Social Finance Forum 2011: Words From An Eager Social Innovator

I was fortunate enough to attend last week’s Social Finance Forum organized by the MaRS Centre for Impact Investing (CII). The event was packed and there was a real buzz in the air. I left MaRs with renewed faith and a sore throat, a testament to my yapping all day long with incredibly interesting people. I have two personal takeaways from the event I thought I’d share with the social finance community, with the hope that you will accept my honesty in a positive light.

1. Social Finance progress: A turtle race for change

Until the Forum, I’d been feeling frustrated at the pace of the social finance movement’s progress. I blamed government bureaucracy and Canada’s fear of risk for what seemed like a turtle’s race for change.

Oh don’t get me wrong, I still blame these factors. But sitting at my table Wednesday morning listening to Ilse Treurnicht, I came to a realization that put my impatient self more at ease.

I only discovered this exciting world of social innovation about two years ago. I heard of this thing we call “social finance” just over a year ago. Since I started doing lots of reading and writing about the field and meeting the amazing people it attracts, I’ve been impatiently waiting for the government to create new policies, for BCorp legislation to pass in Ontario, and for impact investors to come in herds. But I was reminded at the conference of how new social finance really is, and I realized that relative to three or four years ago, Canada has seen quite amazing progress.

Sure, our government moves at the pace of Toronto’s subway commute (i.e. VERY SLOW), but at least we’re moving. We’ve got great leaders on board and some money coming in, and with continued effort from the great team at SiG@MaRS and the CII, from the social enterprises proving it works, the Task Force on Social Finance, and all the thought leaders in the space, I left the conference on Wednesday feeling 100% confident that this marketplace will thrive over the next decade.

I think my excitement about the potential of social finance in Canada blinded the reality that any movement, especially one that will fundamentally change financial markets and business norms, is going to take time. And as long as we’ve got the right people and enough effort to support it, that’s just fine with me.

2. I want to help!

It seems the social finance movement in Canada is at a place where the base for growth has been built, the goals have been set, and a number of leaders are working from various angles to find impact investors and lobby the government.

I’m just a recent business grad who is deeply passionate about social innovation. I’m also fortunate enough to work for a social enterprise (Canada’s first B Corp, might I add!). I keep up-to-date on social finance news, share my thoughts, and engage in great conversations…but that’s the extent of my support for the movement.

I left the Social Finance Forum with my mind running through the high-level goals we want to achieve. But I couldn’t ignore the unsettling feeling that there is nothing tangible for me to take action on to help social finance progress. Now that the stage is set and we’re on our way up, what is a regular Joe(sephine) to do? Is there a place for people like me to help move things forward?

One thought I offered was in the “Idea Jam” session during my table’s discussion about B Corps. I shared my belief that for social finance to progress, there needs to be a serious demand for it, a critical mass of organizations that require blended value investors. And what sort of organizations require impact investment? Well, organizations like B Corps, and other social-purpose businesses.

So I see a real need for a B Corp marketplace to develop in Canada. And the question you may ask is, “what’s stopping us from having more certified B Corporations right now??”

Joyce Sou, the B Corp representative here in Canada, facilitated my table. She said that although many organizations have great potential to become certified, people simply don’t know B Corp exists. So we have an awareness issue.

I think it’s time to strategize beyond the bubble of our social finance community – it’s the only way we’re going to achieve that critical mass.  Maybe its a symbol we add to our business cards and email signatures. If we make the B Corp brand an intrinsic part of our professional profiles and share the amazing success it’s having in the US, we’ll get more questions.

I welcome your disagreements and suggestions for tangible ways to make a difference. I commend the Social Finance Forum crew for a job well done, and I am patiently waiting for the movement to hit its next milestone, whenever that maybe be.

Happy New Year!

Note: This post has been cross-posted from the Kaizen Crossroad, Jillian’s blog.

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