Introducing Solutions Finance: A New Vision for Our Work

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Erica Blog Author_ENBy Stephen Huddart and Erica Barbosa VargasStephen-Huddart-author

In the coming weeks, the Foundation is rolling out several new resources on Solutions Finance: a series of white papers and related case studies, illustrating some of what we’ve learned over the last decade from our successes—and failures—in deploying capital for systems change. The first white paper is available today. We hope these resources will be useful to a growing community interested in financial innovation for positive social and environmental impact.

Until recently, we did not talk about Solutions Finance. The new term requires a bit of unpacking.

Social Finance refers to financial instruments that generate social and environmental impact alongside financial returns. It is a term widely recognized in the field and the umbrella term we have been using to describe the Foundation’s market-building and impact investing activities. However, as our experience and practice expand, we see that the promise of this work goes beyond investments with blended returns.

Successful systems innovation requires adequate resourcing, and calls for different forms of capital allocation across the multiple stages of design and implementation. To make this happen in the context of our work, we’re advocating for — and adopting as our own practice — an integrated approach to deploying financial capital and adapting financial models to catalyze, sustain and scale systems transformation. In other words, Solutions Finance. This approach includes, but is more than, continuing to grow an investment portfolio with the expectation of a financial return as well as a positive social or environmental impact.

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Social Innovation and Cities – Les Jardins Gamelin, Montreal

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Innovation
Definition: An influence process leading to social change that rejects existing social standards and proposes new ones.

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When referring to social innovation in cities, the one and only concern is the welfare of human beings in the environment where they evolve. This is increasingly important today since 80% of the Canadian population live in cities. We are experiencing a constant renewal of urban areas in order to meet the new needs of its inhabitants. We are witnessing political transformations, planning changes, technology improvements and the discovery of changes by city-dwellers and visitors alike.

For true innovation to occur in a city, economic/technical innovation must merge with community innovation, as it is largely the community that will benefit from these changes. A city does not consist only of its representatives, but all those who use it: children, young people, the active population, the inactive population, seniors, people with disabilities, newcomers, immigrants, First Nations members. It is therefore critical to clearly identify everyone’s needs.

Moreover, in keeping with the times, innovation also requires a smart design, whether it be in the use of technological tools for a comfortable urban life, the planning of a city space or the ergonomics of public equipment. The challenge today is also about working with what already exists and making the most of it. For example, the planning of a city space must take into account what has happened there historically, the population groups that already frequent this locale, as well as the existing architecture. Innovation is not a substitute for heritage. Instead, it must go further to find out what must no longer be done and respond to the new needs.

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Technology takes us back to the future of fish

eric enno tamm_This fish_ENGuest blog by Eric Enno Tamm, General Manager, This Fish

The fishing industry is our most ancient food system. It’s really the last vestige of our hunter-gather society, predating human civilization (and agriculture) by hundreds of thousands of years. Wild-capture fisheries are our greatest undomesticated protein source – the original paleo-diet. The technology and industrial scale of fishing has certainly changed over centuries, but the pursuit of fish on the untamed seas is an age-old story.

So, what is the future of this ancient pursuit? The revolution in information technology and changing consumer attitudes and behaviours presents an opportunity to reverse many of the excesses of industry-scale fisheries in the last half century. The problems have become all too apparent.

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Consumers, businesses, NGOs and governments are demanding more transparency and accountability in supply chains to prevent illegal fishing, seafood fraud and human rights abuses. Oceana campaigners have DNA-tested 1,200 seafood samples in the U.S. showing that 30 percent of some species were mislabeled. Recent investigative reports have uncovered shocking stories of slavery at sea in Southeast Asian fisheries. And scholars have estimated that between 20% – 32% of wild-caught seafood imported into the U.S. is illegally harvested.  Read the rest of this entry »

The Power of Being Vulnerable

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Blog by Danica Straith. Danica joined the RECODE team in spring 2015 for a one-year Social Innovation Fellowship through the McConnell Foundation’s Fellowship Program.

As I wrap up my RECODE fellowship with the McConnell Foundation, I have many thoughts on this pivotal year and what I have learned throughout. I would, however, like to come full circle on one of my initial fellowship learning goals. Though, instead of full circle, I think I may be still rounding a corner. And instead of a circle, it may be more of an oval shape, but here is my attempt to articulate.

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At the outset of my fellowship, I said that I wanted to develop my skills in stakeholder management and relationship building within the budding RECODE ecosystem. This goal drilled down into another, more personal, capacity building aim; one where I felt like I needed to learn how to better relate to a diversity of people, to meet them where they were at, and to find ways to speak their language authentically and sincerely. From my previous research on scaling impact, I saw that the ability to genuinely relate was critical to deepening any collective work aimed at tackling deeply rooted and systemic problems. We can talk about amplifying models all we want, but if they can’t be socialized and made sense of in the day to day, they can become meaningless. This falls under one of the three dimensions of scaling—scaling deep*.

It seems that empathy with a big E requires that we expose our own rawness to our partners and colleagues from time to time.

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The Future of Food: From the Personal to the Global

 

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Ruth Richardson_ENGuest blog by Ruth Richardson, Executive Director of the Global Alliance for the Future of Food

Food touches us at a very personal level: it binds us as families, it brings communities together, and it nourishes us. Food is also a commodity, with its global production and trade cutting across some of the most pressing issues we currently face as a species — climate change, poverty, public health, displacement. Our food and agriculture systems are amazingly resilient and diverse. And yet they are also fractured and too often not sustainable – increasingly, food production is depleting our natural resources, good and nutritious food is not available to all, and our global markets take away from, instead of build, our local economies.

At the Global Alliance for the Future of Food we have come together to address these critical issues. As a strategic alliance of foundations, we aim to leverage our resources and develop frameworks for change that enable us collectively to accelerate the transition of food systems from those marked by hunger, pollution, water scarcity and declining food crops towards those that are more sustainable, secure and equitable.

Water and Sanitation

To get there, we must address the economics of food and advocate for fair and transparent food accounting. Through support to initiatives like Food Tank and TEEBAgriFood, we aim to make transparent the economic distortions in food systems by developing frameworks that value both the positive (carbon sequestration, pollination services, health) and negative  (CO2 emissions, diabetes, farmworker exposure to toxins, ocean acidification) “external” costs of food production, distribution, and consumption across global systems. As HRH, The Prince of Wales said in his well-known Future of Food speech, what we need “is something very simple … to include in the bottom line the true costs of food production … it has never been needed more.” 

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Measuring What’s Important In Higher Education

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Guest article by Harvey P. Weingarten, President & CEO, Higher Education Quality Council of Ontario. This blog was originally published on the RECODE website. It has been republished here with permission. 

The dominant (but not exclusive) reason students pursue postsecondary education is to obtain the credentials necessary for a good job. Similarly, the dominant (but not exclusive) reason governments support public higher education is to ensure a stream of graduates with the skills to support the workforce and economy.

There is a lot of chatter of a gap between the skills of postsecondary graduates and requirements of today’s jobs. Opinions differ as to the existence or size of this gap. What we know for sure is that the opinions of academics teaching in our postsecondary institutions and employers who hire their graduates differ: the majority of academics think they are doing a good job; the majority of employers disagree.

Given the dominant motivations of students and governments to support public higher education, it seems reasonable to ask how we can better ensure that a postsecondary education equips students with the skills necessary for getting a good job and succeeding at it.

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Future Food: Conserving diversity for climate resilience

Guest post by Jane Rabinowicz, Director of the Bauta Family Initiative on Canadian Seed Security at USC Canada and Bob Wildfong,  Executive Director of Seeds of Diversity Canada

Bob Wildfong_EN Jane Rabinowisz_ENThe future of food will be dictated by climate and weather patterns that will be different than any farmers have yet experienced, and which are now unpreventable. Climate change will affect different geographical regions in different ways, but the common factor is that the weather will not just be warmer; it will be more variable and unpredictable.

Everyone has noticed that summer storms seem more frequent, more violent, and harder to forecast. Farmers are seeing greater variation in the first and last frost dates that dictate the length of the growing season. Unexpected droughts and floods are affecting food prices. These are not just warning signs; they are very real challenges that threaten an agriculture system built on an industrial assumption of predictable conditions.

Most of the world’s deserts are in two bands on either side of the equator where atmospheric currents draw water from the ground. A warming earth means stronger air currents, making deserts bigger, and wiping out farmland. Massive losses of arable land and water sources could force enormous migrations from subtropical countries, making current and previous refugee crises look like mere rehearsals for the calamities to come.

 

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In North America we will probably see the deserts of the southern U.S. encroach into the agricultural heartland, and permanent drought conditions in adjacent areas such as California. Higher summertime temperatures will reduce wheat production in the northern U.S. and Canada by as much as 10%. Although average temperatures will be warmer, we will not necessarily reap benefits from longer growing seasons, because the fluctuations of highs and lows will happen faster.

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Back to the future: re-balancing our food systems 

Guest blog by Andrew Heintzman, CEO and co-founder of InvestEco.

Andrew H_Investeco_EN copyThe last half of the 20th century saw dramatic changes in the North American food system. These included in general a move towards large-scale farming using significant chemical intervention, mass-manufacturing of most food products, loss of genetic diversity in crops, and the steady increase in highly-processed foods. And while these changes tended to increase the efficiency of our food production — and drive down the cost of calories — they also came often at the expense of human health, ecological balance, animal welfare, soil quality, rural employment and other social and environmental goods.

I think the next generation will see the pendulum swing back the other way, and bring back some balance to a food system that has moved too far and too quickly in one direction.

 

In some respects this counter-trend will feature a return to practices that were more common in earlier generations. These will include things like: more small-scale manufacturing of specialty food products; more pasture-raised foods grown using heritage farming techniques; opportunities for smaller farmers to produce higher value crops; greater emphasis on the ecological balance in farming operations; less reliance on chemicals in the farming process; more genetic diversity in our crops.

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Future Food

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Last summer my kids and I read Farmer Boy, the classic Laura Ingalls Wilder novel about a boy growing up on a homestead in New York. It was striking what a central role food played in Almonzo’s life, and how varied and abundant his family’s diet was – almost as striking as the varied and ever-present work to be done on the farm. The Sunday dinner table groaned with fresh bread, thick-crusted chicken pie, baked beans, ‘quivering slices’ of fat pork, dark-red beet pickles, pumpkin pie and apple pie with cheese.

little houseMy other summer read, the decidedly less bucolic Orenda by Joseph Boyden, reached further back into history, painting a portrait of the early, frequently bloody, contact between the Haudenosanee, Huron Wendats and French Jesuits in what is now central Ontario. Here too, food was very present – this time with descriptions of the three sisters, caribou, fish and berries. And while there were extravagant feasts, there was also famine, drought and crop blight.

Meanwhile, my reading also fast forwarded to newsflashes that Soylent – the beige beverage which claims to contain all the nutrients the body needs – had begun shipping to Canada. In the fall, the International Agency for Research on Cancer classified processed meat as a definite cause of cancer. A University of Guelph study predicted that the average Canadian would spend 345$ more on groceries in 2016. Climate change, with all of its food-related causes, crept closer to the two degrees no one wants – but the issue finally received global attention in Paris and serious treatment in Ottawa. And the spectre of Syrian children starving in besieged villages haunted me.

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All this made me question what will food in the future look like? Where are we going, where do we want to be going – and what can we do to change course?

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How Canada leads the way in charity data

 

Guest blog by Michael Lenczner, Founding Director of Powered by Data. This blog was originally published on the Powered by Data website. It has been reproduced here with permission of the author.

 

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Let’s take a moment to do something thoroughly un-Canadian: brag about Canada.

 

The GovLab recently launched a new report, having scoured the world for the best examples they could find of open data’s positive impacts. The first edition includes a dozen case studies, and one of them hails from the great white north.

The GovLab report zeroed in on how Canada publishes financial data about charities, which is collected using the T3010 form. It’s a topic that’s near and dear to our hearts at Powered by Data since we began as a side project of Ajah, which got its start working with the T3010 dataset.

What’s so special about Canada’s approach to charitable sector data? Three things stand out:

 

#1: Canada’s data is machine-readable.

As the GovLab review points out, the T3010 is broadly similar to the 990 form that charities file in the United States. But our neighbours to the south lag far behind us in terms of making this data accessible.

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