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Key Takeaways from the Social Finance Forum 2023

This summer, Sparx travelled to Toronto for the Social Finance Forum 2023, a hybrid event presented by Future of Good and SVX. Read on for our key takeaways, including changemakers we learned from, the state of social finance in Canada, and the need for re-imagining power in the impact finance space.

/ 2 mins / SparxTeam

Sparx has always believed that capital can be used as a force for good. Because of our origins in the financial industry and the expertise of Hamish Khamisa, our President and Founder, we have a real appetite for all things finance — especially when it comes to purpose.

In June 2023, we ventured to Toronto to attend the Social Finance Forum 2023, a hybrid event presented by Future of Good and SVX, which featured sessions on the state of social finance in Canada, climate finance, and the need for diversity and representation at the decision-making level.

Keep scrolling for our takeaways and key learnings, including changemakers who were present, challenges associated with the rising need for social finance, and re-imagining power in the social finance space. 

Connecting with Social Finance Changemakers

Sparx was excited to travel to the Social Finance Forum at the George Brown College Waterfront Campus in Toronto to connect with and learn from professionals in the impact finance space while enjoying a stunning view of Lake Ontario. 

Combining the use of a large auditorium for the main stage and multiple lecture halls, the event organizers made it possible for different sessions to happen simultaneously. It was pleasant to stroll through the venue and catch different presentations and discussions, all of which were live-streamed for anyone dropping in virtually. 

We were excited to catch insights from changemakers and experts in the impact finance space, including Diane Bérard, journalist and Social Finance Fellow at Future of Good; Chelsey MacNeil, President of Common Good Solutions; Christine Bergeron, former CEO of Vancity; Jillisa Brown, Executive Director of Table of Impact Investment Practitioners (TIIP); Jory Cohen, Director of Finance and Impact Investment at Inspirit Foundation; Ryan Turnbull, Member of Parliament in Whitby and Founder and President of Eco-Ethonomics; and Sage Lacerte, Founder & CEO of Sage Initiative.

We had an incredible time learning how these professionals are using capital to benefit communities across Canada And snack breaks between sessions gave us plenty of time to mingle with the attendees, who were all open to networking. It was an awesome opportunity to make new mission-aligned connections.

The Rising Need for Social Finance 

One key point that emerged during the event was that social finance has gone from a “nice to do” to a “must do.” 

The crises we have faced over the past few years, such as housing insecurity and predatory debt, have exposed an ever-increasing need for social finance in Canada and around the world. In light of this, Canada’s new Social Finance Fund, a $755 million initiative that seeks to accelerate the growth of Canada’s social finance market, became a major talking point during the two-day forum.

Many innovative solutions were also spotlighted during the event. Two that stood out included refinancing for predatory debt (aka payday loans) through the DUCA Impact Lab and community bonds that protect social and economic diversity in neighbourhoods and preserve housing affordability, such as the  Kensington Land Trust. These innovations are examples of how private businesses and civil society groups can use social finance as a force for positive change.

Encouragingly, the injection of cash into the social finance sector and the positive track record of initial social finance projects strongly support the belief in the need for social finance and recognition of its tremendous value. Factors like these will also help the space grow.

However, there are some challenges that need to be addressed in order to maximize impact. For example, engaging with everyone across this land we call Canada comes with certain difficulties. Typically, urban centres have more infrastructure and greater concentrations of diverse communities, while remote and rural communities have different demographics and geographical constraints. Finding ways to be inclusive and make an impact across all these settings will require time and thoughtful consideration of the contexts in which the outreach efforts take place. 

As explained by Sage Lacerte, there is an increase in business values that are aligned with Indigenous worldviews and Indigenous equity seekers. Yet, there are not as many opportunities from Indigenous equity providers, which poses another challenge to the reach and impact of the space.

The threat of the growing anti-ESG narrative in the US was another hotly-discussed topic, as it could slow down impact investing and direct cash flow away from much-needed investments toward solving today’s biggest social crises.

These challenges highlight the importance of cultivating the demand for social finance so that we can properly address the needs facing our communities.

Representation and Re-Imagining 

Despite the aforementioned obstacles and challenges, social finance continues to act as a catalyst for possibility. However, a major power shift is needed in order to achieve true impact investing. 

Often, BIPOC entrepreneurs are challenged with being the only diverse people in the room and having to advocate for the whole community. In order to bridge this gap and give everyone a seat at the table, diversity and representation need to be implemented at the decision-making level, not just the investment-seeking level. 

We also need to focus on decolonizing the finance space and re-imagining access. Giving fair access and helping historically-excluded communities get access to capital is how we start to broaden the impact of social finance and make a real difference.

It’s also critical that we re-imagine how we view finance, beginning with changing how we think about returns. After all, the goal should not be to maximize returns but to maximize impact. The focus needs to be on collaboration, rather than competition. “Winning” in this space is not the point.

While there is movement toward equity-deserving groups and steps are being taken to be more inclusive, there’s still work to be done. The Re-Imagine Power Session was about shifting power from stereotypical demographics in finance to groups who need to be given a voice in the space. Unfortunately, three men on the panel frequently interrupted the female speakers, proving their point that diverse voices need to be heard in an ignorant and ironic way. This led to a wave of backlash, with viewers asking to hear more from the women.

Make a Difference with the Right Messaging

Perhaps our biggest takeaway from the Social Finance Forum was that the more we educate and create awareness about social finance, the higher the demand will be for it. This event and the kind of communications work that we do is a step in the right direction.

Want awareness around your purpose-driven work to grow? The experts at Sparx can make your impact story shine. Contact us for a free marketing consultation.

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