Level the playing field

What happens when you put a former Liberal Prime Minister, a former Conservative Party Leader and a leading social impact investor in a room? Fireworks? Pouting and disagreement? Or one of the most electric and optimistic events I’ve been to this year.

On November 6, the Rt. Hon. Paul Martin and Social Capital Partners (SCP), Bill Young came to MaRS for an event called, “Impact Investing: Building Prosperity Outside the Mainstream,” moderated by John Tory and Ilse Treurnicht. The discussion focused on how market forces can be used effectively to solve social challenges in Canada.

Both Paul Martin and Bill Young agreed that greater access to investment capital is a huge priority in supporting social entrepreneurship. “Social entrepreneurs who provide jobs and stimulate growth received none of the stimulus money provided by governments during this recession,” said Paul Martin. He was emphatic that there be no difference in the rules and roads to capital for traditional and social entrepreneurs. It must be a level playing field.

Bill Young, who started SCP in 2001, spoke about the opportunities available to move people into sustainable employment by changing the human resource policies of businesses that have substantial numbers of entry level positions. “Our vision is that 10 years from now, every Fortune 500 company will have a social living program integrated into every HR practice.” This will mean thousands of people currently facing employment barriers will be able to access jobs provided by companies with the right strategy to see them develop.

Martin, Tory and Young also discussed regulatory changes that would enable greater development of the social enterprise space. Tax incentives must be made available to encourage investment. Changes at the federal finance level can be slow, but Martin says it can be done. “The Finance Department will constantly oppose anything they think will bleed money away. It’s up to the Minister to overrule them.” A champion in government is needed and we need to provide them with a very simple message – a message they can’t say no to.

John Tory asked about the development of blended-value investment funds run by the banking sector, as a way to incentivize growth. Bill Young responded by offering, “The U.S. Community Investment Act forced banks to invest 1% of their assets (in a fund) because they were accused of not investing in economically challenged areas. (We) could do a similar thing here. I think a more interesting way to do it is a Social Investment Bank or Social Investment Management Group.”

Finally, all agreed on the need for more enabling institutions like MaRS, that provide the guidance, support and advocacy that many social ventures need to move their enterprise forward. The value of MaRS was raised many times throughout the event and as the CEO, Ilse Treurnicht said, MaRS has also formerly recognized the value of social innovation in its mission. “This event is at the complex intersection of our world.” MaRS does exist to grow enterprises in science and technology, “But we do want to ensure we do this in a sustainable way.”

The greatest takeaway from this dynamic two-hour discussion was the array of opportunities and entry points that all sectors can collaborate on that will have a positive and lasting impact on social entrepreneurship in Canada. Not only do the options sound attainable, a full realization of their potential will address critical challenges faced by vulnerable communities and our environment.

Watch the full presentation here or click play below.

If you have questions about social entrepreneurship or social finance that were not answered in the video, please post them here.

Impact Investing: Building prosperity outside the mainstream from MaRS Discovery District on Vimeo.