Lessons from the Road: Key Takeaways from Conferences

Our Pillar staff hit the road attending three provincial and national conferences in one hectic week in Toronto!  At the Ontario Nonprofit Network, the Ontario Social Enterprise Roundtable and the Social Finance Forum, we shared our successes and challenges, learning from the many incredible voices in the room.

We feel it is our responsibility to embed those learnings not only in our work at Pillar but in the London community.  So our team wants to take this opportunity to share a few of the learnings we are bringing back from our collaboration with the eco-system of social good in Canada.

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Julie Forrester
Social Enterprise Coach

Reflections on: Social Finance Forum

I came to the Social Finance Forum with an expectation of learning and building new relationships that catalyze the work we are doing. I was not disappointed!  But what stood out to me was the interest in learning the innovative approaches that Pillar Nonprofit Network & VERGE Capital have integrated into our work.  It surprised me, although it shouldn’t have, the value of our voice at the table.

These conferences make me sit back and say “hey, we aren’t crazy.”  Here is an auditorium full of individuals who also believe that we CAN shift money towards social good through impact investing.  And we don’t just believe it, we are all already DOING IT!

Have you heard? Inspirit Foundation has committed to 100% Impact Investment for their over $30 million portfolio.  They are revolutionizing their entire portfolio to fit their values as a foundation, by investing in social enterprises and affordable housing.  Check out the roadmap to learn how they are doing it!

Something that I learned: New perspectives on embedding reconciliation into impact investing and the importance of engaging Aboriginal communities in using social finance as a tool for community development.

My big takeaway: Go big or go home!  How can we scale and elevate the good we are doing in London? Impact investing isn’t a fringe movement, it’s inevitable!

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Andre Vashist
Director of Social Enterprise & Social Finance

Reflections on: Social Enterprise Roundtable & Social Finance Forum

Collaboration is a key ingredient we need in our luggage as we pack for the future.*  Reconciliation is encouraging us to create a future where resources are equally shared and sustainably managed.  We are reminded that we must unpack the baggage we carry of broken promises, intergenerational trauma and abuse of our natural ecosystems.  Unpacking helps make room in our hearts, so we can start building trust. *(metaphor courtesy of Janet Frood)

Have you heard? “We shouldn’t get paid when someone shows up to a program, we should get paid when their life turns around.”  Most of the money flowing from funders and investors are focused on outputs, when real social change comes from getting to outcomes. Moving from outputs to outcomes requires us to take new risks grounded in the idea that beneficiaries are not inputs, rather they are the purpose of our work.  

Something that I learned: Embedding reconciliation into our economic systems will take time and trust.  We need to take the initiative to build relationships; show up and listen; and embed ourselves in the community we want to support.

Here are some great ways to start building relationships:
Aboriginal Finance Institution: http://www.ulnooweg.ca
Social Enterprise Ecosystem: https://www.inspirenunavut.com
Indigenous Clean Energy:  https://icenet.work
Canadian Council Aboriginal Business: https://www.ccab.com
Youth Reconciliation: http://canadianroots.ca

My big takeaway: Network building is hard work, trust work, patient work.  Working with the Ontario Social Economy Roundtable to plan for 2018 there is a clear desire to work more closely with each other.  This strong desire is contrasted by a shortfall in time and resources, forcing us to find creative ways to work together more efficiently.

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Lina Bowden
VERGE Founder

Reflections on: Social Finance Forum

This was my 6th Social Finance Forum, so I am starting to feel like an Elder; nonetheless the experience of learning from my peers is a highlight for me each year. My reflection is about how far we have come! Five years ago you did not see ‘careers’ in impact investing and social finance. Today, mainstream banks and investment funds are creating products to satisfy investors appetites to bundle social impact and financial return into their investments.

Have you heard? Millennials and women are leading the charge with impact investing, insisting that they leverage their investment portfolios so that they can create change, while earning investment income.

Something that I learned: There is a growing list of impact investments offered to everyday investors and some can even be put in your RRSP! Check out openimpact.ca to see a few of these options.

My big takeaway: Impact Investing is here to stay! We are creating a movement and we, at Pillar and VERGE, are proud to be playing a lead role along with our colleagues around Canada. We need to have a stronger voice in this work, and not be afraid to speak about how our work at a local level is part of a bigger dream to redefine capitalism.  We are looking to restore the balance of community, equity and care for the planet as pivotal elements of our economy.

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Michelle Baldwin
Executive Director

Reflections on: Ontario Nonprofit Network

While the full conference had a great vibe and deep learning, the panel “Towards Reconciliation: What is the role of the nonprofit sector” was bold and authentic with Jesse Wente, Kris Archie & Max FineDay. This was one of those moments where I saw such wisdom, the truth and hope about what we are doing that is not working, what we can do to get it right going forward, what we need to own from the past and how together we can have hope for the future.

Have you heard? That indigenous communities are asking us to do more than the land acknowledgement, know what treaty land we are on and understand our responsibilities as a [settler] treaty person. We heard that we must build trust and relationships as the first step. It was shared that Indigenous communities are not looking for charity, they are looking for solidarity.

Something that I learned: We need to stop asking indigenous communities to provide answers. It is up to us to do the climbing.

Some of the suggestions from the panel for what nonprofits can do:
1. Have an anti-oppression framework in every nonprofit. It is for safety and and engagement of our marginalized staff and it is the basis for working on reconciliation.

2. Provide intercultural fluency training in your nonprofit.

3. Can we all agree to have reconciliation activities run by Indigenous individuals? Sounds simple but often this is getting missed.

My big takeaway: This history in Canada is ours and we must acknowledge it and do our part to authentically carry out the calls to action outlined in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada Calls to Action.

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