At the Core: Response to Canada’s Spot on the G8 Impact Investing Totem Pole

Social Finance - Fri, 06/21/2013 - 05:14

By Bonnie Foley-Wong

I have a lot of respect for the social finance, social enterprise, and impact investing entrepreneurs and initiatives in the UK—folks like Daniel Brewer at Resonance Limited, Servane Mouazan at Ogunte, Elisicia Moore at Petit Miracles, Theresa Burton at Buzzbnk, Suzanne Biegel at Clearly Social Angels, Rachel Sinha at the Finance Lab, the list goes on—but do not for a second credit Prime Minister David Cameron. 

The Big Society campaign was launched amidst his bid for the election win in 2010. In parallel to the various initiatives such as Big Society Capital, there were policies and plans to privatize a key social services.  

The UK is not leaps and bounds ahead of Canada.  

We must be mindful of the scale of the social enterprise sector compared to mainstream financial and investment services—£600m in the Big Society Bank is a drop in the bucket—and the inequality that exists (and Canada is not immune to it). I would never ever wish for the concentration of wealth nor influence to lie the hands of a few elite (which Sir Ronald Cohen and David Cameron are a part of) to happen in Canada as it has in the UK.  

In Canada, doing business in a way that takes care of individuals, their families, their neighbours, their communities, and future generations is embedded in our culture. In Canada we have businesses with purpose baked into the business models and corporate culture. Social enterprises, locally owned businesses, and purposeful ventures do business side-by-side and hand-in-hand with big corporates. It is not token. It is not just part of a big corporate's social responsibility mandate. It is because for the most part Canadians still appreciate that business and investing is about people—that it is about "taking care of the village", that investing is not a game about getting the highest score and knocking all the competitors off the field.

I don't advocate for a Canadian version of Sir Cohen, that has the ear of the PM. Instead I want a Prime Minister that is highly and actively engaged with the citizens of the country he or she leads and whose interests he or she serves, and a vocal and active citizenry.

There are lots of amazing, disruptive, creative things happening in the UK (led by people I'm proud to call my friends), but the environment there is very different. Could I do what I'm doing in Canada over in the UK (disrupt the investment sector by investing with integrated decision-making, and with the lenses of impact and gender)? Yes, I probably could (in fact I piloted an activist angel training program in the UK, espousing this more integrated approach to investing, with Servane Mouazan), but it would be a hard slog and I'd feel like I was part of a "niche" community as opposed to fully welcomed in the business community and taken just as seriously as as the bankers on Bay Street or Canary Wharf.

I was born and raised in Canada, immigrated to the UK and lived there for 12 years. I had an investment banking career in London, but I got there from humble beginnings, with unrivaled access to great education as a child. In 2009, I began to integrate purpose and my values into my work in impact investing in the UK and in 2011, I took a look at where in the world, me and my family could have the life, lifestyle, and livelihood we wanted, that was healthy and nurturing in all respects. 

We chose Vancouver and here we are. I collaborate with entrepreneurs, investors, and changemakers in Canada, the US, and the UK, helping people access the essential resources they need to live happy and thriving lives. My work is well supported here in Canada and I am fiercely proud to be a Canadian entrepreneur in the impact investment sector. Canadians - do not underestimate nor undersell yourselves!

The question is not, "where is Canada on the G8 Impact Investing totem pole?". Instead, the answer is that impact investing is at Canada's core.


Editor's note: The post to which Ms. Foley-Wongs comments refer, "Canada's Spot on the G8 Impact Investing Totem Pole: An Interview with Ted Anderson," can be found here