COVID-19: Our spaces are currently closed to the public. Learn more.

Next Economy Trends in the Federal Budget

The federal government announced the budget this week, and if you haven’t had a chance to read the 724-page document, well, that’s understandable!

Shifting systems towards a people and planet first world requires market, policy and cultural change. We’ve always felt this in our bones, known it in our hearts and understood it intellectually. This budget has the potential to push on key market and policy levers, and it is no doubt influenced by the cultural changes afoot. Yes, there are critical pieces missing and plenty of room for improvement (notably, we’re missing the inclusion of a Universal Basic Income strategy and this budget needs to do more to support climate action), but this is an important budget that we believe holds potential for creating a more people and planet first world with some promising Next Economy trends.

 

The Next Economy is
equitable, sustainable, and prosperous.

We know you have all been a part of pushing for the changes and solutions our communities, economies, and planet need, and we’re proud to continue working with the incredible CSI community, pushing forward for a better today and tomorrow. Here’s a roundup of some budget highlights:

Equitable

Ending the She-session
This budget proposes supporting women entrepreneurs with $146.9 million over four years to increase access to affordable financing, increase data, and strengthen capacity within the entrepreneurship ecosystem. It looks to strengthen the Women Entrepreneurship Strategy, Women Entrepreneurship Ecosystem Fund, and the Women Entrepreneurship Knowledge Hub. We know that women have been hit hard by the pandemic “she-session”—we’ve heard firsthand from our Women of Ontario Enterprise Network (WOSEN) participants how its affected them—and we’re eager to see these funds support more women as they return to the workforce and flourish in the years ahead.

Supporting BIPOC Entrepreneurs & Economies
Covid-19 has disproportionately affected Black Canadians and they’re more likely than other Canadians to experience layoffs because of it. These issues stem from systemic anti-Black racism. This budget proposes providing $100 million in the next year to the Supporting Black Canadian Communities Initiative as well as $200 million to Employment and Social Development Canada to establish a new Black-led Philanthropic Endowment Fund which intends to “create a sustainable source of funding, including for Black youth and social purpose organizations, and help combat anti-Black racism and improve social and economic outcomes in Black communities.”

The budget also proposes expanding the Aboriginal Entrepreneurship Program by investing $42 million over three years to directly support Indigenous-led businesses. The National Aboriginal Capital Corporations Association’s Indigenous Women’s Entrepreneurship Initiative will also be granted $22 million over three years to provide tools, services, and resources to increase the number of Indigenous women entrepreneurs.

Creating Accessible Communities & Workplaces
For our physical spaces to be truly equitable, they must be physically accessible. The budget pledges to provide $100 million over two years to triple funding for the Enabling Accessibility Fund which provides support for renovation, construction, and retrofit projects that make communities and workplaces more accessible for persons with disabilities. This fund helped CSI install a wheelchair lift and pave the laneway at 192 Spadina!

Surfing From Far and Wide
Unless a very kind and thoughtful friend printed this blog post out and mailed it to you, you’re probably using the internet to read it. In many rural and remote Canadian communities, inaccessibility to broadband internet creates a barrier, not only to reading the CSI blog, but to participating in the economy. This budget proposes providing an additional $1 billion to the existing $6.2 billion already in the Universal Broadband Fund over six years, to support a more rapid rollout of broadband projects. 

Regenerative

Getting to Net Zero
The budget earmarks $5 billion over seven years for the Net Zero Accelerator, a program launched in the government’s climate plan last December to fast-track decarbonization projects. This funding would provide up to $8 billion of support for jobs and projects that will help reduce domestic greenhouse gas emissions. The plan is to reduce the general corporate and small business income tax rates by 50 per cent for businesses that manufacture zero-emission technologies (starting in 2022, gradually phasing out starting in 2029, and eliminated by 2032).

Financing Clean Tech
As we’ve seen through our EarthTech program, Canadian Clean Tech has a critical role to play in tackling the climate crisis and ventures from coast to coast are working harder than ever to ensure a flourishing future for people and the planet. This budget suggests making up to $1 billion available on a cash basis, over five years, to help draw in private sector investment to the Canadian clean technology sector.

Greening Our Bond Options
You already know we’re fans of innovative bonds. The government plans to issue its inaugural federal green bond in 2021-22. Through green bonds, investors have the opportunity to finance projects such as green infrastructure, clean tech innovations, and nature conservation in an effort to combat climate change.

Prosperous

Recovering From Covid
Last year was hard for the nonprofit and charitable sectors, and this year hasn’t been easier. By way of some relief, the government plans to provide $400 million to charities and non-profits through the temporary Community Services Recovery Fund in 2021-22. It also plans to extend Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy (CEWS) and the Canada Emergency Rent Subsidy (CERS) and Lockdown Support beyond June, with both programs extending until September 25 and CEWS eventually replaced by the new Canada Recovery Hiring Program.

If approved, this budget will also see the Canada Small Business Financing Program expand its borrower eligibility to include non-profit and charitable social enterprises, lending against intellectual property and start-up assets and expenses, and a new line of credit product. It also proposes to increase annual financing by $560 million, supporting approximately 2,900 additional small businesses.

Investing in the Social Finance Fund & Investment Readiness Program
Social finance helps mobilize capital to bring about public good for people and planet. The government is planning to release up to $220 million of the $755 million Social Finance Fund over the next two years and proposes to renew the Investment Readiness Program (IRP) with $50 million over two years. This program supports charities, non-profits, and social purpose organizations in capacity-building activities such as business plan development, expanding products and services, skills development, and hiring. We’ve seen firsthand what this funding can do: over 20% of the 48 projects funded by the IRP were existing and former CSI accelerator program participants and members! Thanks to the IRP, Social Innovation Canada has been deepening and broadening the capacity of Canada’s social innovation ecosystem to apply Social R&D practices that can help strengthen programs and improve organizational investment readiness.

Spending for Good
If you’re a charity, you’ve got to spend a minimum amount on your programs or gifts each year. However, in Canada we’ve got a gap of at least $1 billion in charitable expenditures! The budget proposes launching public consultations with charities on increasing the disbursement quota beginning in 2022. According to the budget, “this could potentially increase support for the charitable sector and those that rely on its services by between $1 billion and $2 billion annually.” That’s ‘billion’ with a “B”.

Digitizing Our Businesses
More important than ever, the new Canada Digital Adoption Program will help small and medium-sized businesses adopt new digital technologies through micro-grants and access to zero-interest financing to help offset the costs of going digital. The budget proposes providing $2.6 billion over four years on a cash basis to the Business Development Bank of Canada to help small- and medium-sized businesses finance technology adoption.

Securing Housing
In 2019 Canada declared housing a human right. Good thing because right now, the country is in an affordable housing crisis which is only showing signs of accelerating (the reason we’re engaged in a Financialization of Housing lab right now). Hopefully, there is some relief coming through  some of the budget’s proposals: $2.5 billion over seven years to Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation which includes an additional $1.5 billion for the Rapid Housing Initiative (at least 25 per cent of this funding would go towards women-focused housing projects); $600 million over seven years to renew and expand the Affordable Housing Innovation Fund; $315.4 million over seven years through the Canada Housing Benefit; $118.2 million over seven years through the Federal Community Housing Initiative; and $3.8 billion earmarked for affordable housing units

The Trudeau government also proposes reallocating $1.3 billion of previously announced funding, including $750 million in funding under the National Housing Co-Investment Fund, $250 million in funding under the National Housing Co-Investment Fund, and $300 million in funding from the Rental Construction Financing Initiative.

Reflections on investing in Community Bonds and opportunities to improve the market

Quick disclaimer: I work for a mission-driven commercial lender that is privileged to work with many issuers of community bonds, some of which I’ve invested with personally. I manage these conflicts carefully and am not involved in lending relationships around these. This is also not financial advice, and if thinking about community finance opportunities you should receive advice relevant to your own situation.

My first real experience with community finance was in 2010 with the growth of the Community Economic Development Investment Funds (CEDIFs) program in Nova Scotia. Through the Farmers Market Investment Cooperative, I was able to invest directly in the redevelopment of the Halifax Seaport Farmers Market. It was an instructive example of a community coming together to build the economic infrastructure it wanted. It was also, sadly, a bust. While the market itself still continues as a beautiful space, some failures in governance and differing incentives between the tenants of the space (to naturally keep costs down) and the private investors (to see their investment returned with some profit) let ultimately to a wind-up and handover of the space to the port authority as a permanent owner. It appears the market is now being relocated to another part of the port, and the space the coop helped finance the improvement of turned into a “living lab” for the transportation sector by the port authority. Well, do hope they enjoy the green roof!

Since relocating to Toronto almost seven years ago, it’s been exciting to play witness to and support a growing community finance sector in Ontario. Through the leadership of organizations like the Centre for Social Innovation, community bonds have become much better understood by the coop and nonprofit sectors. The Feed-In-Tariff (FIT) programs in Ontario, while no longer offering new support, spurred the creation of a community-based renewable power coop sector that creates fertile ground for more work in driving the low-carbon transition. Now organizations like Tapestry Community Capital are helping professionalize the delivery of these tools and campaigns, so I certainly expect more to come.

I’ve invested in a total of 15 community bond or community share offerings, including the farmers market. For the purposes of this I’m excluding both broader based green bonds (for example CoPower and RE Royalties) as well as preferred share issuances by Credit Unions. While both can also be impactful investments, they aren’t focused to a given community project or projects, so I don’t think of them as the same. Here’s what that sub-portfolio looks like for me:

Overall, this constitutes about 11% of my investment portfolio, from which I exclude our home. I’m generally comfortable with this level, and would consider going up to 15-20% in the right circumstances despite the lack of liquidity because my partner and I are young and we’ve got good coverage of our fixed costs from our income. We’re pretty concentrated in an early investment in Zooshare, and while there’s been a couple of moments that have made me nervous with that, I’m excited about a virtual ribbon cutting on the project this Spring. When that investment matures later this year, I’m intending to try to reinvest towards other impact investments to hopefully diversify more. I’m satisfied with the yield we’re getting from these investments, and while there are concerns about inflation looming in general, there’s still a strong premium over lower risk fixed income options.

What do I like (sometimes love?) about Community Bonds and Investments?

  • They are a meaningful way for signature projects in the community to access additional capital, often at a greater risk tolerance than institutional investors or lenders would provide.
  • They help us realize the economy isn’t something that happens from the outside to us, but something we actually all actively create through our decisions on where to buy, invest, and work.
  • They aren’t strongly correlated with the broader investment market, and so can be value-adding as a stable fixed income tool.
  • They can allow for targeted investment in the themes we’re most passionate about.

What don’t I like as much?

  • There’s low liquidity or market for these investments. While there’s sometimes a bit of a waitlist an issuer can try to sell your investment into, that’s too much work for most.
  • There’s a lot of refinancing risk, as full redemption at maturity is often dependent on someone else coming in to refinance a projects or additional reissuance of more community bonds that others subscribe to
  • There’s a bit of a “first mover” risk in these investments, as a well subscribed campaign gives greater likelihood that these projects can be achieved than a more minimally subscribed campaign. Generally this risk is partially managed by having a trustee not release investor funds until after a minimum amount is reached, but there’s value in having greater confidence of a project’s success. I’ve observed that this leads to a bit of a momentum effect in these campaigns.
  • The flip side of targeted investment is that unless you’re willing to roll up your sleeves on a portfolio of community investments, you’re likely to not be particularly diversified.

One idea to improve the Community Bond Market: a “market making” fund

I wonder if there could be a benefit in a Canadian (or provincial if required) community bond fund that would invest exclusively in community bond and share offerings. This could do a few things that could strengthen this market for investors and offerings alike:

  • For investors: A turn-key mechanism to invest in a more diversified pool of community finance offerings.
  • For issuers – campaign momentum and confidence: The fund could commit to anchoring new community bond campaigns with an investment, that would be replaced by direct investors if the campaign is successful. For example the fund could commit to investing up to 20% of an offering (up to some maximum of the Fund’s own portfolio such as 5-10%), which is replaced as other community investors buy-in. This would give campaigns early momentum, fill in some gaps in capital access as a backstop, and give other investors a vote of confidence if the offering had undergone an anchor investors due diligence.
  • For issuers – a liquidity mechanism: For any approved offering above, the fund could commit to being willing to buy-out individual investors interests in the same offering, subject to the Fund’s own liquidity requirements and concentration limits. This could de-risk the ability for an individual to invest by providing a safety mechanism for unexpected emergencies.
  • For issuers – reducing refinancing risk: As a dedicated fund for the sector, such a fund could also ensure that unique market moments don’t heighten refinancing risk by providing the same backstop as for initial offerings.

As food for thought, there are some issues with the idea I recognize right away:

  • Investor interest: I wonder if I’m unusual in how I think about impact. I’m fairly embedded in this work, and care about these approaches as more economically democratic, so I feel comfortable with the idea of investing in a fund, that is investing in these offerings, vs. needing to see/feel the individual projects being supported. I wonder if there are enough investors who would similarly value the diversification and more turn-key solution to investing in these approaches?
  • Capital cost: For such a fund to work, it would have to operate on a very streamlined basis (and likely as a nonprofit) to keep costs down and operate viably. Ultimately the fund would need to invest in community bond offerings at a higher rate than what it could offer investors, and so the benefits to investors in diversification and simplicity would need to be greater than the financial delta they could achieve investing in offerings directly.
  • Capital deployment: While the community bond market continues to grow, the build up of a portfolio based on infrequent offerings (they’re pretty cyclical with the RRSP season generally!) would create a meaningful cash drag unless there were opportunities to act on right away. This could really damage the economic viability of the fund.

I’m curious what others experiences have been with community bonds and share offerings. Would this kind of fund have ever made a difference for you or the investors you’ve collaborated with? Are there other, better ways to improve this area so community investment can thrive?

About our guest author: Lars Boggild is a creative thinker working at the intersection of finance and social change. He currently supports new business relationships across lending and investments for Vancity Community Investment Bank, Canada’s first bank dedicated to social and environmental impact. Prior to VCIB, he worked at Rally Assets leading impact investing advisory projects that built practical strategies for asset owners to deploy more of their investments towards social and environmental good. Lars also sits on the Canadian Community Economic Development Network’s National Policy Council, the Investment Committee of the Evangelical Lutheran Foundation of Eastern Canada and is the Board Chair of Not Far from the Tree, Toronto’s urban fruit picking project.

Our 2019/2020 Annual Report

Yep, we know, after the maelstrom of 2020 it’s hard to recall anything that occurred before the pandemic! But, of course, things did happen and there are stories to be shared, so without further ado please dig in to our 2019/20 Annual Report.

2019/20 annual report cover

Right now, in the early months of 2021, our story is still unfolding: despite Covid-19, we’ve made great progress in our journey towards the Next Economy. We’ve taken time to solidify our programming approach and honed into our core areas of focus. We’ve taken on Labs and Challenges, and even worked with the City of Toronto on a Homelessness and Hygiene lab in the height of the pandemic.

We’re investing even more in the success of early stage enterprises that are developing solutions to the world’s biggest problems. These are the innovators that call CSI home; whether they’re ventures in one of our accelerator programs, participants in Social Enterprise 101, or members with or without office space (oh yeah, you can be a CSI member without office space – it’s true), they’re part of a community of changemakers who are working on the Next Economy.

If you haven’t already,
sign up for our weekly newsletter for the full scoop on what’s happening in our ecosystem.

The Community Bond in Action

In 2018, when SKETCH Executive Director Rudy Ruttimann saw that commercial rent was projected to rise 4.5% annually in Toronto, she knew it was time to act. If the rent increases continued SKETCH could no longer afford to stay in Toronto by 2023. That wasn’t an option: relocating would mean disrupting programs, uprooting from SKETCH’s central, accessible Artscape Youngplace creative hub location, and shifting far into the GTA. Pausing programs for the move would damage the solid, trusting relationships they’d formed with young people in the community over the past six years.

If you don’t know SKETCH, you should: it’s a community-arts nonprofit engaging diverse young people, ages 16-29, from across Canada, who live on the margins and navigate poverty. The organization operates out of a 7,500 sq. ft. multi-discipline art studio and a 1,500 sq. ft. administrative space at the Artscape Youngplace on Shaw Street. Their free programs are hosted in studios dedicated to visual arts, music and recording, culinary arts, ceramics, textiles, movement and theatre, digital arts, and industrial arts. There are few spaces available with the resources and support SKETCH provides in the downtown area: over 19,000 young people have come to SKETCH since it opened!

This November will be SKETCH’s 25th anniversary. With this milestone on the horizon and rent increases looming, Rudy began to look for other options. And when she came across the Community Bond, she knew it would be a perfect fit.

ABOUT THE COMMUNITY BOND

What is a Community Bond? You’re asking the right org! CSI invented the Community Bond in 2010 as a means to turn a nonprofit’s social capital into financial capital. We used the first Community Bond to raise $2M to purchase our first building, CSI Annex, in 2010. We used the bond a second time in 2014 to raise $4.3M from 227 community investors to buy CSI Spadina. In 2020, we used the Community Bond to invite our community of members and supporters to invest in programs that put people and planet first. Other organizations have used the Community Bond model for their own fundraising: our friends at Innovation Works in London, Ontario reached their $1,000,000 goal in October and have recently launched their 2021 campaign.

The Community Bond is an innovation in social finance that allows a nonprofit or charity to leverage its community of supporters to pursue its mission, build its resiliency, and create more vibrant communities. As, Rudy put it: “How can individuals support or invest in a community initiative and be a part of the impact for social change?” The answer is the Community Bond!

Quote from Marie Moliner: "I hope others are as happy to invest as I am. Your Series A Bond made it seamless to be an investor and a donor."

PROJECT HOME

SKETCH began their exploration of the Community Bond in earnest in fall 2018. It began with engaging the expertise of CSI Member Tapestry Community Capital to conduct a Feasibility Study to determine if SKETCH had the tools and resources for a campaign.

They liked what they saw, and in 2020 they launched their capital campaign, PROJECT HOME, with a goal of raising $4.1M to purchase their spaces from Artscape Youngplace on Shaw Street.

SKETCH, in many ways, is still a grassroots operation and we don’t have the kind of donor base where someone will sign a huge cheque and purchase the studios for us. Instead of borrowing the full amount from a bank, we asked the question: ‘what is the least expensive form of capital generation?’ The answer was to issue community bonds to the public.

“Bonds also allow us to reach a new audience beyond our present donor base. We have found that people are connecting with us for the first time through this campaign. Making a solid financial return on an investment may be more top-of-mind to them than making an impact.”

SKETCH’s four bonds have investment levels starting at $500, $5,000, $10,000 and $25,000 successively. This allows people with a wide array of available savings and investment knowhow to participate. They also had the opportunity to create a Canadian first. Their “Bond A: The Giving Bond” allows investors to donate their interest back to SKETCH in exchange for a tax receipt. 

Historically, Rudy says, during their annual fundraising campaigns, the organization would attract donations from their donor base and a small number of new donors who came across their social media posts. 

“With the community bond campaign, we’ve been able to reach an eclectic array of people we’d otherwise possibly never connect with. We’ve attracted investors from Montreal to Yellowknife to Halifax, and we have years now to get to know them better. We also have several familiar faces investing in SKETCH: staff, board members, our families, and even a former SKETCH youth artist have invested in Project Home bonds.”

So, how’s it going? Organizations and the public have invested over $854,500 in SKETCH’s bonds so far. That’s 61% of their $1.4 million investment goal. As well, they’ve reached 60% of their capital campaign fundraising goal over the holidays. Congrats!

LEARN AND INVEST

If you want to learn more about SKETCH’s campaign, visit their campaign page where you can  review bond terms and download investment packages. 

SKETCH is also hosting a free online Info Session on Friday, February 5th for folks who’d like to do a bit of a deep dive into their bonds, the investment process, and the impact they’ll have on the lives of marginalized youth.

We’re so excited about SKETCH’s campaign, and can’t wait to celebrate their success. If you’re thinking of using Community Bonds for your organization, and you’re a nonprofit, charity or co-op, a good place to start is with CSI’s guidebook. If you want more of a concierge approach, you should connect with our friends and long term partners at Tapestry Community Capital.

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 CEO Tonya Surman talks to Bloomberg about The Future of Cities

The global pandemic changed everything in 2020. Now it is going to change everything forever. In the “The Future of” series, BNN Bloomberg looks at what is next for our transformed economy and daily lives. For their examination of The Future of Cities they spoke with people like Richard Florida, and CSI CEO Tonya Surman. Here is an excerpt:

Tonya Surman, CEO of the Centre for Social Innovation, says she thinks the office of the future will resemble the co-working model her organization first brought to Canada 15 years ago, which companies like WeWork have since taken mainstream.

“Community is going to become even more important,” she says. Smaller employers, in particular, will downsize but maintain enough space so staff can come in a few times a week, hold meetings, train staff and reconnect.

“The whole idea of separating work from home, the way we did in the industrial revolution, and enduring long commutes is starting to finally at long last decline.”

Florida agrees office designs will have more of a focus on common spaces and collaboration. “The office as workspace — where you have a desk or a cubicle — will give way to the office as meeting space or interaction space,” he says, adding that there will be spaces for people to work out, do yoga or meditate, and more outdoor spaces for people to congregate.

And for those whose employer decides to go completely virtual or move to the suburbs to avoid the high cost of downtown commercial real estate, niche third-party co-working spaces such as CSI will fill the void, says Surman. Where CSI provides networking and business development opportunities for individuals who want to make the world better, other co-working spaces will become networking hubs for communities with other personal or professional interests, she says.

Read the full piece here.


Are you looking for a networking community hub?  Learn more about becoming a CSI member!

Dwelly.ca makes buying and renting a home simple and more affordable for every Canadian

The decision to buy, sell or rent a home is an overwhelming one. Dwelly‘s mission is to make buying and renting a home simple and affordable for every Canadian. We talked to Broker of Record (and CSI member!) Karim Elbarbary about how he has simplified this complex, thorny experience and dramatically lowered the cost of buying a home.

What is your biggest hope for Dwelly? What does the world look like if those hopes come true?
Our biggest hope at Dwelly is to create an end-to-end product that empowers any person thinking of or planning to own a home. We hope to alter the world’s perception of a Realtor from that of pressure, redundancy and rushed processes, to one of genuine support, complete transparency, informed advice, and technological advancement. The world would have more people feeling confident to eventually own a home, with no ambiguity throughout the home-buying process.

How has being a CSI member impacted Dwelly’s work so far?
Being a member of CSI has been absolutely incredible so far! We’ve had the opportunity to receive lots of insightful feedback from the community regarding their personal experiences when purchasing/renting homes in the past. We have also already helped a fellow CSI member purchase a home and are currently in the process of helping another. Joining CSI was a goal of ours, partly to have office space, but mainly so Dwelly can continue to be a people-focused and feedback-driven company. Being able to directly communicate with such an inspiring community has helped us meet that goal far more than we could have asked for.

How can CSI members (or anyone!) get involved in Dwelly?
The best part about being in the business of helping individuals move homes is that it is a universal process – almost every single person experiences it in some shape or form, whether it’s renting or buying. With that in mind, we are always looking to learn more about people’s experiences with moving homes so we can improve our own ways of addressing pain points throughout the process. In addition, our ears are always ready for feedback on our platform if you have a minute to browse through the site, drop us an email with any feedback you may have.

Aside from that, Dwelly is a growing company and we are always thinking on our feet. We’re open to collaborate on projects with fellow CSI members – some of the fields we constantly need help in are legal, financing and fund-raising, web development, design, and marketing. So if you’re a fellow member with expertise in those fields and are open to project based work please feel free to reach out to us at hello@dwelly.ca

How is Dwelly pivoting and surviving through COVID?
To preface, we’d like to acknowledge how hard this time has been for everyone. At Dwelly, we were fortunate enough that the business was built digital and remote from day one. Our whole team works remotely and we do most of our team meetings online so, in that sense, we weren’t affected much in terms of internal operations. However, on the flip side, real estate is one of the few areas of business that really require entering peoples’ homes to do showings. The entire real estate industry has had to pivot and adapt to new requirements, like COVID-19 screening forms and limitations around in-person showings.

Although we’ve always offered our users the ability to request remote video showings via FaceTime and Zoom, we’ve now pushed that forward even more. However, we’ve made sure to adhere to safety precautions when it comes to in person showings. Nevertheless, like the majority of businesses, we’ve experienced a slow down – especially during the lockdown. The pandemic has affected the typical influx of students, new immigrants as well as travel in general – all these factors have played a visible role. At the end of the day we’re happy that we were able to push through some hard times, stay afloat and continue to push the envelope in our industry. I’m lucky to have an incredible team to weather the storm with (thanks Dwelly family!).

What social/political/health/other issues is Dwelly working on?
I would say, at Dwelly, we aim to be socially innovative by solving a market inefficiency. We all hear about how real estate agents get overpaid and tend to under-deliver. We want to bring more fairness and higher value-for-money to our clients – one way we accomplish that is by offering half of our commission fees we receive as a buyer’s rebate to clients. We built our platform (with many filters and automated alerts) in a way that gives clients the power to browse and search for homes on their own time and from the comfort of their own home, rather than relying completely on us to send them options.

We consider ourselves to have a large social responsibility, since we assist people in making life-changing decisions. When you look at how many complaints go to real estate councils regarding fraud, misrepresentation, and just lack of understanding of what’s in the paperwork, it’s extremely important to us to lead with integrity. We focus on simplifying things as much as possible and being ultra transparent so that our clients can truly understand how the process works and be directly involved in their home purchase.

What impact does Dwelly have, as in, who do you serve?
Currently we serve home buyers & renters in the Greater Toronto Area. Our goal is to expand to helping Canadians across the country find their next home as seamlessly as possible. We look forward to taking our mission nationwide in the future.

Is Dwelly creating jobs at the moment?
At the moment, we have a number of fairly new team members who joined the team this year so we are not actively looking right now. However, we’re always excited to meet like-minded agents who share our values and drive. If you are or someone you know is a licensed real estate agent and would like to join us on our journey in changing real estate, please do reach out.

If CSI could be of greatest help to you, what could we do?
As mentioned, CSI has been a great help so far – the space is welcoming and inspiring, and the community is game-changing. In terms of additional features, it would be great if CSI added a specific section in the members portal where people can share new product features, designs, code, etc. where others, especially specialists in the field, can share their feedback and give tips on improvements. That way we can all build products with direct input from the community – which might end up being the end user as well. Other than that nice-to-have, this community is really more than what I could have asked for.

Are you looking for a community where you can grow? Learn how you can make change at CSI!

We can give more when we give together

Pine needles
Buy Good Feel Good

Believe it or not, the Holiday season is upon us! And after the stress and isolation of 2020, we’d love to spread some cheer. To make that happen, we are doing what we’ve been doing since COVID (and CSI itself!) started. We’re giving you the chance to support each other.

(Think: “The rent pool … but make it festive.”)

What that means is that this year for Giving Tuesday, you can give to your community as your community gives back to you. Namely, when you buy something from our Holiday Giving Catalogue, you will get a discount on your purchase, while our Community Resilience Fund gets a portion of the proceeds.

That’s right! Each item you buy will let you support local social entrepreneurs, access exclusive discounts, and help our Community Resilience Fund to:

  1. Contribute to direct member support and services.
  2. Host a crucial series of Next Economy Conversations.
  3. Help women-lead social enterprises retool and adapt.
  4. Launch the Common Platform and Community Resilience Dialogues.
  5. Systemically respond to the social and economic impacts of COVID-19.

So dive in and start shopping! We’ve selected a few members below to draw you in, but be sure to check out the whole list. Our catalogue has everything from delicious snacks to designer sacks!

We can’t wait to hear about what you get! Be sure to use the code “CSIHolidayGiving” at check out!

Venture for Canada is fostering the entrepreneurial mindset of young Canadians

Young person working on a laptop on a table.

Entrepreneurial grads want to excel at dynamic startups, and startups want energized contributors ready to hit the ground running. CSI member Venture for Canada connects these two groups, giving keen Canadian students and recent grads immersive entrepreneurship training and real-world job experience at innovative startups and small businesses.

We sat down with Juanita Lee-Garcia — Venture for Canada’s Senior Manager of Strategic Partnerships and Social Impact — and talked about what the world looks like if Venture for Canada achieves its goals, and how being part of CSI is making that happen.

What is your biggest hope for Venture for Canada? What does the world look like if those hopes come true?
Right now, our biggest hope is to scale-out and support Canada’s efforts to build back better in a post-COVID-19 economy. VFC’s Founder and CEO wrote an op-ed for our media partners Future of Good, about what graduating into a recession means for the social impact sector and our society. We believe that entrepreneurial mindsets and skills will build thriving and resilient communities, finally and culturally.

If our hopes come true, we’ll have a Canada where young people can equitably realize their entrepreneurial potential to build the most prosperous place in the world. The skills and experience they’ll gain by participating in VFC’s program are essential to their success in the future.

How has being a CSI member impacted your work so far?
CSI is a fantastic workspace and community of social impact-driven folks. We’ve had the opportunity to connect with experts in the non-profit space, held community events across multiple locations and learned so much for CSI’s thought leadership and practices. Bringing the community together around conversations that lead to tangible and actionable change is part of our work. CSI has provided an excellent example of how to do that, from inviting us to host events, lending their staff’s time to volunteering with us, and pointing us to other folks that we should be in touch with to increase our impact.

How can CSI members (or anyone!) get involved in Venture for Canada?
There are multiple ways that you can get involved! Here are four:

  1. If you’re a business in need of high-achieving talent, check out our employers’ page to see if you are eligible to hire from either of programs.
  2. If you are a high school students or recent graduate, you can get involved as a program participant. Recent grads are eligible for our Fellowship program. High school students are eligible to connect to small or medium-sized businesses in the Prairies and Atlantic Canada.
  3. If you consider yourself a leader in the entrepreneurial and innovation ecosystem, we have a growing list of individuals who speak to our program participants. These opportunities include planned sessions around leadership, financing, management, fundraising, social impact and soft skills.
  4. If you’d like to promote a product or a service to the Venture For Canada network, we have over +1500 young Startup employees or students interested in learning more. We have over 500 employers that we work with every year.

If you are interested in any of these things, you can connect with me at juanita@ventureforcanada.ca.

How is Venture for Canada pivoting and surviving through COVID?
Over the past seven months, we’ve adapted to this a digital-first reality. While our office space at CSI stands strong, we have new systems and protocols for team members who prefer to go into an office. The mental and overall health of staff is super important to us, and we are aware that various folks have differing needs.

We also have physical office spaces in Halifax, Calgary and St. Johns. As a national organization, we already operated across various time-zones and a national team but have implemented fun remote work activities. From a program perspective, we pivoted to an online environment rather than hosting our traditional month-long training camp for the Fellowship program. We are balancing delivering our programs and the efforts it takes to build community online. We are super grateful for our supporters and the actions of the Federal and Provincial governments.

What issues is Venture for Canada working to solve?
Our work solves multiple problems. Venture for Canada’s mission is to foster the entrepreneurial mindset and skills of young Canadians. We are bridging the skills-gap between post-secondary and the workplace. We recently spoke to various stakeholders about our problems and how our primary focus has ancillary benefits. A panel of experts made up of a VFC Fellowship Alumnus, two Fellowship Partner Startup leaders, and an Internship Employer told us what the impact of VFC has been for themselves, their businesses and the startup and innovation ecosystem.

An Open Letter to the Non-Profit Sector: Let’s Build the Community of our Dreams

Chalkboard welcoming CSI members home as they move into 192 Spadina. Photo credit: Sara Elisabeth Photography.

Hello Dear Nonprofit Chairs, Directors, Managers and Staff,

I’m writing to you today to invite you to join me and more than 100 other nonprofit organizations at the Centre for Social Innovation (CSI).

Let Me Introduce Myself

If you don’t know me, I’m someone who has been here with you in the third sector for her entire professional life. Starting with the Canadian Children’s Health and Environment Network, I was part of the team of activists who banned BPA from baby bottles. I am honoured to be one of the founding co-chairs of our beloved Ontario Nonprofit Network. When CSI needed to figure out how to buy our first building — a true community asset! — I turned to our friends in the co-op movement and together we created a powerful new tool for the non-profit sector: the Community Bond. You may be reading this email using technology provided by TechSoup Canada, an international organization I helped bring to Canada by incubating it at CSI. In recognition of my work to encourage sharing and collaboration, I was awarded an Ashoka fellowship. My kindergarten teacher would be so proud of how far I’ve come…

This is all to say, I have always worked hard to bring us together, building and fostering the connective tissues, to empower us with the tools, and ultimately contribute to the resiliency of our sector so that we can get to greater impact — organizationally and as a sector.

The Centre for Social Innovation was Founded in a Time of Crisis

Most people know me for my work co-founding, building, and leading the Centre for Social Innovation (CSI). Some of you will be too young to remember this, but 16 years ago, when we opened the first CSI, it was because we were a sector in crisis. Various governments had spent nearly a decade hollowing out civil society. Funding was scarce, and shrinking, and everyone was looking for ways to survive. It was a situation that demanded new ideas, collaborations and models. This moment of disruption was the genesis of CSI. Of CSI’s founding 14 members, 13 were non-profit organizations who came together to share an office. We alchemized the crisis into the creation of the largest social innovation community in Canada, and from this community, incredible people and organizations have advanced countless solutions to address the complex issues our societies are facing.

We Stick Together

As a sector, we are in crisis again. And it challenges us to bolster our visions of the future with the necessities of now. Since the COVID pandemic hit, we here at CSI — with tremendous support from our board — have been doing our level best to take care of our members. Before there was any government relief in sight, we took a big risk and announced that, in every CSI location, rent would be pay-what-you-can. A community rent pool based on one of our core values: together or die. Did your landlord do something similar?

Let's Build the Intentional Community of Our Dreams

Despite our rent pool, we have lost some wonderful organizations. Some have called it quits, many have just moved home to wait out the pandemic. We feel comfortable and safe where we feel at home.

And it is precisely that image, the safety of home, that I want to evoke to my NPO friends when I ask you: come home to CSI. Let us welcome you into our warm, brick-and-beam communities. We have safe spaces for you. We have offices of all shapes and sizes, one for every budget. They are clean, they are sanitized, they are full of smiles behind safe glass walls. They are the right size for you now. They are flexible and will adapt to your growing or shrinking. And most importantly: they are already full of your nonprofit friends and family. There are more than a hundred nonprofits already here who understand you, who want to help you, who want to dance with you when you nail that next grant (and might even help you do it). Let’s build the community of our dreams.

My Promise to the Sector

My promise to you is this: we will do all we can to help you get here. We will do everything in our power to match your space and budget needs. When you pay your rent now, where does your money go? Who does it sustain? Do they care about you? Would they risk it all to get you through to the other side?

We will. We have. We are your community-owned home.

Send us an email with what you’re looking for, and let’s get the conversation started.

Tonya Surman
CEO, Centre for Social Innovation