Billed as Canada's leading conference for people who believe that innovation can create a better world, the MaRS Impact Week (formerly the Social Finance Forum) has long been a key event on the Oikocredit Canada calendar. This year three Oikocredit Canada directors logged onto Zoom the first week of December to listen to the 230+ speakers and network with the 5,000 other attendees. Here are their thoughts on lessons learned and next steps.
What did you personally find most valuable about Impact Week?
Carla: This year’s MaRS Impact Week reiterated the importance and broad applicability of social finance; it is no longer just a nice thing to do, it is a necessary thing to do if we truly want to build and strengthen our communities both at home and abroad. The question is no longer ‘why’ should we support and pursue impact investing, but ‘how’ can we do it. There are an increasing number of funds and products out there as showcased during Impact Week, but we need even more to satisfy both community demand and investor supply of innovative, social finance capital.
Abhishek: It was great to see the impact sector is maturing in Canada from financial services, to clean tech and everything in between. There is a lot of innovation happening across the board where entrepreneurs and investors have joined forces to accelerate the transition towards an inclusive society and a green economy. Telus launching the $100 million VC fund - Pollinator Fund for Good will provide an impetus for other private sector players to leverage the power of technology to drive better social outcomes and economic growth.
Julie: It’s always a good shot in the arm to hear thought leaders who’ve been around and, really importantly, young people and new voices. Social Value Matters is always great to listen to - they talked about assurance being the next frontier for impact reporting. A newer voice came from Shopify who’s launched a $5m fund investing in experimental carbon removal ventures, including regenerative cattle grazing to restore CO2 to the soil.
Did you learn anything new about social finance and impact investing?
Carla: I learned about the importance of flexible frameworks and catalytic capital when it comes to government-sponsored social finance. Big Society Capital in the UK was designed in a way that both catalyzed more investment from the private sector, but also allowed the flexibility to pivot and support community where it was most needed during the pandemic. Canada should learn from this and other experiences abroad when rolling out its Social Finance Fund, and should take advantage of the momentum in Canada’s private sector around social finance to get it launched quickly.
Abhishek: I learned about innovative funds and financing mechanisms that have emerged in the US. I will be looking further into that to see if we can leverage those and bring them over to Canada.
Julie: As one speaker put it - we’ve passed an ‘inflection point’ and there is now significant momentum to mainstream impact. The SDG impact standards were discussed as a path forward since the standards provide accountability and transparency for all investors -- small and large -- and across all asset classes ranging from private equity to public debt.
Are there any takeaways for Oikocredit Canada and Oikocredit International?
Carla: Oikocredit Canada is working hard to develop a new impact investing product for investors who want to support the great work of Oikocredit International. There is a lot of interest from everyday retail investors for this type of product, and an increasing number of asset managers who are also looking to help their clients invest in line with their values.
For Oikocredit International, it was helpful to hear the Hon. Karina Gould, Minister of International Development, speak to the importance of blended finance solutions to international development challenges and for achieving the SDGs.
Abhishek: A key takeaway for Oikocredit Canada is to create innovative impact investing products for foundations (public, private, family offices and high net-worth individuals) that allow them to preserve and re-deploy capital towards social finance and capacity building to lift marginalized populations in the global south.
For Oikocredit International, a key takeaway is to leverage data and AI technology that will allow investors deeper, more granular reporting and assessment of social and environmental outcomes. This will help large asset managers to effectively manage their portfolio and allow for a larger flow of funds into impact investing.
Julie: One takeaway for Oikocredit Canada is looking at the US model where social ventures mobilize philanthropic capital and apply the discipline of venture capital to ‘fill the gap’ between ventures that have impact but are not investment ready.
A takeaway for Oikocredit international is from Vancity Community Investment Bank where community engagement is the ‘north star’. Listening to people, especially those who don’t have power, is how to impact lives and generate social value.