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Monday, December 19, 2011

Social Finance Forum 2011: Words From An Eager Social Innovator

I was fortunate enough to attend last week's Social Finance Forum at MaRs Discovery District.  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 hopes 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 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, 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 within 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, the 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, write 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 Corp.  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 simple 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 successes 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!

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Has the time for CSR passed?

Understanding the constraints of CSR

"CSR won't lead us to sustainability."

Kelly Baxter, Executive Director of The Natural Step Canada, spoke these words at an excellent event I attended last Monday through the Toronto Sustainability Speaker Series

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 of the mark? Is the work I'm doing taking us in the wrong direction?"

It didn't take long for me to realize that Kelly was making a really logical and interesting point (My anxious reaction to her comment made me realize how much of a social-business nerd I really am).

Kelly defines Corporate Social Responsibility as a triple bottom line approach, that is, embedding social, environmental, and economic values into a business model.

(These diagrams are a copy from the presentation given by Kelly Baxter on Oct. 3, 2011)

As we know, there has been a big push for CSR amongst most large companies within the last ten years, and according to Kelly many have done a solid job of reaching this point (though I'm not fully convinced of this). But "the time for CSR (has) passed", she said, "we've been congratulating ourselves on being less bad".  Companies have done a good job of fitting social and environmental practices into their current business models.  But what we need to be doing is the opposite.

Kelly presented the analogy of a car heading dangerously toward the edge of a cliff. The driver slams on the breaks to stop the car before it reaches the edge instead of turning the car around and driving in the other direction.

We're approaching the edge of a cliff right now. We've got frighteningly high levels of carbon emissions, unsustainable deforestation, over 1 billion people living in extreme poverty (to name just a few of our problems) - and the response has been to infuse practices into business models that make the problem less imminent or less catastrophic.  Our current approach is all about reducing as opposed to zeroing-in on the causes of the social and environmental problems we're facing.  

We've been striving for less bad, when we really need to be turning our car around and going for the good.

So how do we do that?

We need to build our business strategies to work within social and environmental constraints. Not the constraints of today, but of those 5, 10, 50 years down the road.  

Check out the two diagrams above.  Kelly said that most companies are asking the following question: "Based on our business plan, what should our sustainability practices be?"  

But what we need to be asking is: "Based on the impending environmental constraints and societal requirements, what should our business plan be?"

Ray Anderson, the late CEO of Interface Inc., is known for leading the corporate world in shifting his company to a completely sustainable business model. He said, "For this (sustainability) to take hold throughout the business world, a change in the business paradigm is needed."

Companies that do not plan within these constraints going forward are not sustainable.  There won't be the same level of resources for them to continue status quo, and it's as simple as that.  

So do I need to be worried about the work I do with CSR?  Nope.  There are companies that still haven't reached that triple bottom line, which means there is still a place for it in our corporate practices.   We needed to start with CSR to get to this point, and many companies are still catching up. 

But Kelly's right. It's time to turn the car around. Designing business plans within the natural social and environmental constraints we're going to face makes logical sense. 

While I felt at peace with the conclusions I came to, I can't help but remain bothered by the big harry monster of a barrier to our progress in sustainability: Convincing the non-believer corporate leaders that sustainability is lucrative. 

How are we possibly going to do that? 
Honestly, I don't know.

But I do know something that can get us closer: We need to start bringing our CEO's, CFO's, and other executives to these events. It's not enough to talk amongst one another about these critical issues - at this point it's not going to get us much further than we are right now. 

I've made a personal commitment to bring a "non-believer" to an event before the end of the year. What about you?

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Social Innovation in Canada: A shining example

How Indigo is helping you get when you give.

This one goes out to all you social innovation gurus in Canada who are waiting.  Waiting for Canadian organizations, entrepreneurs, and corporations to take risks and think outside the traditional approaches to drive social change.  It's happening, just very slowly, and today I'm proud to share a leading example of it: Indigo's 2011 Adopt a School program.

When I started working with Indigo a couple of months ago, I had no idea about the severity of the literacy crisis in Canada - the fact that most of Canada's elementary school budgets don't even allow for one book for every student is completely shocking to me. I had always simply related "literacy crisis" to developing countries.

It is a huge social gap I sense Canadians don't take seriously enough. 

For the past few years, Indigo has run the Adopt a School program in September.  For three weeks, Indigo mobilizes stores to raise money to give books to an underfunded school in its community. 

As we all know, fundraising is frustrating, time consuming, and competitive.  With over 85,000 Canadian non-profit organizations and less money to go around, how can we expect to attract public attention to our causes?

This year, Indigo asked my team at Better the World to work around these barriers. So we came up with an online platform completely driven by Indigo store employees, their adopted school principals, teachers, and parents, and the Canadian public.  We also realized that people are more willing to give when they can get value out of what they're giving.  Sounds selfish?

Well, if it fills an empty school library's bookshelves - who cares?

On the Adopt a School website, users can choose a school in their local communities to "adopt". For every 100 adopters of that school, Indigo gives a book. There is also the option to donate - every $12 gives a book. 

The coolest part is what we've added this year: You can buy yourself an Indigo e-gift card which gives a book to a school you choose.  

So if you were planning to buy some books, music, decor for your home, or a Kobo eReader - you can get it all while giving books to school libraries. 

It's a win-win. And there are only 3 days left.

Now here's where the REAL innovation comes in: Everyone can become a fundraiser for their adopted school. Once you choose a school, you can use our sharing tools to actually sell e-gift cards to your networks. The more you sell, the better chance you have of winning an Indigo gift card or Kobo eReader. We call this "grassroots fundraising".

We're leveraging the power of peer-to-peer networking to supercharge fundraising while giving people stuff they want. People have been stocking up now for holiday gifts or using it toward books they need for school!  

I think this concept has the opportunity to fundamentally change and improve the way fundraising is practiced. 

I chose to support Cedarwood Public School, near my home in Markham. If you are interested in supporting my adopted school, you can use this link to check it out and buy an e-gift card: 

So far, we've raised over 25,000 books for Canadian schools that need them.  
There are 3 days left to play your part.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

A Year in Review: My challenges, learnings, and successes

June 2, 2011

 It has been just over a year after finishing undergrad; I can’t believe it. What a rollercoaster of a journey, and here I am on the other side 12 months later. I’ve learned a lot, and I think there are many of you out there who can relate to my thoughts and experiences. While this is a deeply personal story, I’m sharing it because I think it can help people, namely young adults like me. I hope you find something useful out of it... 

I returned from my big euro-trip last August thinking, “Alright, time to find a job now. I went to businesses school, I’m a pretty smart kid, finding a job in business for social change shouldn’t be too difficult, right?”  


It didn’t take me very long to realize the brick wall I was up against. It didn’t matter that I had gone to business school and that I was incredibly passionate and driven. As a new entrant into the workforce, new grads face one of most challenging and defeating barriers to achieving career success in our society. We are bred to strive for success; we are raised to believe that with hard work, great education and some good-old student debt, we’re going to fly. 

But new grads are stuck in a really funny spot, because even though we are intelligent and motivated, we don’t have the ‘3-5 years of experience’, and no one wants to spend the money training us- at least not in this economic climate. So how are we supposed to get anywhere if no one is willing to take us on initially? How is this system fair? 

Graduating from a school like Ivey brings a ton of pressure and anxiety with it. If you aren’t going for the more mainstream careers (finance, marketing, accounting, consulting), you have a mountain to climb. I started business school knowing I wanted to use business tools to drive social and environmental change – that has been my vision all along. I never wanted one of those mainstream jobs, and it was a very isolating and scary feeling. Whereas most of my peers had recruiters coming to them, I literally had to start from scratch. 

September came quickly and after a few weeks of effort I started to feel really frustrated. I sent emails, made some phone calls, spent time on applications – I heard nothing in return. I started to let myself believe I wasn’t smart enough, which is a slippery slope to fall down. Please, don’t ever let yourself think that way. And as a side note, a few weeks of emails and cover letters isn’t the way to find yourself a job – but we’ll get to that a little bit later. 

After an interview with a company that ended up taking an MBA grad instead of me, one of my interviewers recommended I check out Ashoka. I’d never heard of Ashoka before, and while they weren’t hiring, it seemed their volunteers gained a lot of value out of the experience. 

Volunteer?” I thought, “I can’t volunteer. I need money, I need a job. I’m a business grad for god sakes!” 

After a few weeks of thinking this way, I checked out the Ashoka website and knew right away I needed to become a part of the organization. So I put my ego aside and committed to volunteering for a few months. I realized that if I’m going to get anywhere with my niche career vision and passion, I’m going to have learn more about it and build a network (Lesson 1!). Unfortunately, we are in an unfair system that takes advantage of new graduates, but until someone figures out a way to change it, you need to work within the system to get what you want. 

Ashoka, with social entrepreneurship at its core, was my answer. 

The Ashoka staff welcomed me with open arms and very quickly became like family. I was doing interesting work, was valued by the team, and felt stimulated every day – I was heading in the right direction. 

After a few weeks, I met with an individual who is now a great mentor of mine. He is one of those “must-know” people in my field. Lesson 2: find the right people to get advice from. I happen to work in the same office space as him, so I got pretty lucky. I asked for some career guidance, and he gave me the best piece of advice that I believe has gotten me to where I am 8 months later:
“Read. Read as much as you can – 3 hours a day. And write. Start a blog. Don’t do it for anyone but yourself. Don’t think about anybody reading it. Write about what interests you and you will learn in the process. Do this for 1 year straight, and trust me, you will get your dream job.”

Saturday, May 28, 2011

I Laughed at Cancer

On May 12th I laughed harder than I've laughed in an extremely long time.
What was so funny, might you ask? 

Cancer. Yes, I laughed at Cancer.

Now before you rush to conclude that I am a horrible person, take a few moments to hear me out...

Patient Commando put on its first production two weeks ago inspiring laughter, tears, and rave reviews in the sold-out Glen Goulds Theater.  Daniel Stolfi, writer and sole actor in his one-man show Cancer Can't Dance Like This, dug beneath the stigma of what it means to be a chronic patient and unleashed emotions of the doctors, health care professionals, patients, educators, and others in the room.

Stolfi led the audience through his two-year journey of battling Cancer and enduring chemotherapy. Between the hilarious acts showing us his doctors' office experiences, losing his sex drive, appetite, and strength, he read from the journal he wrote throughout his time of suffering.  It was so real, and so honest, and that's why these shows change people.

It's a good thing we offered drinks and snacks after the show, because people didn't want to leave!  I observed as the members of the audience engaged in conversation with one another about the show; how it affected them, what part resonated with them most, their own stories.  I realized that the change happens in the post-show experience.  Watching the shows themselves sparks the transformation, and the moment people have the opportunity to discuss and relate to their own lives, their perspectives on the chronic patient transform.

When I began working with Patient Commando several months ago I was quite intrigued by the concept, but truthfully, I had no idea what I was getting myself into.  The show on May 12th shifted the work I had been doing from concept to reality. It instilled in me this complete faith in the success of Patient Commando I hadn't realized I was missing.  

I am so excited to watch Patient Commando grow, because I believe whole-heartedly in its ability to change the lives of chronic patients, and ultimately the healthcare system in Canada.  Stay tuned for the next show date, and a big congratulations to Daniel Stolfi and Foundar of Patient Commando, Zal Press.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

You are invited: Ashoka Forum 2011

Ashoka Forum 2011: Everyone a Changemaker
May 26th, MaRs Discovery District 

Every year, Ashoka inducts new social entrepreneurs, or, "Ashoka Fellows", into its global network, which currently stands at 2700 Fellows.  

Anil Patel, Framework
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 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.  

Cindy Blackstock, First Nations CFCS
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 learn from 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.

The event is broken down into two parts:  
The Action Dialogue (the afternoon) and the   
30 Year Celebration (the evening).  You can register for one of the events, or both. 
They both take place at MaRs Discovery District on May 26th.

If you are interested in social entrepreneurship, if you want to be inspired  and learn what Ashoka is all about, I strongly encourage you to attend the evening 30 Year Celebration.  You will hear from each of the new Fellows and have a chance to meet them while snacking on some delicious food.  This event will run from 5:30-7:30pm.

If you are a social innovation guru or are eager to learn more about this growing field, the Action Dialogue is the event for you.  Canadian and global leaders are joining forces to provide an afternoon of intense networking and learning.  Here's how the afternoon will flow:
Tonya Surman, founder of CSI
  • Ashoka Fellow Panel, facilitated by the Centre for Social Innovation's one and only, Tonya Surman.
  • Breakout sessions, for which you have 3 options:
      1. Social-mission Investing
      2. Community-Business Collaboration for Sustainability
      3. Citizens Re-defined
The Action Dialogue starts at 2:00pm, ending at 5:00pm, leading into the 30 Year Celebration.   There are student discounts available!

I'm so excited for the 26th, and really hope you can join.  If you have any questions or feedback, I'd love to hear from you.  

Take the time for yourself to be inspired.   Learn about issues in Canada you never knew existed. Celebrate 30 years of social entrepreneurship and scaling impact.  

Join us on the 26th.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Cancer Can't Dance Like This

Why a One-Man Show &  Laugh Therapy Socials Are Changing our Healthcare System

 For the past few months, I have been working with Zal Press, founder of Patient Commando Productions, to build his new organization from the ground-up.  I've learned a whole lot and have had a lot of fun, and am excited to announce our feature show launch this Thursday at CBC Glen Gould studio.

So what is Patient Commando and what do we do?
Patient Commando uses the patient narrative to change the relationship between patients and patient providers through theatre, comedy, improvisation workshops and live testimonials.

As a chronic patient suffering from Chron's Disease for 30 years, Zal Press decided to phase out of his successful business to start up Patient Commando.  Throughout these 30 years, Zal felt the apathy of healthcare providers, he saw the weaknesses of the healthcare system, and read about the needless epidemics and diseases caused by lack of real understanding of the patient's experience.

Patient Commando targets healthcare providers of all kinds and uses chronic patients' stories to foster an understanding of the patient's perspective, to ultimately trigger behavioural change. For the chronic patients, we aim to increase their sense of empowerment to know their rights and manage their own healthcare.  

Zal Press, Founder of Patient Commando Productions
As most would agree, there are many weaknesses within our healthcare system, and professionals are actively working to find the right solutions.  They've been trying different approaches for years.  Zal explained this to me a couple of months ago and threw out this question:  If we haven't been able to solve much, who is the one person yet to be engaged in the decision-making process? 

The patient of course!...the person the entire system was designed for.

Using the arts, laughter, and real stories is an innovative approach to solving major barriers to improved healthcare.  By engaging hospitals, medical associations, medical schools, and the various other health institutions in our system, Patient Commando is targeting the people who have the potential to create some serious change.

           What's happening on Thursday?
Lilah Petersiel, Neuroblastoma survivor
This Thursday, Patient Commando Productions is launching with its first show: Cancer Can't Dance Like This. Performed by cancer survivor Daniel Stolfi, this play will take you through his journey of survival while making you laugh your guts out. Like all of our shows, the proceeds from Thursday's performance will be donated to a health/disease-related charity, in this case, Lilah's Fund.   

So how does a "Laugh Therapy Social" come into play, and frankly, what the heck is it?
Patient Commando's strategy is made up of four pieces: Shows, a Speakers Bureau, Membership Services for patients, and lastly, Laughter Therapy Socials.  Our Creative Director and award-winning alumnus of "The Second City", Brian G. Smith leads sessions that allow people to step out of their comfort zones, break down the tensions and anxieties within teams, and most of all, laugh.  Using improv activities at the core of these sessions, Laughter Therapy Socials will have healthcare teams break out of their shells to one another and their patients.

Me (middle) and my "siblings", exchanging gifts on our "birthday".
As a pump-up for the Patient Commando team, I had the opportunity to participate in a Laughter Therapy Social last week.  It was my first time meeting almost everyone in the room, so naturally, this kind of activity was a tad intimidating at first. Within minutes of starting the session, Brian had us making strange noises, making up stories feeding off of one another, and laughing ourselves to tears.  

Social entrepreneurs like Zal Press see major problems and do not settle for the traditional, ineffective ways to solve them.  They combine forces with various sectors, think completely out of the box, and take a risk on something new and innovative.  Thursday night marks the beginning of a new journey for the healthcare system, and I hope you consider joining the fun.


Tuesday, May 3, 2011

No Good Deed Goes Unpunished

Muhammad Yunus battles forced removal from Grameen Bank

"To me, poor people are like bonsai trees.  When you plant the best seed of the tallest tree in a flower pot, you get a replica of the tallest tree, only inches tall.  There is nothing wrong with the seed you planted, only the soil-base that is too inadequate.  Poor people are bonsai people.  There is nothing wrong in their seeds.  Simply, society never gave them the base to grow on.  All it needs to get the poor people out of poverty is for us to create an enabling environment for them.  Once the poor can unleash their energy and creativity, poverty will disappear very quickly."
- Muhammad Yunus

I read this quote on the subway home tonight in the book I'm currently reading,  The Power of Unreasonable People.  I was emotionally struck by the way Yunus weaved these words together into an vivid analogy I could actually visualize;  and the truth behind the analogy tightened the lump in my throat because I understood clearer than ever that humankind has stunted the growth of billions of people.  

While I've seen the numbers and read the facts,Yunus' words helped me internalize the damage done and the power of humans to cause that damage.  And so my next thought was that if we have the wherewithal to cause this much suffering globally, don't we have the same degree of strength to create solutions?

I think we do, we just need to make smarter decisions.

I really didn't intend this post to focus on ways of ending global poverty; I just happened to come across these words on the same day I planned to express my thoughts on Yunus' current legal battle, and felt compelled to share this paradox.  What I really wanted to express is how sad it is that someone as authentic as Muhammad Yunus, Nobel Peace Prize winner, societal game-changer, writer of the beautiful quote above, could be stripped of the very entity he built from the ground up.

Muhammad Yunus founded Grameen Bank, the world's first microfinance institution, in 1976.  He developed the concept of microfinance and has since built an empire of various Grameen social businesses, such as Grameen Telecom, Grameen Fisheries, and Grameen Danone Foods.  He has created systemic change in his home country of Bangladesh and is a global leader in poverty reduction.  His work has affected millions of people.

Back in March, Yunus was fired from his position as the Director of Grameen Bank by a central bank (government) order.  He was accused of failing to seek the bank's approval when he was reappointed as managing director in 1999.  He was also accused of illegally maintaining his position past the retirement age limit of 60 in Bangladesh.

This legal battle completely blows my mind.  Despite the success (let alone social impact) of Grameen Bank, Bangladesh continues to be a nation consumed by hunger, disease, and extreme poverty.  Did the government really not have more important issues to tackle than to attack the country's most respected individual?  Is there not enough harmful corporate activity taking place every day that the government can work to destroy? T

he wasted effort, time, and money spent on this  fiasco wanes on me and I cannot help but recall the quote "No good deed goes unpunished". I wonder if he feels betrayed by his own country, or if he even cares at all.

I think there is a lesson here for social entrepreneurs:  Perhaps the ones who are driving major global change, the unreasonable people like Muhammad Yunus, realize their visions because they didn't follow all the rules along the way.  And if that's the case, no matter how much good we try to exude in our worlds, there will always be something trying to break us down.  

Ultimately, the learning for social entrepreneurs is to maintain pure resilience and focus on vision, because I predict that even if Muhammad Yunus does not win this unecessary fight, Grameen businesses and the legacy Yunus holds will remain indestructible...and this sets a stellar example for social change actors everywhere.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

CSR Re-inspired

Highlights from the ORENDA Connections conference and 
why I believe in CSR again

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.

But this past week I attended ORENDA Connections' CSR conference, In Good Company, and to my surprising relief, I was totally re-inspired by the power of CSR.

I have been following ORENDA's founder and CEO Peggie Pelosi since my studies at Ivey.  She is a true inspiration to me.  Peggie epitomizes the powerful woman determined to create positive change.  After a twenty-year career in sales, a life-changing experience in Uganda led Peggie on journey which culminated in the founding of ORENDA: A strategic CSR consulting company dedicated to helping companies leverage the power of CSR to create a meaningful connection between people and the places they work. (Read more about Peggie's interesting story here)

In Good Company drew speakers from major corporations across various sectors as well as smaller, emerging companies.  We heard from Microsoft, Canadian Tire Jumpstart Charities, Telus, Edelman Public Relations, L'oreal and Loyalty One to name a few.  And while I wasn't fully aligned with a few presentations, I took home some interesting learnings and was inspired by two companies in particular: Fifth Town Artisan Cheese, and Better the World.

Here are some fast facts that resonated with me:

- Catherine Hughes of Corel Corporation shared that they chose to partner with global charity Room to Read because the charity was adament that they would choose how and when Corel would interact with Room To Read's staff and children.  This criterion has led to an incredibly successful partnership. 

- Petra Cooper, founder of Fifth Town Artisan Cheese, has spent only $50,000 on marketing in all the years her business has been running...cumulatively.  So how do people know about this organic dairy farm that sells mind-blowing cheeses? How is Petra so successful?  She allocated those traditional marketing dollars to her focus on community.  She donates cheese to non-profit events and supports various other community initiatives.  She also sells the experience through her widely-acclaimed dairy farm tours. She may be extracting value from her CSR practices, but as long as it is authentic and creates impact, it works for me!

- Steve Croth of Better the World asked the participants if they brought their CEO's, CFO's, and other big guys/gals to the conference that day.  Not one person put up their hand.  He said that we're not bringing the right people to events like In Good Company, because everyone who was there has already bought-in.  We know that the real decisions start at the top, so let's change the target market of CSR events.

So simple, yet so brilliant.  This one really stuck with me.

- During the panel discussion, the speakers were asked the percentage of pre-tax profits that are spent on their CSR strategies.  While individuals from various large corporations answered this question quite precisely (Apprently "best practices" dictate it is 1%), Steve Croth said exactly what was on my mind: That number does not, and should not matter.  If you are dedicated to doing good, then do what it takes to do good. 

- Mikael Henry, Senior Vice President of L'Oreal's Professional Products Division made us laugh uncontrollably with his delightful French accent and witty jokes.  What resonated with me most, however, is L'Oreal's "Hairdressers Against AIDS" initiative.  I was taken by the creativity and simplicity of partnering with hairdressers across Canada to spread the AIDS message.  They're the ones who spend hours of  personal time with people, they're the ones are vented to. Check out this awesome program:


So while I still see companies creating hypocritical CSR programs, In Good Company raised hopes that many companies are making lasting impact and are authentic in their socially responsible missions.   And while grassroots organizations and social entrepreneurs have the advantage of knowing their causes best, of little bureaucracy, and a sole focus on their missions, we must not forget the power of money....and it is the large corporations that have this advantage.  So if we can use this power and channel it effectively toward social missions, you may just find me back in the middle of that grassroots-CSR spectrum.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Governments look to boost charity financing

 We made it in the budget!

So the government is finally taking social finance seriously.

Check out this globe and mail article to read up on how social finance has made its way into Harper's budget. 

Yes, yes, I know he may not be in office much longer, but its great to see some steps forward.  It looks like some of our Social Finance and Innovation Tour government participants at HRSDC and Public Safety Canada have taken the lead in their organizations as well.

No matter the election results, let's keep the momentum going!

Here's the article:

Federal and provincial governments are signalling that they will make it easier for charities to run businesses and tap into financing normally reserved for corporations, as cash-strapped governments boost their reliance on the private sector.

Ottawa, Ontario and British Columbia have recently indicated they are looking for ways to bolster so-called social financing – essentially, what happens when money is invested to generate both a social and a financial return. click here to read more...

Monday, March 28, 2011

THIS IS AFRICA & A Social Enterprise Debate

Let's Drop the Word "Social"

On Saturday I attended re:Vision 2011, YSEC's second annual conference on social entrepreneurship.  There was a unique spirit in the room,  a buzz of excitement throughout the day as young social entrepreneurs (or those to-be) got hyped up by the inspiring speakers, networking with each other, and bouncing great ideas off one another. 

Throughout the day, however, I couldn't help but think back to another conference I attended just a few weeks ago, where a man who is making some serious change in Africa claimed his opposition to the concept of social entrepreneurship and social enterprise.

He has a very interesting opinion, and it is an important one to share as this field continues to flourish:

Tal Dehtiar, founder of Oliberté Footwear, caught my interest not only with his system-changing business model, but also with his heated opinions on aid and what a social enterprise really means.

Tal believes that aid does not provide sustainable solutions to major issues in developing countries (aside from natural disasters). Like I do, he believes that building businesses (and therefore creating jobs) fosters natural economic growth and empowerment.  We both developed some of our opinions on aid from a book I highly recommend called "Dead Aid", by economist Dambisa Moyo

Tal's belief in how to eradicate poverty and trigger growth in developing countries forms the basis of the Oliberté business model.

Oliberté Footwear is a shoe manufacturer.  Like the other big shoe companies out there, it has designers, suppliers, manufacturers, distribution systems, etc..

So what is the key difference between Oliberté and the Nikes of the world?

Oliberté's supply chain operates fully in Africa.  It is the first company to have a fully-operated shoe company based out of Africa and sold in the West... most of the big players in the shoe industry shift but one step in their manufacturing process overseas and call it CSR (corporate social responsibility).

Amidst the major challenges and constraints of building an entire business in many countries in Africa, Tal and his team found a way to make well-designed, fashionable shoes that are sold at price-points comparable to other high-end brands, at the stores we all know and love.  Oh yes, AND they are creating jobs, empowering individuals, and fostering growth in communities that are often perceived to be desperate (and might I add that women comprise approximately 50% of the workforce!).  

You ready to head to the mall yet?

Here's the way Oliberté explains their concept:
When we first shared the idea of manufacturing our footwear in Africa, many thought why? Why or how could anyone want to make shoes in a place full of so much poverty and corruption?
The answer was simple – we never have and still don't see an Africa that's categorised by negative generalizations. Oliberté believes that with the right partners, each country within Africa has the means to grow and support its people. So that's what we do – Oliberté partners with factories, suppliers, farmers and workers to produce premium footwear in Africa, but we do more than that. We work create fair jobs, with the goal of contributing to the development of a thriving middle class.
It is generally accepted that a thriving middle class is a key component to the success of any country. In Africa the middle class is increasing in size and one of Oliberté's goals is to support that growing middle class by building a world class footwear brand that can create thousands of jobs and also encourages manufacturers from other industries to work in Africa.Currently Oliberté operates in Ethiopia, Liberia and Kenya with the goal of expanding to Cameroon, Congo, Uganda and Zambia in the coming years.
So I'm sitting in the audience in awe, thinking "Wow! What an incredible social entrepreneur!"

But according to Tal, he is not a social entrepreneur, he is simply an entrepreneur.  

In Tal's opinion, he is running a shoe company that just happens to be having a huge impact in developing countries.  He thinks that every business should be treating its employees fairly and operating through sustainable supply chains, so to designate a separate concept to those businesses who happen to be operating the right way seems almost silly. It leads people to mentally separate ethics and business, when really, this is how business should intrinsically run anyway.  Of course, I agree with this, and value his opinion very much.

Tal said his parents immigrated to Canada and grew a business that employed many people. And according to most of us, they would not be considered social entrepreneurs despite the fact that creating jobs most definitely solves a social issue.  And because almost every company hires people, wouldn't, then everyone be a social entrepreneur?

Interesting opinion, and he almost had me sold.

But here's the the thing.  Ideally, yes, we all envision a world one day where businesses are run completely sustainably and ethically.  Unfortunately, that's not reality...YET.  But that's what the members of the social enterprise movement are working towards.  And we're going to need to coin this as a movement until the socially and environmentally detrimental companies change their values and practices.

So in my opinion, there IS a definite difference, and right now there needs to be one.  The social entrepreneurs and social enterprises (click here for my take on the difference between these two terms) are actively shifting mindsets of consumers and corporations. These are the innovators, the change leaders, the ones who are going to help us battle climate change and poverty.  And until our marketplace becomes fully ethical and serving people the way it was originally designed to, the "social" piece of the concept must remain.  There is a clear difference between an entrepreneur and a social entrepreneur...and Tal is a concrete example of the latter.  His business principles are leading by example.

My hope is that very soon, the concepts of social entrepreneurship and social enterprise cease to exist so that these organizations and companies that are driving system-change become the main-stream enterprises.  Let us all aspire to create a world where the word "social" is dropped...where instead, "social" implies the norm.

Until then, we have a lot of work to do my friends.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Green Tea Party, UNITE!

Why the Canadian government must listen to our voices on climate change

My head is exploding with new knowledge I gained this past week at two different conferences, both focused on social enterprise, sustainability, and all the other great conversations I like to cover here on Kaizen Crossroad.  With lots of different ideas and  opinions wafting inside, I will break the next few posts into themes I hope you will find both relateable and interesting.

I will begin with a feeling that has been irking in my gut for the last few weeks:

As an informed Canadian voter, I feel there is little I can do to make a large-scale impact on mitigating climate change.  I believe the change has to come from the government, and the government is simply not making climate change a priority despite the overwhelming and frightening proof of its importance.  Canada has the potential to make a significant difference; we have the potential to become a global leader on this issue.  But we're not, and I feel frustrated, scared, and to some degree, helpless.

I have expressed this uneasiness to several Canadian experts on the topic and have become increasingly heated by some astounding information.  In this post, I'd like to share 5 of my learnings from both Ivey's Innovation Day and Schulich's Net Impact GreenEdge Conference:

1. China plans to cut its emissions by 17% between 2011-2015, and 40% by 2020. The US military views climate change as  the #1 security threat, Saudia Arabia is building four new zero-footprint cities, India is providing tax incentives for green car purchases, and Canada falls in last place in the G20 on this issue.  Why aren't we taking leadership?

2. The solution to clean energy will come through a combination of wind, water, and solar energy (WWS).  However, as citizens we must realize that it's not just our sources of power that require reformation, it is our every-day, taken-for-granted behaviours toward food, mobility, and industry that will also need to shift.

3. Ron Dembo, founder of Zero-footprint, said that governments don't use appropriate decision-making tools when making decisions.  For example, we know that CO2 is at its highest level ever, but we don't know how exactly it will take effect.  So, the rational government would choose to err on the side of caution and invest in the worst-case scenario.  The rational government would hedge against the uncertain outcomes of CO2 emissions.

So, It's not whether we can live with the effects of climate change, the question is how much can we live with?  And in making these decisions, Ron says you must always hedge the impending risks (Bankers, I know you master the hedging craft...).

4. We are choosing to be energy inefficient in North America.  According to Jim Harris, one of North America's leading management consultants and former leader of the Green Party of Canada, if you add the total market cap. of GM, Ford, and Chrysler and multiply that number by 3, Toyota has a larger market capitalization and is the world's leader by far in energy efficiency.

(GM + Ford + Chrysler) * 3 < TOYOTA

Toyota Prius
5. There is an economic argument for mitigating climate change. While Jim Harris had a lot to say about this, I will share a couple of examples that stood out to me:

As you might know, most vending machines have a light that brightens up the front to make them look super flashy.   Well, I learned that the heat from that light necessitates the use of more energy to cool the drinks.  Walmart has several of these vending machines in each of their 9000 stores globally. So what did they decide to do to cut energy usage and costs?

Walmart decided to take out the lights of their vending machines and saved $1 million dollars.  Maybe just a small ripple for Walmart, but think about the cumulative potential of this by corporations globally! 

And just to prove the economic argument a little further, when GM went bankrupt a few years ago, they actually turned off the escalators at night to save costs. And I think we can all assume now that GM is back hot and heavy, those escalators are rollin' all night long. 

So let me get this straight. GM saved energy during difficult financial times in order to save money, but the second they are out of the red the energy waste begins again.  Unbelievable.

Alright, I will stop the facts there.  

When Nicholas Parker, co-founder of Cleantech Group and sustainability guru in North America, addressed my question of, "What can we, Canadian citizens, do to get our voices heard in the government", his answer had the whole crowd laughing:

"We need a Green Tea Party." 

No, not the ever-so-popular Japanese drink, and not the Boston Tea Party-like revolution... I don't even think he means a political party.  The point I took away was simply that we need a stronger and larger group of people to vocalize their concerns about climate change. The more people we have on board, the more tea we can throw off the boat.  (That's my terrible metaphor for "the bigger our chances are of getting heard and changing policy").

I've been taught recently the importance of leaving an optimistic tone when concluding a presentation or composition.  And so, I will say that we are reaching some positive milestones provincially.  

From a personal perspective, I have seen examples of progress both in British Columbia while on the Social Finance Tour and here at home in Ontario with the Green Energy Act.  And while I do see climate change as a responsibility and absolute priority at the federal level, I am encouraged by the advances of these two provinces.  Let's keep building this momentum.

I welcome your thoughts on how we can get our voices heard.  For now, I encourage you to fill out this survey to contribute your values and priorities to the Declaration for Change.