17 Innovators and Innovations to Celebrate 17 Years!

In June of 2004, CSI opened its doors with fourteen founding members in tow to solve the “photocopier problem,” the tendency for organizations to work in silos instead of sharing resources and solutions. Enter 5,000 sq. ft. at 215 Spadina Avenue – one of the very first coworking spaces in the world! 

If you know us, you know our story. But, do you know our members? Since our start, over 6000 alumni have passed through the halls (and multiple buildings) of CSI, accessing programming, building community, accelerating their ventures, and creating solutions for systems-level change. Now, as we expand from community-building to building the Next Economy (with a new methodology and increased programming to support innovations at every stage), our members continue to expand with us. Their stories tell the larger story of the life cycle of CSI.

On Friday, we held a virtual Innovator Toast for members, old and new, to toast seventeen years this June and to clink our glass to the thousands who have made CSI the cacophony of connections that it is. To celebrate seventeen years, here’s a look at seventeen of the countless innovators and innovations who’ve left a mark on us and who continue to leave their mark on the world:

System Changers 

Nadia Hamilton, Founder of Magnusmode 

In 2011, Nadia Hamilton was named the winner of CSI’s Project Wildfire. The $25,000 grand prize helped her turn her vision of reducing barriers for people in the autism and disabled community into a full-fledged social enterprise. Inspired by her younger autistic brother, Nadia founded Magnusmode, an organization that creates assistive technology so that people with autism can lead more independent, integrated lives. Their flagship product, Magnus Cards, is a digital library of guides, much like the hand-drawn guides Nadia would make for her brother growing up. Partnering with different businesses and organizations, Magnus Cards are a step-by-step roadmap that guide users through different products, services, and everyday experiences, empowering people to participate with more agency and peace of mind. 

Bryce Jones, CEO and Co-Founder of Flash Forest

Flash Forest is revolutionizing reforestation with tree-planting drones. Right now, planting trees is one of the quickest and cheapest ways to sequester carbon but as Bryce Jones and his fellow co-founders noticed, tree planting hasn’t changed much in the last century. Seeing an opportunity for innovation, they created Flash Forest, Canada’s first-to-market drone reforestation company. Using drones that fire seed pods into the ground at a rate of one per second, they’re on a mission to plant one billion trees by 2028. We met Bryce and the team through Earth Tech, our six-month Climate Ventures accelerator for startups and ventures working on climate and freshwater solutions. The team recently secured over $3.5M in funding for the next stage of their mission, including 100K from the SDTC fund for which we were proud to nominate them. We can’t wait to see what’s next! 

Elsie Amoako, Founder and CEO of Mommy Monitor

As the founder of both Mommy Monitor and the Racialized Maternal Health Conference, Elsie Amoako is a rising leader in racialized maternal health. A CSI Spadina Member, she first joined CSI through our Agents of Change: Community Health program, where she worked with leading advisors and received a $10,000 grant to accelerate her enterprise. Now, Mommy Monitor is a full-service social enterprise and app that offers customized maternal health services, support and education. The vision? Provide maternal health services globally in a way that is virtual, culturally safe, promotes autonomy over the body and birth, and prevents adverse outcomes. 

Maayan Ziv, Founder of Access Now

 In 2016, Maayan Ziv also took part in CSI’s Agents of Change: Community Health cohort for AccessNow, a crowdsourced mobile and web platform that pinpoints accessibility information for locations worldwide. Known widely as a leading advocate for disability and inclusion, Maayan catalyzed her experiences in community (including three years at CSI) to create a grassroots movement: anyone anywhere can review locations by dropping a “pin” on AccessNow’s map, thereby improving accessibility through accountability and knowledge sharing. 

Adrianna Couto, Co-Founder of Inwit

Adrianna Couto, alongside co-founder Erika Reyes, wants to make sustainability “irresistible to all Torontonians.” The two met through our DECA program and now, after participating in our WOSEN incubator, ‍Inwit is on a mission to make the takeout industry circular and zero waste.

“Imagine ordering takeout that doesn’t compromise your love for food or the planet. Imagine returning our reusable containers while out walking your dog or heading to the grocery store.Adrianna explains. “We are piloting Toronto’s first low waste takeout platform that will offer a glimpse into our low-carbon future. It’s been a great joy to witness and support their success from the start. Now, the world is catching on: Inwit was recently chosen as one of the top 15 solutions out of Toronto, New York, Amsterdam, Glasgow, and Copenhagen, to move on to the second phase of the Circular Innovation City Challenge

Daniel Bida, Executive Director of ZooShare

ZooShare, a nonprofit cooperative, built a biogas plant at the Toronto Zoo’s existing compost facility that converts zoo poo and food waste into renewable energy, thereby reducing greenhouse gas emissions. You heard that right! Using Zoo poo as a source of energy is a beloved solution in the CSI zeitgeist. 

Back in 2012, the biogas cooperative and CSI member won the Toronto Community Foundation’s Green Innovation Award after participating in the ClimateSpark Social Venture Challenge, a collaboration between CSI, the Toronto Atmospheric Fund and the Toronto Community Foundation. At the time, Executive Director of ZooShare, Daniel Bida, said “Participation in ClimateSpark really helped to hone the unique selling points of the project as a result of getting feedback from so many individuals and experts from around the city.” Since then, ZooShare has been going strong, financing its operations by issuing Community Bonds (something we know a little about) with over five hundred impact investors.

Peter Deitz, Co-Founder of Grantbook and Unwrapit 

In our latest Next Economy Conversation, Peter sat down  to discuss his organization’s journey to employee ownership through an Employee Shared Ownership Plan (ESOP). Reflecting on his career as a serial social entrepreneur, he credited CSI as a “core influence” in his life. Having been a part of the CSI community for over fifteen years, Peter has incubated, launched and scaled multiple social enterprises out of our spaces. His latest venture, Unwrapit, is a social purpose business that provides companies with digital alternatives to traditional corporate and event gifting practices in order to reduce waste destined for landfill and create meaningful, personalized connections.

Myra Arshad, Co-Founder of ALT TEX 

ALT TEX is creating sustainable textiles out of fermented food waste. Best friends and co-founders Myra Arshad and Avneet Ghotra developed a polyester alternative with an eye to disrupt the near $104 billion (USD) polyester industry by creating a circular, biodegradable, and carbon neutral product that addresses two major consumption problems: plastic and food waste. They recently closed their pre-seed round of funding at $1.5 M, proving there is a major appetite for solving fashion’s microplastic problem and upending the fast fashion market. 

When we asked our 2021 Earth Tech venture what this support means to them, Co-Founder Myra Arshad said: “Having support from organizations that offer a platform, mentorship and funds is the reason ALT TEX has been able to get this far – it’s incredible how this ecosystem comes together to support entrepreneurs.”

Amoye Henry, Co-Founder of Pitch Better

Amoye Henry describes herself as “a rockstar millennial entrepreneur.” The description fits: in 2018, Amoye was named one of Canada’s top 100 Accomplished Black Women. She is on a mission to help scale growth-based businesses led by unique founders. “Basically, I want to see the underdog win,” she says. 

Co-founding Pitch Better with Adeela Carter-Charles, Amoye is bridging the gap between women-led start-ups and their means of acquiring capital through grants and investments. With a mandate to “create more women millionaires,” Pitch Better connects innovative Black women entrepreneurs with seasoned professionals via workshops, talks and coaching sessions. Amoye expands on this mission as one of our WOSEN coaches. 

Taking their work to the systems-level, Pitch Better is currently completing the first national market analysis of Black women founders in Canada. The FoundHers campaign aims to address gaps in the social economy by resolving gaps in data collection.

Ilana Ben-Ari, Founder of Twenty One Toys

One of CSI’s Youth Agent of Change award winners, Ilana Ben-Ari began Twenty One Toys with the belief that toys could be the new textbooks by, in part, teaching us collaboration, creativity and empathy. She first created the Empathy toy as a way to bridge gaps between visually impaired and sighted communities through play. It turns out, the toy bridged gaps and evoked empathy in anyone who played – from students to teachers to business executives and beyond. Since then, Ilana has been “mass-producing empathy,” as the toys show up all over the world in professional development workshops, leadership programs and even in job interviews! What’s next?  A true innovator in heart and spirit, she’s currently launching new toy to reframe how people understand failure, aptly named the Failure toy.

Network Weavers 

Social Innovation Canada

Catalyzed by CSI, Social Innovation Canada is working to provide the collaborative infrastructure to strengthen Canada’s social innovation ecosystem, empowering people, organizations and systems with the tools, knowledge, skills and connections that they need to solve real and complex problems.

How it works: SI Canada consists of a small ‘secretariat’ team at the national and operations level, working in partnership with regional ‘nodes‘ or host partners in various parts of Canada. Each node has a ‘weaver’. These ‘weavers’ are natural networks who are responsible for convening regional gatherings and learning events to revel, share, unlock, and enable people, organization and systems to thrive. They meet regularly and work together to reflect the vibrancy, diversity and knowledge that is emerging from coast to coast to coast. CSI is proud to be Ontario’s node and the backbone, operational support for SI Canada as we work to connect Canada’s social innovation ecosystem.

Ontario Nonprofit Network

The Ontario Nonprofit Network breaks down silos by developing working groups, provincial strategies and building regional nonprofit networks to actualize the potential of the Ontario nonprofit sector. Back in 2007, when the ONN was a fledgling initiative with a vision to build a network of nonprofits, CSI incubated ONN. We acted as a trustee, providing insurance, bookkeeping, leadership, accounting, management, and a board of directors. In fact, our CEO, Tonya Surman, was the founding co-chair for ONN’s steering committee. This allowed the ONN leadership to figure out what worked (and what didn’t), build a strong foundation, and grow their network. In 2015, after spending seven years at CSI, they incorporated into a stand-alone organization. We’ve watched with complete admiration and inspiration at the incredible impact ONN continues to achieve.

Community Builders

Tapestry Community Capital

CSI Member Tapestry Community Capital is a non-profit co-op that supports other co-ops and nonprofits in raising and managing community investment. With the help of Tapestry (and 120 incredible community investors), CSI was able to raise 1.9M in under two months in our most recent bond project. Tapestry has been a key player in our Community Bond initiatives – an innovation CSI invented that allows nonprofits to leverage nonprofit social capital into financial capital. To date, Tapestry has helped organizations across sectors raise and manage over $70 million from 3,900 investors. Building community by building resiliency, they are not only vital to CSI but to our social innovation sector. 

Toronto Tool Library

Much like CSI’s founding mission to resolve the “photocopier problem” by sharing resources and space, Toronto Tool Library is on a mission to maximize the benefits of the sharing economy. A part of the broader tool sharing movement as one of over forty tool libraries across North America, this CSI Spadina member provides tools, skill-sharing, and community assistance initiatives that enable individuals, nonprofit organizations, and communities to connect through cooperative sharing. It’s been such a privilege to provide space to TTL over the years as they give so much to our CSI community. 

Cycle Toronto

Long-time CSI member Cycle Toronto has been with us through every key stage of their journey, from starting small, moving from office to office at CSI Annex as they grew, and then eventually landing at CSI Spadina where they’ve expanded their team and their vision. Now a registered charity, Cycle Toronto is a vital part of Toronto, shaping policy, infrastructure and community to transform the city’s cycling culture to make cycling a viable option for Torontonians.

Fresh City Farms

Fresh City Farms delivers organic produce, groceries, meal kits and a variety of prepared meals right to your door. Recipients of a CSI Catapult Loan in 2015, and part of our 2016 Agents of Change cohort, their growth has been nothing short of phenomenal since then. In April of 2019, they acquired Mabel’s Bakery & Specialty Foods. A month later, they announced the acquisition of The Healthy Butcher, a pioneer in organic and 100% grass-fed meat and sustainable seafood. Last year, during the pandemic, they waived delivery fees for a while, providing food access and stability to many of our community members.

Silo Breakers 

Canopy

 Canopy works with “the forest industry’s biggest customers and their suppliers to develop business solutions that protect these last frontier forests.” Taking a truly systems-level approach, the organization transforms unsustainable product supply chains by engaging business executives on the importance of forest conservation and the power of greening their practices. 

When the Vancouver-based organization looked to branch out to Toronto, they chose to call CSI home. A decade into seeing their work up close, we were thrilled when Ashoka Fellow and Founder of Canopy, Nicole Rycroft, recently won the prestigious Climate Breakthrough Award. Last week, she sat down with Barnabe Geis, our Executive Director of Climate Ventures, for a Climate Ventures Conversation to discuss where their work will take them next. 

Breaking silos is at the heart of what we do. When an organization expands their impact by branching out into our spaces, their vision invariably influences ours. We are so grateful to those who’ve chosen to be a part of the community! Honourable mentions include: the David Suzuki Foundation, Vancity Community Investment Bank, Jack.Org, and the Greenbelt Foundation.

With that, cheers to seventeen years! 

State of the [CSI] Nation

It’s been a while since we last heard from our CEO, Tonya Surman. Considering all the changes that have been happening around here—for example, did you know we’re hiring for a new COO and CPO? —we thought it was time for a check-in!

Don’t just do something! Stand there!

I often find myself reflecting on CSI and my 17 year journey as a social-entrepreneur-turned -founder-and-CEO. Given the rapid and relentless impact of Covid-19 these past several months, I’ve been doing a lot more reflecting than usual, reflection that is actively repositioning and building CSI for what’s next. 

What’s next is CSI doubling down to prove that solutions for the Next Economy are possible. We’re building Canada’s social innovation ecosystem to unlock the earliest stages of enterprises, transform the humans leading these enterprises, and provide a ladder of support that helps them advance and accelerate their solutions from idea to impact.

Proud and Grateful

In March 2020, Covid-19 forced CSI shut its doors for the first time ever. Ironically, we were ‘designed for contagion’ which is great for building social capital but not so good for preventing the spread of viruses. During the first few months of the pandemic, we were stunned, scared, and uncertain. Over the past year (thanks Covid!), we’ve lost 38% of our members – those early stage initiatives that are so vulnerable and often led by some of our most ‘at-risk’ people. It was devastating to see what you, our members, had worked so hard to create, start to crumble.

But our community came together with the creation of our Community Rent Pool, and with the support of the federal wage subsidy, some savings that we had squirreled away, and a diversified revenue stream (TechSoup Canada and CSI Accelerates) CSI continues to navigate through the pandemic. And while we have lost a lot of members, we’ve kept many, many more. We haven’t had to lay off or furlough any staff. We’ve built new partnerships. We’ve strengthened and diversified our Board. These are all things for which I am enormously grateful for and proud of. 

Covid forced us to catch up with ourselves 

Once out of the initial crisis response mode, we had a chance to check in and make sure that we were going in the right direction. Covid has forced us to make some tough decisions. We were forced to close our CSI New York location and move our amazing NYC community online. We also were forced to close our CSI Regent Park location and pivot our work to become more community facing as we look to open the CSI Community Living Room on the ground floor of the Daniels Spectrum and deliver our Every One Every Day program in partnership with Artscape.

For the last 17 years we have been catalyzing, supporting, and inspiring social innovation, but let’s be honest, most people really saw us as the ‘cool, beautiful, hippie coworking space’ in downtown Toronto. (I mean, they’re right, we are pretty beautiful.)

But is that enough to drive the change we want to see in the world? The answer, in truth, is no.

From the Sidelines to the Centre

During our 17 years, we have been pushing, promoting and nudging people towards social innovation, a concept which remains vague and high level. We’ve also been supporting social entrepreneurs… why? Because we believe those idealists with drive and passion are just the right breed of mix – visionary, opportunistic, and pragmatic – to be able to radically redesign business models that put people and planet first. 

But you know, despite progress, social entrepreneurs and social enterprise have been side-lined from halls of power. “Oh look at those nice nonprofits dreaming up those neat little community bonds! How quaint!” or “Maybe the government can create a nice ‘sector’ fund for us and we can have access to… what? 0.001% of the budget?” Maybe I sound harsh, but social enterprise is not enough. Yes, it is important in and of itself, but social enterprise is NOT ENOUGH to fundamentally change our systems.

Re-think, Redesign, Re-set

We know we need a radical redesign of our economic system… our system is flawed. It is built on colonialism, discrimination, sexism, classism, and an unsustainable expectation that our planet will survive our object and relentless abuse. 

I’m horrified by how disconnected we are to the very thing that sustains our life – Mother Earth. No one can deny that we exist at the behest of this great life-giving entity. No religion, culture, race, or creed is exempt from this fundamental relationship – with the air we breath, the water we drink, and the soil that provides us with our sustenance. Every culture in the world goes back far enough to recognize this profound relationship. Many of us are so lost in our digital worlds that we forget what makes us happy: the wind in our hair, a smile from someone we love, relating to each other. 

With Covid, the Earth gave us a ‘time-out’ and sent us to our room to think about what we had done to her. And now, as a global society, Covid has revealed the most vulnerable and once so revealed, we can no longer ignore the vast inequalities. In some respects, the Earth has given us this amazing opportunity to re-think, re-design and re-set our systems. 

Ok, that was a rant. Sorry! Back to my story.

Social Entrepreneurs and Capitalism… right! Oh yes, and CSI. 

So here’s the deal. We need to work together to build the NEXT ECONOMY. We need to take what is good about capitalism – the democratized meritocracy, self-organizing nature, and energy – and we need to make it better. We need to build circles into every design of every system that we create. We need to build a regenerative, equitable, and prosperous economy for all. 

And here’s the exciting thing: the Next Economy is already emerging, with inspiring examples from around the world showing us the way. The Next Economy is sustainable, people-centred, circular, just, participatory, and equitable. It is conscious and caring and it is inclusive: building community wealth, health and wellbeing. We are seeing every sector confronting these challenges – from farming to finance and everything in between.

From local to the global, the Next Economy movement has the potential to redefine success, reshape markets, respect the planet’s capacity to regenerate itself, and create an economy that benefits everyone. 

It’s up to us to be the designers of our economies – to build intentional economies that reflect what we really value – people and planet.

So, that’s what we are doing, and what we want to do more of. We’ve thought about it a lot and let’s face it: CSI, along with so many others, has been working on this for decades and we are finally seeing the mainstreaming of these ideas! It is working! The public and private sectors are finally building ESG’s, clean tech, and so much more. We’re doing it! 

We need to keep supporting the world to embody these values into every decision. We need deep diversity. We need to practice inclusion in ways that may be awkward and painful for some. We need to see across differences and learn to listen better. We need to get outside and listen to how the trees can speak to us. We need to relearn what it is to build true relationships and meaningful communities that we can rely on. We need to remember how to play and bring joy back into our lives. We also need to reclaim our agency and see that we have to power to redesign our economics to be caring and circular when we work together.

CSI is putting everything that we’ve got into Proving that the Next Economy is Possible. We are building social innovation labs mixed with entrepreneurial energy to co-create the business models of the future. We are supporting the humans that are at the earliest stage of their entrepreneurial adventures, often welcoming people who feel unwelcome elsewhere, providing them with the education, acceleration, and catalytic services and supports. We are focusing on Climate Ventures, Social Ventures and Community Wealth. 

We want to collaborate with the people and organizations which share our values and we want to focus on solutions. We ain’t that keen to argue. The challenges are too urgent and the stakes are too high. Instead we want to continue to be generous with each other, give each other the benefit of the doubt, and focus as we always have done, on building real hope, inspiring possibility and demonstrating lasting solutions. 

Wild-eyed still, even 17 years later… let’s see what we can do. We know what we need to, so who wants to help us actually do it? 

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.

How 12 Women Entrepreneurs are Building the Next Economy

Graphic of 8 women entrepreneurs featured in the blog

As we celebrate International Women’s Day, here’s a statistic we’re pondering: women are the majority owners of only 15.6% of Small Medium Enterprises (SMEs) in Canada. 15.6%. That’s it? It portrays a dire picture of gender inequality in our sector – but it’s one we can change.

Take our women-focussed WOSEN programs, for example. The WOSEN partnership is all about upleveling women entrepreneurs with the skills and resources they need to grow their ventures. We’ve also got Social Entrepreneurship 101 – our education course for burgeoning entrepreneurs – of which 75% of past graduates are women! Of course, building an inclusive Next Economy doesn’t stop with our programs – it’s happening in the heart of our network where over 75 CSI member organizations are working to end gender inequality. We’re also proud to say 59% of CSI members are women – many of whom are the founders, CEOs, and leaders of their organizations.

Here are just some of the brilliant women entrepreneurs at CSI building the Next Economy by combatting the climate crisis, creating healthcare solutions, developing new technologies, and mentoring the next generation. 

A headshot photo of Minelli Clements Minelli Clements

LorCan Technologies Inc.
Earth Tech Accelerated Venture 

Minelli Clements wants to break systemic barriers and challenge the “archaic” idea that green technology and circular business models are not viable. This dream found its legs when Minelli founded LorCan Technologies Inc

While volunteering for a conservation agency in Alberta, Minelli noticed researchers had to manually retrieve data from sensors placed in wildlife corridors. She saw a need for a solution that can help these agencies connect to valuable data without trekking through harsh terrain and disrupting natural environments. LorCan Tech will help agencies reduce environmental impacts by providing companies with real-time monitoring connectivity solutions for remote sensing devices, empowering them to create more sustainable business practices.  

What does Minelli envision for the Next Economy? 

“I want us to look at the entire supply chain to find ways we can reduce our impact. And I want us to come to a collective understanding of ‘sustainability’, so that we can measure our progress and hold accountable those that can do more.”

A photo of Amoye Henry

Amoye Henry 

Pitch Better & AH Consulting
WOSEN Coach 

Amoye Henry describes herself as “a rockstar millennial entrepreneur.” The description fits: in 2018, Amoye was named one of Canada’s top 100 Accomplished Black Women. She is on a mission to help scale growth-based businesses led by unique founders. “Basically, I want to see the underdog win,” she says. 

Co-founding Pitch Better with Adeela Carter-Charles, Amoye is bridging the gap between women-led start-ups and their means of acquiring capital through grants and investments. With a mandate to “create more women millionaires,” Pitch Better connects innovative Black women entrepreneurs with seasoned professionals via workshops, talks and coaching sessions.

Taking their work to the systems-level, Pitch Better is currently completing the first national market analysis of Black women founders in Canada. In part, the FoundHers campaign aims to address gaps in the social economy by resolving gaps in data collection; Black women-led organizations can complete the survey here. 

What does Amoye envision for the Next Economy? 

“We need to empower more women as agents of change. We need more diverse voices at the table making decisions and informing policy and systems.”

A headshot photo of Yamila Michelle Franco PenaYamila Michelle Franco Pena

Nyoka Design Labs
Earth Tech Accelerated Venture 

Yamila is a proud Afro-Indigenous woman working to empower and elevate her community through entrepreneurship and education. She is the co-founder of Nyoka Design Labs, a clean technology social enterprise creating plastic-free, non-toxic and sustainable technology. Starting with the world’s first sustainable, non-toxic, bioluminescent glow stick (the Nyoka Light Wand), Nyoka is designing products that leverage advances in sustainable biotechnology, material sciences and Land-based knowledge. Yamila is also creating more accessible opportunities for communities to access STEM, emphasizing that “our stakeholders include our community and the Land.” 

Her advice for new entrepreneurs? 

“You must be consistently bad to get good at something. Consistency is key. Stay in long enough, ask for help, access mentorship and support. It will pay off.”

A headshot photo of Kelly Emery Kelly Emery

Troop
WOSEN Participant

Kelly Emery leverages technology to mainstream generosity and “help create communities where basic needs don’t go unmet.” In 2019, Kelly founded Troop, a tech-based needs marketplace to help neighbours and businesses discover local, tangible needs in their community. 

“I was blown away by a stat from Imagine Canada that the charitable sector is anticipating a 30% shortfall in donations by 2028. I kept coming back to that,” Kelly reflects. “I knew something needed to change.” Enter Troop. Members receive weekly text or email notifications letting them know how they can help out a local neighbour by, say, donating bed sheets to a women’s shelter or buying a stroller for a new parent. And it’s working: so far, Troop has fulfilled over $40,000 worth of tangible needs for over fifty charity partners, and The Future of Good recently ranked Troop among Canada’s Top 100 Recovery Projects in 2020. Congratulations, Kelly! 

What does Kelly envision for the Next Economy? 

“There is this thought that generosity should not be self-serving. I believe we need to adjust our thinking in this area and instead focus on the personal benefits derived from acts of kindness. 

There’s data to prove that strong personal connections, generosity and finding purpose in life play a significant role in overall health. Let’s take advantage of the growing trend around improving personal wellbeing to engage more people in building a better, more kind world.”

A photo of Ami Shah Ami Shah

Peekapak | Social Emotional Learning
CSI Annex MemberOntario Catapult Microloan Fund Recipient 

Ami Shah is the co-founder and CEO of Peekapak, an award-winning social-emotional learning platform that engages elementary students to learn skills like self-regulation, empathy and teamwork through stories, evidence-based lessons, and personalized learning experiences. 

Having taught in classrooms before, her work now reaches over 400,000 educators and students in classrooms, libraries, and after-school programs. Behind the scenes, teachers and administrators receive real-time reports indicating a student’s progress and emotional state. Educators can then share pre-written class updates, activities, and stories with students’ families to reinforce learning at home in English and Spanish. In this way, Peekapak empowers educators and families to be proactive to help curb future mental health issues. 

What is something Ami wishes she had known from the start? 

“How important it was to take care of my own mental health through this journey.” 

A headshot photo of Stevie Klick

Stevie Klick

The Indoor Forest
WOSEN Participant + Climate Ventures member

Stevie is a nutritionist, an artist, and a self-described “barefoot tree hugger.” She is also the owner and creator of The Indoor Forest, a biophilic design company that makes preserved moss frames and walls, as well as living green walls and other custom plant installations. 

Inspired by American biologist, Edward O. Wilson’s biophilia hypothesis that “humans possess an innate tendency to seek connections with nature and other forms of life,” The Indoor Forest enables people to adapt their home and office environments to better interact with the natural elements and promote wellbeing for people and the planet. 

Stevie was motivated by her love of nature and “by the lack of product choices, availability, costs, and people out there actually focusing on vertical growing, especially here in Toronto. I want to help make these products more available because I believe Toronto could be a lot greener.”

 her advice for new entrepreneurs? 

“Adopting a solution-oriented approach to obstacles has helped me achieve goals and push through challenging or uncomfortable moments that come with entrepreneurship.”

A headshot photo of Gillian Cullen Gillian Cullen

Birth Mark
CSI Spadina Member 

Raised in Toronto’s northwest, Gillian’s keen sense of social injustice was ignited at a young age having witnessed the disparity in treatment of people based on their appearance and circumstance. 

Flash forward: Gillian is now the founder of Birth Mark, a registered charity providing free reproductive doula support to folks in Toronto and Hamilton. Birth Mark doulas pursue social change by assisting at-risk and marginalized individuals and their families navigate the public medical system. They are a source of knowledge and comfort to their clients as they navigate pregnancy, childbirth, and early parenting while dealing with the obstacles often faced by our focus population in today’s society. Birth Mark is revolutionizing reproductive health care for all.

What does Gillian envision for the Next Economy? 

“Our primary hope would be an inclusive recovery. To achieve this we need to assess the inequalities and racism in our society and rebuild the systems that have continuously failed our society.

A headshot photo of Anthea SargeauntAnthea Sargeaunt

2S Water Inc.
Earth Tech Accelerated Venture 

Anthea Sargeaunt is the CEO of 2S Water, where they have developed the world’s first sensor for detecting metals in water in realtime. She is also an MBA, a three-time entrepreneur, and a mother of two. 

Water quality is a global issue affecting the most marginalized populations worldwide. Canada is no exception. We are on a mission to protect the world’s water with real time data. It’s that simple, she says. According to Anthea, 2S Water’s technology provides an automated, real-time, and cost-effective alternative to traditional laboratory services, enabling operators in mining, oil and gas, municipal water systems and other industries to see a problem as it occurs and take immediate action to prevent health issues and reduce costs. 

What does Anthea envision for the Next Economy? 

“We have a very specific mission on the Next Economy. Green technology is based on metals. Metals for batteries, metals for windmills, metals are the core of the future. If we don’t bring green to mining, then we are building that on a false foundation. We are doing our part to green mining, because we believe it’s where we can have the most impact on the world.”

A headshot photo of Jessica L. CorreaJessica L. Correa

Random Acts of Green, Inc.
WOSEN participant + CSI Agent of Change: Climate Solutions 

Jessica L. Correa is an expert in sustainability and environmental education. Since 2015, Jessica and her team have been encouraging and empowering both individuals and organizations to take action for our planet through Random Acts of Green

Through their app, website, social media networks, and blog (not to mention their “out-of-the-box toolbox of actions”), Random Acts of Green is a women-led and women-operated social enterprise with a vision to build a global climate action community. Jessica believes one small “Act of Green” at a time can change the world – that’s why her and her team developed a mobile app that incentivizes people to log their sustainability actions in order to acquire “green points” that they can then redeem for real-life discounts. 

What does Jessica envision for the Next Economy? 

“The Next Economy must be sustainable. That’s why Random Acts of Green has set out to inspire others to overcome apathy, eco-guilt, and eco-anxiety with hope and action. Our business model is a testament to how sustainability is just better for business – in fact, it is a business. We’ve designed ‘Green Programs’ for individuals and businesses – both for-profit and nonprofit. We’re encouraging everyone to recognize the role they play in the Next Economy and to take accountability – but most of all, staying positive about what’s ahead!”

A headshot photo of Monique ChanMonique Chan

Bruized
WOSEN participant + past DECA

Bruized is a Toronto-based, women-run startup on a mission to revolutionize our food systems. They create wholesome plant-based products from up-cycled ingredients and imperfect produce that are unnecessarily discarded as they make their way across the supply chain. 

After noticing “horrendous amounts of food waste” while working as a line cook in restaurants across Toronto, Monique began visiting local farms and grocery stores to better understand the extent of our current food waste problem. Through conversations with suppliers, she discovered that discarding perfectly edible food was common practice. From there, Bruized was born. 

“Bruized aims to challenge this damaging notion of ‘perfection’ or ‘all or nothing thinking’, and show people that with a little creativity and care, perfectly good food can be transformed into something both delicious and nutritious,” Monique explains. And she proves this every day: when Monique isn’t taking part in WOSEN’s incubator program, she can be found wandering her local farmer’s market, experimenting with new recipes in the kitchen, and – of course – cooking delicious meals with perfectly good, ‘imperfect’ ingredients. 

Her advice for new entrepreneurs? 

“Some advice I drive home to myself on the daily is to not be afraid of simply asking. In the beginning, it was daunting to start a venture when I felt I didn’t even have any connections or knowledge on running a business. And yet, the relationships and knowledge built over the last few years are THE foundation of Bruized.”

A headshot photo of Adrianna Couto Adrianna Couto

Inwit
WOSEN participant

Adrianna Couto, alongside co-founder Erika Reyes, wants to make sustainability “irresistible to all Torontonians.” ‍Inwit is a women-led social enterprise  working to make the takeout industry circular and zero waste. 

“Imagine ordering takeout that doesn’t compromise your love for food or the planet. Imagine returning our reusable containers while out walking your dog or heading to the grocery store.Adrianna explains. “We are piloting Toronto’s first low waste takeout platform that will offer a glimpse into our low-carbon future.  In three simple steps (“Order, Return, and Repeat”), Inwit believes there is a way to live a modern lifestyle without compromising our ecosystems – and they’re set to prove it starting this April.

Her advice for new entrepreneurs? 

“Find the people who really hear your voice because it reminds them of their own.”

The Mommy Monitor logo Elsie Amoako

Mommy Monitor
CSI Spadina Member + CSI Agent of Change: Community Health

As the founder of both Mommy Monitor and the Racialized Maternal Health Conference, Elsie Amoako is a rising leader in racialized maternal health. She is motivated by the knowledge that effecting change in reproductive and birth rights of Black women begins by changing the narrative for “the Black women who think they have no choice but to be in pain, be abused or die and the little girls who continue in that cycle.” 

Mommy Monitor is a social enterprise that offers customized maternal health services, support and education. This comes in the form of an app, a full circle of care, various services and programs, resources, research and an annual conference to ensure that maternal health is equitable, anti-racist, patient-centered and enjoyable for parents, birth workers and health care professionals.

Elsie imagines a future with innovative, sustainable, and global maternal health services that are virtual, culturally safe, prevent adverse outcomes and promote reproductive and birth justice.

How does Elsie believe we should ”Build Back Better?” 

“We need to be able to prepare policies that support parents that lose their jobs. We need something that supports moms with new training or retraining for jobs, safe education for their children, and CERB-like payments for stay at home moms or moms that work in precarious jobs.”

ARE YOU INTERESTED IN EXPLORING YOUR PURPOSE AS A SOCIAL ENTREPRENEUR?

Applications for the Spring 2021 WOSEN Start cohort are currently open! Apply by April 4, 11:59 PM ET.

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.

Toronto will more than double its supply of winter park washrooms

Pipes on a white brick wall

The City of Toronto and CSI are working together to facilitate a set of meetings between homelessness experts and social entrepreneurs. Our Homelessness and Hygiene lab was created with the goal of of building a socially responsible, community based solution to the issue of hygiene in homeless encampments. The months since the COVID-19 have seen an increase in the number of homeless encampments across the city, encampments that do not have access to washroom facilities, laundry, or clean water.

In the warmer months, the City of Toronto maintains 187 park washrooms. But because most of them were not designed or constructed for winter use, they can lack insulated plumbing and sufficient electrical for heating of the building to prevent pipes from freezing and bursting. So all but 64 of them are usually closed by Thanksgiving weekend.

This year, however, City staff have determined that an additional 28 park washrooms can be kept open with minor retrofits to support winter use. The expanded locations include washrooms at golf courses, fieldhouses and stadiums that are not normally kept open through winter months. Additionally, portable toilets will be deployed to 51 high-use locations where winter activities will occur. Snow clearing will be provided at all winter washroom locations in parks. Washrooms will be also be available at 47 outdoor rinks once the season begins in late-November, weather dependent.

The increase of 79 new locations brings the total number of washrooms available from 64 to 143. Winter accessible public washrooms are also available in community recreation centres, libraries and City-owned buildings throughout Toronto. The City is working to post a comprehensive list and map of locations on the City’s website.

The City had also opened a number of facilities with showers and washrooms for all individuals in need of these services, including those experiencing homelessness and other vulnerable individuals. Portable toilets with hand-washing stations are also available in key locations. Detailed information about these facilities, including hours of operation and amenities, can be found on the City’s website.

Do you have an idea to make our city work better for everyone? Find out out CSI can help!

Join the League of Social Entrepreneurs

League of Social Entrepreneurs Blog header image

Help wanted!

Entrepreneurs! We need you! Toronto needs you! The world needs you! Are you ready for an entirely new kind of challenge? Itching to bring your talents to a new set of problems? Are you looking for a way to give back to the city that has given you so much? Ready to #buildbackbetter?

The Centre For Social Innovation is embarking on a new experiment, the League of Social Entrepreneurs.

We are recruiting experienced and emerging entrepreneurs interested in using their skills and creativity to find solutions to some of our city’s most pressing social issues. And we need you – in the middle of a pandemic that is devastating those most vulnerable in our city – to help us build solutions, right now!

Essentially CSI is looking to remix a ‘change lab’ with a ‘social accelerator’ to create intentional economic solutions that put people and planet first.

We have 4 areas that we are looking for entrepreneurs in: 

  • Homelessness & access to hygiene in Toronto 
  • Affordable housing solutions
  • Impact measurement and social technology
  • Affordable delivery systems to support retail businesses pivoting online

Here is the idea…. 

You, the entrepreneur, join experts from government, NGO’s and people with lived experience to co-learn about the issue, the challenges, barriers, what other jurisdictions have done and the opportunities that exist to solve this problem. We will facilitate a change lab with the goal of identifying solutions that we will turn into prototypes that you are leading, to solve this challenge.

This isn’t easy work. It isn’t for the faint of heart. This might just be the challenge of a lifetime as you bring your problem solving skills, creativity, tenacity, and drive to evolve new solutions that will help Toronto Build Back Better.

So, if you are keen to be kept in the loop on these kinds of opportunities, please answer a few questions in our survey so that we can invite you to the right conversations. 

At the very least, I promise that you will meet some other amazing entrepreneurs who give a damn about our future. 

Investing in Proven Climate Solutions: A Conversation with Laura Witt

CSI Climate Ventures Mornings are a chance to hear from climate solutions innovators and leaders.

This month, we got a chance to chat with Laura Witt, General Partner of the Drawdown Fund. Laura gave us insight into the mechanics of the Drawdown Fund, challenges in the sustainable investment space, and reasons for remaining optimistic about investing in climate solutions.

Read on for highlights from our conversation! (Or if you’ve got an hour to spare, get the full experience by watching the recording below.)

Climate solutions already exist

In the early 2010s, Paul Hawken worked with the world’s leading researchers, scientists, and policymakers to map and model 100 existing climate solutions. Then, they ranked them on their ability to stop climate change. This was the beginning of Project Drawdown.

What Paul and his collaborators found was this: the biggest challenge climate solutions face is implementation. We already have most of the solutions we need, but they aren’t being funded and implemented on anywhere near the scale we need.

Of course, implementation requires funding. So in 2018, Paul sat down with Erik Synder, now the CEO of the Drawdown Fund. They identified existing climate solutions that could be accelerated by capital or market mechanisms, as opposed to philanthropic dollars, government dollars, or culture change.

(That’s a fancy way of saying they went down Paul’s list of climate solutions and pinpointed the ones that could be best realized through commercial ventures.)

Thus, the Drawdown Fund was created. Today, they invest in three focal areas: sustainable cities, food and agriculture, and energy. They’re continuing to look for funders and growth-stage companies alike, with hopes of growing the fund to $250M and investing $10-30M in each of the ventures.

Making the investment case

We’re in the knowledge economy. It’s all about attracting the best talent to your company, and people are voting with their feet to work for mission-driven companies.

In recent years, the conversation around climate action has grown – but that hasn’t been reflected in the way we invest. Climate-focused ventures are still struggling to find capital.

“The way they manage big asset pools, they say: ‘Okay, we’ve got an allocation for technology investing, we’ve got an allocation for healthcare investing, we’ve got an allocation for investing in industrials. We don’t have a set allocation for investing in sustainable businesses,’” explained Laura. “Some people, unfortunately, look back to CleanTech 1.0 and say: ‘Venture capital had losses in CleanTech 1.0. What’s going to be different now?’”

It’s a bit of a chicken and egg situation. Investors want teams with successful track records, but few firms have proven their potential to drive strong investment returns while delivering measurable climate impact. After all, sustainable investing is still relatively new.

It’ll be a while before there is enough data to make a solid case for this area of investing. This prolonged time frame is a challenge in itself: “A lot of these companies are hard technology. They take a long time to build. It will likely take four, five, six, seven years for these companies to get through the life cycle, to get to liquidity events that show good returns to investors.”

Laura shared a story to drive the point home: “We’re talking to a company right now that looks interesting to us as a growth-stage company: millions of dollars of revenue, hundreds of customers. I was looking back at the company history and was reminded that this was a company that was founded in 2006. They signed their first commercial contract at the very end of 2013. So it took 7 years to commercialize this technology, to bring to market, to get it through pilots, and then get that first deal signed, and bring in the first revenue dollar.”

Knowing this, the Drawdown Fund is looking for investors who see the urgency of climate change, and are therefore willing to take on more risk and be patient. They’re more likely to be family offices, where key decision-makers all sit in one room, than institutions, who are more risk-averse. Institutions are seeing increasing demand from their clients for sustainable strategies, but are cautious about making commitments to these newer sectors.

Fortunately, public opinion has shifted and there have been louder, more frequent calls to support companies with sustainability built into their missions. Just look at Amazon, who recently announced a $2B Climate Pledge Fund for companies working to decarbonize the economy and protect the planet.

“We’re in the knowledge economy, and it’s all about attracting the best talent to your company. People are voting with their feet to work for mission-driven companies,” said Laura. “And consumers want to buy more from companies who have these mission statements.”

We’re all moving toward the same goals

There is potential for businesses that drive climate solutions to grow fast and generate high returns for investors.

With this sort of shift in demand, there is potential for businesses that drive climate solutions to grow fast and generate high returns for investors.

As we move into pandemic recovery, Laura remains optimistic. This is a chance for us to make decisions that build a more just, equitable, and prosperous world for all (what we at CSI call the “Next Economy”).

“I think it’s really promising. We are going to have a debate about how we direct these [stimulus] dollars in a smart way,” said Laura. “I saw the International Energy Agency release a big report outlining 60 cost-effective solutions where we could be putting stimulus money to work. […] They’re saying because these are such cost-effective solutions, you could actually generate more than a point increase in GDP growth over the coming years if you invest stimulus money in ways with positive climate effects.”

Her optimism is, in part, inspired by the entrepreneurs she’s met through the Drawdown Fund: “I’m meeting the smartest, most driven people who have chosen to dedicate their lives to this work.”


Our conversation with Laura covered so many topics, it was difficult to pick out a few to highlight in this recap. You can watch the full recording here, and do some further reading at the links below:

If you are or know a growth-stage company that could benefit from the Drawdown Fund, get in touch with Laura and her team. And if you want to hear more from the world’s climate leaders, keep an eye out for our next Climate Ventures Mornings!

A teeshirt that puts people and planet first

The environmental and human impacts of fast fashion are catastrophic. In addition to being the second largest polluter in the world, there are also to more than a hundred million children working in factories supplying clothes to North American and European stores.

CSI member Adila Cokar is working hard to provide alternatives that put people and planet first. Her company The Good Tee was created to make it easier for you to purchase guilt-free, responsibly made fashion basics.

From their website:

Our fair trade certified tees are designed and delivered to you with the environment and ethical manufacture in mind. How we do this: through the good and honest relationships we maintain with our partners and through 100% transparency of a supply chain which The Good Tee tracks throughout its lifespan – from farm to finished garment right through to delivery.

After receiving fair trade certification, Adila made it her mission to make it easier for consumers and businesses to source the kind of supply chain which supports responsibly manufactured apparel.

Adila is generously offering a 20% discount right now to the CSI community. So check out her shop and use the code CSI20 at checkout.

We talked with Adila about how COVID is impacting her work and how CSI members can be a part of it.

 

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What were your biggest wins and lessons this year?
My biggest win this year was the launch of Source My Garment – An Insider’s Guide to Responsible Offshore Manufacturing as well as the launch of The Good Tee. I’m proud to have gone through the certification process of B corporation and getting the clothing brand Fair Trade Cotton certified. The biggest lesson I learned was to let go of expectations, anything can happen, and regardless of what happens to try to focus your thoughts on gratitude.

How has being part of the CSI community impacted your work?
I’m completely motivated by the sense of community and the inspiring work of so many people here!

What can CSI members do to help support your work?
A Follow, subscribe, or like via social media or newsletter would be appreciated! And if you feel extra love for my work a shout out or purchase would be super appreciated!

How has COVID-19 impacted your work?
My first shipment for The Good Tee arrived right in the middle of the Covid-19 pandemic. Typically I sell direct to businesses as our t-shirts can be printed, but since I could not ship to them I had to pivot. I am now selling directly to consumers to stay afloat. It was tough, often felt discouraged, but what I know now is anything can happen and we have a choice on what we focus on. I decided to focus on gratitude and continue to try my best to shut out the noise.

 

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What is your favourite CSI memory of the year?
I’m a newbie, so I haven’t had much chance to get out there and make some memories. Looking forward to the future and connecting with everyone!

What is your big dream for a post-COVID world?
More people working on growing their empathy muscle. More self-awareness is key, some people may be doing harm but may not even know it. It’s been a tough go for everyone, and I hope the time we got during the pandemic gave everyone a chance to reflect on their actions and to be a force for positive change. I hope the world will become empathetic and inclusive of one another.

Adila has also partnered with Thief & Bandit — a Halifax fashion line with a commitment to sustainability  — to make this gorgeous Black Lives Matter teeshirt. You can pre-order it on their website, 100% of the profits are divided equally between to The Black Lives Matter Solidarity Fund Nova Scotia and Black Lives Matter.

 

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Tonya Surman and Tim Nash talk Community Bonds

CSI invented the Community Bond in 2010 as a means to turn a non-profit’s social capital into financial capital. 10 years later, the Community Bond is a household name in impact investing, having been replicated around Toronto, and the world.

Tonya sat down for a video chat with CSI member Tim Nash, to tell the story of the Community Bond’s beginning, and how it is helping CSI build the next economy:

 

The whole interview is absolutely worth your time. Here are our favourite four quotes, to entice you to watch:

On the behind-the-scenes glamour of buying the first building
“I was literally biking around the city picking up cheques the day of closing from this amazing group of people who I am so grateful for.”

On the frustrations of navigating unimaginative systems
“The bank just says if you are already wealthy and a so-called ‘qualified investor’, it’s no problem we’ll take care of you. But if you’re not — which is most of us — then they think it’s just a pain in the butt.”

On sticking with the Community Bond model, ten years later
“It would have been easier to go to one investor, but we wanted to prove this is a viable model. This is how our economic systems should be working. It’s our commitment to social innovation and our commitment to social finance that draws us back to this process.”

On being a role model for change
“We really want to make sure that we are accelerating the next economy. It’s about ethical investing, it’s about social enterprise, it’s about actually crafting and demonstrating what the next economy looks like. These are the types of tools that allows us to show the rest of the world that another way is possible.”

Do you want to be part of building the next economy? Check out our Community Bond 2020 investor package. It contains everything you need to know, including how you investment will create impact across six of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.