Visionary leadership and perseverance are required to take advantage of a new paradigm that is rapidly forming. Some of the new descriptors in the business and public sectors include: blended value, corporate shared value, impact investing, social enterprise and social innovation. These bold new approaches are changing business as usual and are breaking down our traditional binary systems of profit on one side and societal benefit on the other.

Recognizing that social and environmental problems are growing in complexity and scale, it is clear that solutions no longer reside within the government, private or community non-profit sectors alone. This is a significant shift from how our financial and social systems formed in the 18th and 19th centuries. Many such systems no longer serve diverse emerging approaches to business and community service. Success in this new paradigm means that people, planet and profit are equally valued, demanding change to our current systems of operation where private, public and community activities take place.

At the MaRS Centre for Impact Investing, this new paradigm demands diverse forms of access to capital for not-for-profit or for-profit ventures, funds and initiatives that intentionally provide a positive impact for society beyond economic growth. Our team and supporters work to strengthen Canada’s emerging impact investing marketplace to allow public and philanthropic capital to leverage significantly more private capital with the goal of achieving long-term benefits for Canadians. Impact investing is a financial investment in a project, business or financial vehicle with the explicit intention to create a positive impact and generate a financial return.

Leadership on every level is critical to enable impact investing to reach its potential, and to allow solutions to flourish rather than sputter and stall while navigating outdated and restrictive structures.

Often, the challenge is that the pathway is not clear or universally understood, and this is where perseverance is required in order to see a vision through to its manifestation. While the nascent field of impact investing shows promising signs of growth, it will require strong and sustained leadership to reach its potential in the upcoming years.

Our leaders are rising to that challenge. Representing every level of community development, from mainstream finance through to the public service, these leaders will bring about advancements in our systems that will allow the “doers” to make good things happen. These leaders recognize that leadership does not belong only to those at the top of the power pyramid. We each have leadership opportunities among our own spheres of influence.

I have, nevertheless, highlighted three strategic national and global meetings of interest.

1) G8 Social Impact Investment Task Force

First, in June, the G8 Social Impact Investment Task Force was formed. Ted Anderson, director of the MaRS Centre for Impact Investing, is a member. The task force met in October in New York City and again last week in London, England, to establish a global plan of action.

2) Canadian Leadership for Impact Investing

Second, on October 2, the Canadian Leadership for Impact Investing brought together prominent Canadian investors and business and community leaders who share the conviction that social finance holds great promise for tackling pressing societal challenges. The purpose of the meeting was to enhance progress and advance the recommendations established by the Canadian Task Force on Social Finance by developing a co-ordinated framework for strategic action in two areas.

  1. What can be done to support Canadian foundations in increasing mission investing, reduce costs of due diligence and 
transactions, bolster product availability and reach, and support board/trustee awareness?
  2. What structures need to be in place for institutional investors to deepen engagement in impact investing through education, product development and demonstrating market value?

A summary of the common themes and questions that emerged from the October 2 meeting is available on the impact investing Knowledge Hub.

3) Public Policy Forum

Third, on November 22, the Public Policy Forum convened a round-table discussion on social finance. This session complemented the Public Policy Forum’s annual Gordon Osbaldeston Lecture, which was held the previous evening. This year’s lecture was delivered by MaRS CEO Ilse Treurnicht, who spoke on the topic of innovation, with a particular focus on the role of social innovation and engagement within the public sector.

It is clear that impact investing is poised to open a gateway of opportunity. Such change will benefit from a social innovation approach that engages a whole system of interconnected actors, involving a long-term investment that will enable a cultural shift in how we work together and value success.

Based on these prominent leadership meetings and many other convening sessions across Canada over this past year, we are well on our way. For more information contact jreynolds@marsdd.com.

Joanna Reynolds

Joanna is Associate Director, MaRS Centre for Impact Investing and has worked with MaRS and Social Innovation Generation National since 2008 on the advancement of social finance in Canada. See more…