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September 5th marks the International Day of Charity – established by the United Nations to recognize that eradicating poverty in all its forms is an indispensable requirement for sustainable development. This day creates a time for us all to reflect and mobilize around how we voluntarily give our money, goods or time to those in need, either directly or by means of a charitable organization.

We’d like to take this opportunity to thank all of you who make donations, big and small, in support of our vision of people and nature thriving together. At Ecotrust Canada, we are firm believers that the solutions to poverty lie in a hands-together approach, so that communities are equipped with the tools they need to create widespread prosperity. That means creating opportunities for meaningful work and prosperous livelihoods while also ensuring the health of our environment is sustained.

This short video shows the impact of one of our most recent projects, tackling housing and energy in partnership with the Heiltsuk Tribal Council, in the remote community of Bella Bella, BC. The results are impressive – reduced heating costs, improved air quality in their homes, and better health for their children.

If you believe in our vision, please consider a one-time or monthly donation to help us continue our vital work. Our Board of Directors has kindly committed to matching any new donations made during the month of September, up to a limit of $10,000 – doubling the impact of your money!

From coast to coast to coast, our work helps to transform communities into vibrant, sustainable and interconnected hubs of health, justice and security. It couldn’t happen without your support.

Thank you.

For ten years, as part of our work to support stronger and greener local economies, Ecotrust Canada operated a loan fund – a bold and important early experiment in the field of social finance in Canada. We completed 87 mission-based loans over 10 years, dispersing $10.7 million in total loans, leveraging $40 million in additional loan capital, and creating almost 900 jobs in some of the most remote places in BC. Our 10 year experiment demonstrated that if we are serious about social enterprise and market innovation, we have to deploy capital in new ways.

Lesson Five: Find a niche

Wherever possible, we worked with entrepreneurs to build their businesses, demonstrate good cash flow, and then move them to more conventional lenders 3-4 years in. This strategy proved effective both as a pipeline strategy for the bigger banks and as a way to manage our own limited capital.

While we are all champions for the little guy – the high risk entrepreneur with the wildly wonderful idea who is barely hanging on by his fingernails, the current reality is that growing the social finance field quickly and well requires building trust with more conventional lenders. This will mean focusing in the early stages on a few larger, safer, bundled product-like propositions where the rules of engagement are clear, the interest rate is reasonable, the social/environmental advantages are tracked for story-telling but not ‘monetized’ as a substitute for financial returns, and the exit is easy at 5-7 years. With a few successes of this calibre under our collective belts we will garner some friends who might be willing to take a chance with their cash.

Lesson Six: It isn’t just about money

By operating the fund side-by-side with Ecotrust Canada’s charitable programming, we established and demonstrated the incredible value of working as an intermediary. Our program staff were able to identify potential deals, do early-stage loan work-ups to increase the likelihood of success, provide ongoing technical assistance to loan clients, advocate for a supportive policy environment in the fields in which we were operating, provide an early warning system, and propose ways to restructure deals that were at risk.

Through the lens of our experience, we have seen that the need for funded intermediaries is a very real part of building the social finance field – for deal flow, for creative deal design, and for ongoing technical support.

Excerpt from a speech given by Brenda Kuecks as part of the “Impact Investing in BC: The Way Forward,” conversation, part of the Social Enterprise Catalyst event in Victoria on April 2nd.

For ten years, as part of our work to support stronger and greener local economies, Ecotrust Canada operated a loan fund – a bold and important early experiment in the field of social finance in Canada. We completed 87 mission-based loans over 10 years, dispersing $10.7 million in total loans, leveraging $40 million in additional loan capital, and creating almost 900 jobs in some of the most remote places in BC. Our 10 year experiment demonstrated that if we are serious about social enterprise and market innovation, we have to deploy capital in new ways.

Lesson Three: Consider your capacity

Our capital base was small and we were operating largely on borrowed money, which meant we were ‘living on the spread’ between our lending rate and our borrowing rate.

At $4 million in capital, our capital pool was ultimately too small cover the costs of administration and management. Because our work tended to be high touch, more remote, and in “one off” projects, we estimated that a fund of $15 – 30 million was necessary to support the work we were doing.

We frequently discussed establishing either a ‘product approach’ or a ‘bundling approach’ to our lending practice in order to reduce the costs of management but the field was too immature to support these approaches at the time.

The promise on the philanthropic side of program-related investments to fill early-stage-venture space is very slow to materialize. This seems to be the distance between courageous staff who are seeing the promise of this new field, and more traditional governors who are reluctant to risk core capital.

Lesson Four: Diversify your own support

For the fund’s first 5 years, a federally funded loan loss reserve covered up to 70% of our consolidated losses for our lending agreements. Our post mortem on the fund clearly showed how the loss of this guarantee in Year 5 affected both our mission-based lending and our ability to further capitalize the fund.

As a result, in Years 6-10 our portfolio became much more conservative, focusing on fewer, larger loans in safer industry sectors and larger geographic centers. In addition, we were only able to acquire $400,000 in new capital during that time.

Our experience highlighted the significant role governments have to play – in supporting intermediaries, creating investment vehicles that protect private capital as it moves into this new space, and incentivizing. Without governments’ participation moving forward, the flow of significant capital into higher risk investments will remain limited.

Excerpt from a speech given by Brenda Kuecks as part of the “Impact Investing in BC: The Way Forward,” conversation, part of the Social Enterprise Catalyst event in Victoria on April 2nd.

For ten years, as part of our work to support stronger and greener local economies, Ecotrust Canada operated a loan fund – a bold and important early experiment in the field of social finance in Canada. We completed 87 mission-based loans over 10 years, dispersing $10.7 million in total loans, leveraging $40 million in additional loan capital, and creating almost 900 jobs in some of the most remote places in BC. Our 10 year experiment demonstrated that if we are serious about social enterprise and market innovation, we have to deploy capital in new ways.

Lesson One: Don’t go alone

We chose to place our limited capital very strategically in each lending instance as subordinated debt, or in unsecured 2nd or 3rd position, or para-persu with other lenders, or as ‘last to exit’, or into working capital instead of asset purchase. Essentially our capital allowed more conventional forms of capital to enter deals they would not otherwise have done because it provided security in some form, allowing our limited capital to go further.

Much of the current interest in alternative forms of capital is being driven by very new ventures that are incredibly high risk – there are far more innovations out there than capital comfortable with risky lending. Effective ‘bundling’ of investment opportunities to distribute risk and attract capital is sorely needed.

Lesson Two: Your partners reflect your mission

We loaned only to entrepreneurs and enterprises that could demonstrate triple-bottom-line inputs and outputs in their business model. This was really mission-based lending in the truest sense of the word, which had the effect of ‘injecting’ capital and opportunity into businesses concerned about social, environmental, and financial results.

The outcomes of our lending practice continue to demonstrate the value of this approach: most of the employment created is still in place, many of the businesses supported through our lending had a cornerstone effect on the economy of smaller communities, and in many instances environmental conditions have improved.

Most of our co-lenders were pleased to be able to report on social and environmental metrics associated with these deals even though their primary indicators of success were capital recovery and safe exit.

Excerpt from a speech given by Brenda Kuecks as part of the “Impact Investing in BC: The Way Forward,” conversation, part of the Social Enterprise Catalyst event in Victoria on April 2nd.

Dear Friends. It is again that time of year when I reach out to you – our extended community of supporters, donors, partners and collaborators – to share the story of our work and to ask for your help.

Our annual appeal letter continues to serve as a vehicle through which we can report back on the successes that you have inspired and cast our eyes forward on the work that lies ahead.

Over the past 12 months we have seen some remarkable successes:

  • The Coady Institute at St. Francis Xavier University selected us as one of ten leaders in North America for citizen-led innovation
  • Charity Intelligence voted us one of their top seven charities in Canada
  • We received a Clean50 Award in recognition of our outstanding contributions in the field of sustainable development in Canada.

We are building important blueprints that are being used to shape economic change at home in BC, in other parts of the country, and around the world.

We appreciate this recognition because the work that we do is often really challenging. With boots on the ground and boats in the water, we stand at the intersection of environmental, social, and financial interests. In this arena, Ecotrust Canada “holds space” for critical discussions of change, creates new tools and approaches to balance and satisfy multi-party interests, and demonstrates in the marketplace that wealth creation can result in social and ecological improvements rather than degradation.

At Ecotrust Canada we are learning how to grow a tiny seed of an idea into a successful venture that reflects our vision for a conservation economy. We have learned how to move private capital into initiatives that create social, environmental, AND financial gains. We know that stepping into unknown territory – with all the challenges, nay-saying, and push-back that new approaches engender – is a vital beginning to the creation of something new.

This is work for today, as well as work for future generations. The imperative to find new ways to do business does not allow us to play it safe. It requires that we be daring and bold and brave, because finding the models that will work in complex times cannot be invented with pen and paper. They can only be designed through deep and purposeful engagement with stakeholders and through experimentation in real time and place. It is this explorative and visionary work that holds the promise for a new model of economic order.

Throughout the month of November we will be sharing the stories of our work and inviting you to support us in our campaign to grow the conservation economy.

In whatever way you choose to help, your contribution is greatly appreciated.

With thanks,

Brenda Kuecks

With Ecotrust Canada being selected as a Top Pick – Environmental Charity across Canada by Charity Intelligence Canada (Ci), we feel it is important to highlight, and thank, funding partners who make our work and initiatives possible. This week, we present BC Wood, who partnered with our pioneering forest traceability initiative ThisForest in 2012 and 2013 to support industry engagement.

While there is continued debate in the media and on the Coast about log exports and the perceived lack of value-added businesses, those who manufacture made-in-BC forest products are paving the way for a vibrant and successful industry.

BC Wood is a not-for-profit trade association that represents over 120 BC businesses that manufacture wood products from BC’s forests. As a voice for the industry, the association brings innovative ideas to the table and insight into how we can strengthen British Columbia’s wood culture.

As we developed ThisForest, which allows consumers to find out the origin of their forest-product purchase, BC Wood President Brian Hawrysh recognizes an idea that has a good fit with their mission. As he notes: “To develop the wood culture in BC, there is an opportunity to better connect consumers with our businesses, and to spread the word about the diversity of forest products made in BC. We see the traceability initiative as something that can provide a direct marketing link between the forest, manufacturers, and the end-market. Deciding to invest some of our resources in ThisForest makes good sense for us, and a number of our members have recognized and embraced the benefit.”

In the land of often-underfunded innovation, Ecotrust Canada greatly appreciates BC Wood’s early contribution to the initiative – from both a monetary and a business networking perspective. In this instance, BC Wood was able to link us with funding from the Province of BC, through the Wood First program and in collaboration with FP Innovations, which enriches our approach and extends our reach.

To find out more about BC Wood and their members, visit their website, or better yet attend the Global Buyer’s Mission from September 5 to September 7 in Whistler.

To find out more about ThisForest and review the work BC Wood supported, visit www.thisforest.info.

This week brought with it good news and bad news. The good news is that our organization was named as one of seven top Canadian environmental charities by Charity Intelligence Canada (Ci). The bad? This honour came as part of a landmark environmental study which found that Canada fails to protect its land.

The study, released by Ci on Wednesday the 14th of August, found that “while a number of Canadian environmental charities are effective in helping protect land, habitat and wildlife, Canada as a whole lags behind other countries in key areas”, highlighting the fact that “only 12% of Canada’s land surface is protected, ranking 16th out of 30 OECD countries.”

Analysing the work of seven of their ‘Top Pick’ Canadian environmental charities, which included Ecotrust Canada in that number, the study found that while Canadians are donating to environmental charities, “their generosity only adds up to 2% of total charitable giving.” For Canada to continue to be blessed with an abundance of land, oceans and lakes, real work needs to be done on addressing this imbalance.

First order of business? Study author John Grandy proposes that, “more than simply advocating and pointing out environmental problems, charities can harness their expertise and propose practical solutions that work. We found excellent charities doing this ground work.”

It is exactly the type of work – implementing practical solutions, collaborating with people in the places where they live – that we at Ecotrust Canada specialise in. Which leads us to step two in addressing the issues at hand: to ensure the continuation of our work, and the work of other excellent charities in this space, we couldn’t agree more with Grandy when he says, “Canadians need to step up, donate and show a true commitment towards helping preserve and grow our precious natural heritage.”

Donate to Ecotrust Canada here.

Read the full report here.

For ten years, between 1998 and 2009, Ecotrust Canada operated a mission-based loan fund, supporting small and medium sized businesses that were building measurable triple bottom line results into their enterprises. The loan fund was part of Ecotrust Canada’s strategy to build a conservation economy in B.C., and over the ten years of operating the loan fund achieved a number of notable results – both in terms of impact and in terms of portfolio management.

This report provides an insider’s view of that body of work at an important time in the evolution of social finance activity in this country. It offers not only a review of how a fund of this size and type can and should be structured for success, but also why the complex task of mission-based investment is important in our efforts to develop and scale innovation. The evaluation was completed by Dr. Dominique Collin, who has been able to use his many years of experience in the field of finance to offer us a complete and compelling set of lessons learned from this tiny pioneering loan fund, punching well above its weight to build social enterprises in BC.

Download the report (2 MB PDF) here.

Ecotrust Canada’s starting premise is that the incredible wealth and ingenuity of mankind can be used to create a far better world than the one we have now. We have the collective capability to eliminate human suffering from hunger and poverty, to restore and protect the ecosystems that sustain us, and to build greater community resilience by fostering systems of mutual respect, support, and care.

But we also believe that existing political, economic, and social institutions, structured for a different set of conditions than those ahead, are not the vehicles that will foster the kind of innovation required to meet our human development and environmental needs in the 21st century. The places to which we are heading demand new ways of thinking, being, and organizing.

In this context, Ecotrust Canada’s purpose is clear. We pull together unusual constellations of people to design new economic approaches. We work by trial and error, taking our cues from the sectors in which we work. We prove that it is possible to achieve triple bottom line results that enhance wellbeing for people and places.

We are committed to working across disciplines, across sectors and across scales. Some examples of our initiatives this year include:

  • Creating greater transparency in the seafood value-chain.
  • Building visualization tools and models that allow communities to more effectively participate in decision making.
  • Expanding the forestlands and businesses certified by the Forest Stewardship Council.
  • Delivering a cost-effective alternative system for fisheries monitoring and management.
People repeatedly tell us that our initiatives are important, timely and relevant. With this letter I invite you to take a closer look and if possible to consider making a donation in 2012 to support our work.

With thanks,
Brenda Kuecks
President

A small sample of our work

ThisFish

An interactive online tool combined with a coding/tracking system allows consumers to discover the story of their seafood purchase.  Each fish or fish product is accompanied by a unique code that follows it through the distribution chain from vessel to end user.

The code allows the buyer to use their computer or phone to quickly discover where, when and how their fish was caught and processed, meet and talk with their fisherman, and learn more about the system that lies beneath their purchase. Transparency at every level builds accountability, and education promotes more informed consumer choice.

Fisheries monitoring

In consultation with the crab fleet in BC’s north coast, we’ve designed and built an onboard electronic monitoring system that allows fishermen and regulatory agencies to closely monitor vessels at sea.

The team works with users to adapt the system to the needs of each fishery. Ecotrust Canada also offers on board observers and monitoring training programs that create local employment and ensure coastal communities remain connected to the sea.

Standing Tree to Standing Home

What could be better than a home from home? As one deliberate response to poor housing, we are working with Nuu-chah-nulth communities on BC’s rural, wet, west coast to design and create culturally appropriate homes that use more local materials.

Recognizing present and future circumstances; using traditional knowledge; connecting local resources and local labour; growing and restoring community skills… It just makes sense.

I have just returned from a SBC conference in London, England and I’m dripping with envy because of the level of NGO financial literacy, policy commitment, and business engagement I discovered there. My first clue that the world of social finance looked different in the UK was when I realized during the opening address that the term SocialBusiness was not a typing mistake in the program, but instead a whole new vernacular!

My second clue was the title of the Conference itself “Moving Capital in a Shocked Economy”. These facts together with a delegate list that included senior policy makers, angel investors, venture capitalists, business leaders, entrepreneurs and NGO’s form (perhaps sadly!) the stuff of my dreams.

In the current Canadian context, finding that constellation of interests meeting over a shared agenda would be akin to the sighting of a very rare bird! Over the course of one day I participated in stellar, multi-dimensional discussions about raising capital in tough markets; creating social metrics that ‘speak’ to business interests; and designing tiered investment strategies that enable different kinds of money to participate according to their own requirements.

I was particularly struck by the thoughtful and articulate contributions made by the charity and non-profit groups in attendance. Unlike their Canadian-cousins, these groups are clear about the need to create tangible and exciting investment vehicles in the space historically occupied by philanthropy. They are readily able to describe real business opportunities that achieve social/cultural/environmental benefit and to structure deals around these opportunities that are interesting to private capital. Rather than looking for ways to cloak social and environmental work in a business disguise, they are genuinely savvy about recognizing the difference and raising suitable sources of revenue to support both.

I came away wondering why it is taking us so long in Canada to find our collective feet in this field. The need to create viable, tangible pathways that invite private capital to flow to public good is essential for the 21st century. Structured well, social finance is not just a ruse for offloading government responsibility. Nor is it a field in which only ‘socially minded’ capital can or should play. If we turn our collective Canadian attention to building well-structured business offerings in the non-profit space, everyone will win.

–Brenda Kuecks, President