Vancouver is quickly becoming a hub for social ventures and community investing where a triple-bottom-line approach ensures business is giving back to the community
I didn't really know what to expect as I rode the quiet elevator up to Joel and Dana Bass Solomon's Downtown Eastside apartment. The occasion: the Social Venture Network Local Gathering, an evening of networking with people from some of North America's top values-based investment firms, businesses and non-profit organizations.
Vancity, Renewal Partners and Hollyhock hosted the February event, bringing guest speakers from B Corporation, RSF Social Finance and the Social Venture Network to connect and share knowledge.
Once inside, catching glimpses out the big floor-to-ceiling windows, I was struck by the dramatic panarama of downtown all lit up against the sweeping backdrop of the North Shore mountains; throughout the evening, each time the view caught my eye, I was reminded of where we were—Vancouver—and the energy pumping out of the room seemed to make the city appear all the more spectacular.
The innovation, energy and passion emanating from the dynamic room of people was palpable; this was not your average networking event. This one had a purpose, much like the organizations present, to strengthen the bonds between capitalism and social purpose, mission and money, community and investment.
The importance of this sort of gathering is magnified by the growing impacts of climate change and poverty, the need for change, and the thirst to shift to a triple-bottom-line economy.
Vancouver a hub for capitalism with a social purpose
Despite my lack of financial or business background, I found it easy to mingle and chat with this crowd; everyone was doing something interesting that ultimately attempts to give back to the community and build social capital.
Brought together by the Social Venture Network, Renewal Partners, B-Lab, Vancity and RSF Social Finance, the people in the room shared much in common; most specifically, they are all contributing to Vancouver's emerging role as an innovation leader in the realm of capitalism with social purpose.
As B-Lab proclaims in its Declaration of Interdependence:
We envision a new sector of the economy, which harnesses the power of private enterprise to create public benefit. This sector is comprised of a new type of corporation, the B Corporation, which is purpose-driven and creates benefit for all stakeholders, not just shareholders...
Redefining wealth in Vancouver's community
With aspirations to be the greenest city in the world by 2020 and a wealth of local ventures seeking environmental and social change, Vancouver is situated as a leader, and gatherings like this one will only continue to fuel collaboration and innovation.
These organizations are re-defining what wealth means to our communities. It's no longer about the bottom line; it's about the change a business can drive, the relationships we invest in and re-building our connection to the environment and each other.
Pictured: Gatherings like the Social Venture Institute at Hollyhock, on Cortes Island, empower those working in social ventures and social enterprise fields to connect and learn from business leaders and social entrepreneurs. (Image: Flickr / Renewal Partners)
Community investment a win with growing number of Vancouver residents
From humble beginnings 65 years ago, with $22 in memberships and the core value of gifting the results of investing to make an impact in the community, Vancity has grown to become the largest credit union in Canada. And its drive to connect and invest in community is as strong as ever.
David Berge, senior vice president of Community Investment at Vancity, painted the picture of being able to pull out any Vancity funded project, present it to a member and find them exclaiming, "This is why we do it! This is why we invest our money at Vancity!"
Investing 30 percent of its profits into the community every year (totalling $213 million in 2010) makes for a big impact that members respond to and seek out. Over the next five years, Vancity's goal is to increase community investing to $500 million, with a focus on social ventures and social enterprise—projects and entities that strike a chord with a growing number of people.
"People are looking for organizations that align with their values," said Olivia Teter, vice president of Client Development at RSF Social Finance.
And she's right. Whether it's catching the latest EthicalDeal, kicking around a Fair-Trade soccer ball, swiping a credit card that gives back to the environment, participating in the local food ecosystem or connecting to like-minded business leaders, Vancouver is home to the people and organizations that are filling the gap.
One of many local examples of social ventures, Saul Good Gift Co, creates environmentally sustainable gift baskets stocked with high quality, locally made products, in some cases made by neighbourhood residents through partnerships with local social enterprises.
Tapping Vancouver's wealth of knowledge and experience in social venture
I have to admit that I get excited when I think about what's possible! My work is rooted in the non-profit sector, and we're constantly faced with financial challenges and vulnerability post-economic crash.
In less then a month, we will join the world of social venture as we break ground on our first urban farm in North Vancouver. It's an exciting (and slightly terrifying) time, but we are eager to learn from the wealth of local knowledge and experience.
We're embracing this model to enable us to thrive growing food, community and health.
When we transform the way the world does business, we can transform the world.