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