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.
"CSR won't lead us to sustainability."
I was pretty taken aback. I shuffled in my seat nervously, felt blood rushing to my cheeks. I had come so far to believe in the power of CSR and its potential for solving societal problems. Jotting down her words anxiously, I wondered, "Am I completely off the mark? Is the work I'm doing taking us in the wrong direction?"
Every year, Ashoka inducts new social entrepreneurs, or, "Ashoka Fellows", into its global network, which currently stands at 2700 Fellows.
Reflecting back to September when I started volunteering at Ashoka, I didn't really understand the significance of an Ashoka Fellow's work. However, after months of engaging with these individuals, learning and working with them, I get it...now I understand why Ashoka spends endless hours selecting these individuals, and why there is so much emphasis placed on a candidate's new idea, entrepreneurial spirit, ethical fibre, creativity, and of course, social impact.
These are the top change-leaders in the world, and on may 26th, we are celebrating the addition of a new cohort of Canadian Fellows into our network. I've been to many events in the social innovation space; some I find very useful and others I find vague and confusing. The Ashoka Forum is different, because you will interact with and learnfrom the people who are actively solving Canada's most pressing social issues and making great strides in the process. If they weren't, they wouldn't be elected as Fellows.
If you have followed my posts throughout the past few months, you've likely caught on to the fact that I've become a tad cynical about corporate social responsibility (CSR). Having gone through business school thinking optimistically that CSR is creating positive impact around the world, since graduating a year ago, my experiences and research have tainted this perspective.
This past year, I have delved deep into the web of social innovation. I have spent countless hours at events that focus on social entrepreneurship and social finance. I have read blogposts, books, and articles about grassroots organizations and social entrepreneurs who are creating real system-changing impact on the world's most pressing social issues. I have lived and breathed all that is Ashoka. And I've seen reality snippets of the corporate world; its hypocrisy and wasted resources.
I guess this explains why in just one year, I went from the CSR end of the spectrum to the grassroots extreme.
A few days ago I came across a post entitled "The Hidden Reality Behind Social Impact Bonds". As I've mentioned several times, I believe the Social Impact Bond Model has true potential for progressing social finance in Canada. The author of this article, however, has taken an extreme opposite stance, and I couldn't disagree more with his opinion.
If you aren't familiar with what a Social Impact Bond is, I suggest you read my explanation on a past post, "Social Impact Bond Model: 7 Easy Steps" before continuing. It's a short but comprehensive read, I promise.