December 18th, 2014
Note: Originally posted on the Responsible Investment Association (RIA) website.
Guest post by Peter Chapman, Executive Director, SHARE
Building Sustainable Food Systems in Canada: A Role for Investors, was released by the Shareholder Association for Research & Education (SHARE), a leading Canadian responsible investment organization. The report was funded by Canadian philanthropic foundations including the J.W. McConnell Family Foundation.
Dried corn plants in Nebraska. Source: AP.
Looking outside at the last few hardy frost-rimed vegetables in my garden, the forces at work are easy to comprehend: freezing temperatures and failing daylight hours. But for institutional investors, the risks and opportunities embedded in our food systems are less obvious. So too are the connections between long-term investment returns and the resilience, sustainability and accessibility of food systems. Building Sustainable Food Systems in Canada: A Role for Investors, a new paper from the Shareholder Association for Research and Education (SHARE), takes aim at broadening our understanding of these issues.
One fundamental sustainability challenge facing global food systems is ensuring food security for all. Simply put, food security means people’s ability to access sufficient, safe and nutritious food. Food insecurity is often associated with political instability, drought and war. It is exacerbated by competition for arable land, climate change, soil erosion, natural disasters, and disease. Corporate practices that shift agricultural land use to the production of cash crops, biofuels and animal raising can have negative food security implications, especially for small-scale and subsistence farmers.
Food insecurity happens in households, too. In Canada, for example, approximately four million Canadians, including more than a million children, experienced food insecurity in 2012. This kind of household level food insecurity is perpetuated by stagnant wages, social and economic exclusion, and inadequate social protection.
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November 24th, 2014
With the holiday season almost upon us and 2015 just around the corner, we naturally begin to reflect upon the year we’ve just had and the new one about to begin. And so in this spirit of reflection that we find ourselves in, we thought it would be the perfect time to launch the McConnell Blog.
The blog will provide us with a unique opportunity to regularly and openly share learnings and insights, essentially reflection pieces, about the Foundation’s work and that of our partners and grantees.
In our blog, you will not only be able to hear from our President and CEO, Stephen Huddart, but also from our staff, as they reflect on the specific areas that they work in and the initiatives and projects they are leading – whether that be in the world of food, social finance, social entrepreneurship and higher education, or child and youth mental health, to name but a few. Read the rest of this entry »
November 24th, 2014
“Each side is playing a role – the ultra-lean NGO that somehow is changing the world on pennies, and the benevolent philanthropist who always bets on the right horse.”
~Laurie Michaels (individual philanthropist, board chair Aspen Institute)
Horse Race. Photo by Sheree Zielke, 2007. CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 / https://flic.kr/p/AbUi2
At the Canadian Environmental Grantmakers’ Network annual conference this past spring, I facilitated a session with Devika Shah of the Pembina Institute which was provocatively titled Interrupting the Dance of Deception. The panel was made up of two funders and two ‘fundees’, and their reflections kicked off an animated discussion, which has stayed with me many weeks later.
The term dance of deception was coined by former McConnell Foundation CEO Tim Brodhead, referring to a dynamic that occurs when groups pretend they can solve a huge problem, and funders pretend to believe them. As Tim has explained, this deception is not intentional or malicious in any way. Rather, it refers to a tendency among organizations and funders to jointly develop funding agreements and relationships without fully acknowledging that the best laid plans are often derailed by power and politics. Recognizing that as funders we do sometimes ‘bet on the wrong horses’, and that grantees often operate in a complex and unpredictable landscape, a reflection on the session seemed an apt way to begin this blog.
So how can we ‘interrupt the dance of deception’? It’s key to recognize the complexities, uncertainties and ever-changing nature of efforts to change systems. Funders can work with and fund organizations to develop plans that are strategic and flexible, as Ed Whittingham of the Pembina Institute explained, citing Pembina’s experience with a process called Impact and Strategic Clarity. Funders can help facilitate joint strategies and then get distinct, coordinated proposals based on total funds available. Rather than everyone taking credit for one ‘big hairy audacious goal’, organizations can take on a part which will contribute to the common goal.
In what is perhaps the fullest expression of this idea, funders, organizations and other actors work together in ‘collective impact’ initiatives, such as the Vibrant Community poverty reduction work, the Calgary homeless project, or RE-AMP, establishing a common objective with progress measured by common success indicators while allowing each participant to contribute differently. Read the rest of this entry »