based on his lessons learned and insights in this realm.
Overall, attending the forum was extremely valuable for all scholars, regardless of concentration and project focus. The networking opportunities have been incredible, as many of us have already been in touch with individuals we met to establish follow up meetings. Above all, it was important for students in our program to be connected to this network, to be exposed to key leaders in the social investment sector and learn from their insights and experiences.
We are appreciative to Stephen Huddart and his team at the JW McConnel Family Foundation, for providing the time and space for scholar involvement in this conference. As an organization committed to funding programs that support Canadians in building a more innovative, inclusive, sustainable, and resilient society, it was our honor to learn alongside its key leaders in exploring options for a more innovative, socially inspired, Canada.
As the Sauve Scholars transition into the second part of the fellowship year in Montreal, my passion for using media and film as a tool for social engagement has been re-ignited. I look forward to strengthening my existing relationships within this community, and working toward creating a model of convergence between the sectors in support of social investment in Canada.
MTV meets 60 Minutes….here I come!