Monday, December 2, 2013

Social Good in Local Business

Written by: Chris Moss, Social Enterprise Program Manager, Pillar Nonprofit Network

We’ve seen a lot of nonprofits doing amazing things in our community through enterprise but recently there is an increasing amount of for-profit businesses doing things in a new way.  With fired up, profoundly impactful social entrepreneurs at the helm these two companies have caught my eye. Both of these new companies have partnered with Kiva to connect people through micro lending. Kiva is a nonprofit global organization that uses the internet and micro finance institutions to facilitate over 400 million dollars of loans with a 99% repayment rate.

With the launch of Cole & Parker we see how selling socks can change lives. This is not the same as corporate social responsibility, this is about the social mission being embedded in the operations and the reason they do what they do.

Cole + Parker launched March 2013 and have had incredible buzz so far: taping with Dragon's Den, feature on Fast Company, Trend Hunter and Men's Fitness, and even doubled their investment goal on their indiegogo campaign.

At first glance, they make socks. According to their website they sell: “bold, creative, intentionally designed, premium quality socks that will help you stand out in the crowd”. What is very interesting is that portions of profit from each purchase of Cole + Parker socks is loaned out through Kiva to support entrepreneurs who are living in poverty. Starting their own business will improve their local economies and their lives. By purchasing their socks you can literally help start businesses around the world.  If you want to buy their socks they are available at: Channer's, Andrew Douglas Clothiers, Collin's Formal Wear, and the LondonHunt Club.

Secondly, Textbooks for Change has revolutionized the way students can get rid of those old textbooks that take up so much room on their bookshelves.

Chris Janssen was trying to figure out an easy way to raise money for the Terry-Fox/ Shinerama campaign at the University of Western Ontario. He came up with a model of collecting used textbooks from previous students, in order to sell them back to first years looking for affordable alternatives to the book store. After this small trial run, about $500 was raised for the two causes. Janssen then began to brainstorm different ways a model like this could have an even bigger impact, and Textbooks for Change was born.

More than 50% of the donated books are sent to African Universities in a sponsored crate or recycled if they no longer can be used. Remaining books are catalogued and stored at the Textbooks for Change warehouse at the new Goodwill Centre for Social Enterprise in London, Ontario. Books are then sold online at affordable prices and shipped across the country. 50% of proceeds from drop-bins are used to provide micro finance loans and close mentorship to entrepreneurs around the world.

Chris’ vision is to see Textbooks for Change employ more people at the Goodwill Centre, fund more learning in African countries and get more students involved in entrepreneurship at university campuses by interacting with his company.

Keep your eyes open! I’m sure there will be more of these types of businesses popping up. With the creativity and social thinking our younger generations are bringing with them as they grow, we will start to see more wonderful and amazing change in our community and beyond.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

New Partnership will Celebrate Business who think Socially

Blog written by: Chris Moss, Social Enterprise Program Manager

We are so thrilled to announce a new partnership for us. Pillar Nonprofit Network and the London Chamber of Commerce are getting ready to award the first ever Corporate Social Responsibility Award at Canada’s biggest Business Achievement awards.

London’s Business Achievement Awards will be held on March 19, 2014 at the London Convention Centre and today, the nominations opened.

This year, Pillar will be partnering with the Chamber to choose a winner in this new category: Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR). The criteria are tough but a strong, socially conscious business in London will be recognized with this prestigious award.

CSR is about businesses that are determined to have a positive impact on the world in which they operate. This year, the first annual CSR award that will rate businesses on their achievement in the following areas: Governance; Reporting; Transparency; People, Programs & Engagement; Employee Engagement, Environmental Stewardship; Supply Chain Management and Charitable Donations & Sponsorships.

If you know of any business doing well in this area please nominate them and recognize their hard work.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

A story from the Ivey Impact Day: Influencing MBA's to think differently.

Guest Blogger: Cory Tanaka, MBA Candidate 2014
President, MBA Fundraising and Corporate Social Responsibility Club
Ivey Business School, Western University

The day was not without challenges, with 33°C temperatures and sauna like humidity more than 60 of my new friends lugged kilos of mulch and equipment through fields of prickly bushes. Despite the conditions, there were smiles all around as we freed young saplings planted last season from the choke of this year’s overgrowth. It was Ivey Impact Day, and “impact” was on everyone’s mind as the entire MBA class dispersed among non-profit organizations in London to donate their time and energy to the community. Across several organizations, including Reforest London where I was working, the class contributed 400 hours of service but the benefits reached beyond the immediate help we provided.

(Other organizations that benefitted from the student's work was: The London Food Bank, Unity Project, Habitat for Humanity and Mission Services.)

While many of the students had volunteered in the non-profit sector prior to doing their MBA, the general consensus among them was that working on the front lines greatly enhanced their understanding of the issues our community faces. Furthermore, the day’s work demonstrated that there are many opportunities for them to use their knowledge and energy to help the non-profit sector, where there are fewer resources to handle the problems that private sector managers face with regularity.
The lead up to Ivey Impact Day was made more meaningful by Chris Moss from Pillar Nonprofit Network who came to Ivey and delivered an incredibly insightful speech that deeply affected our perceptions of how non-profit organizations are managed. Her challenge to the students was simple on the surface; how to define “overhead” in a non-profit? 
(source of challenge was derived from: Dan Pallotta's Ted Talk)

Overhead is a common term used to define all expenses incurred outside the provision of services or the cost of goods given away. I am very familiar with this term from past volunteer experience in the health sector where our organizations performance (and funding) was tied to how low we kept the overhead percentage. When Chris pointed out that fundraising expenses are considered overhead the problem became clear; how can we grow services without investing in the fundraising infrastructure to grow the revenue that pays for those services? 

In my previous job in the private sector, I worked on many projects that were implemented because the revenue they generated was greater than the costs incurred. This is how private sector organizations grow. But if the hurdle for the not-for-profit sector is that a fundraising project has to generate enough revenue so that the organization’s overhead ratio does not increase then our perceptions of “overhead” are causing us to turn down many opportunities that could greatly increase the net cash flow to the non-profit sector and its ability to provide services. We need to rethink how we evaluate these organizations to consider the total impact rather than how they perform on an accounting metric.  

After putting in hours of sweat equity in uncomfortable conditions we felt a renewed sense of energy that can only come from serving others. Among the students surveyed, an overwhelming 97% of felt that Ivey Impact Day was germane to the MBA program. If the same proportions of tomorrow’s business leaders attribute the same relevance to corporate social responsibility within their own organizations then I have high expectations for the impact the non-profit sector will have in the future.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Update on Social Innovation Shared Space Feasibility & Business Plan

Pillar Nonprofit Network and Emerging Leaders  are excited to provide you with an update on the progress of the Social Innovation Shared Space Feasibility & Business Plan

We have come together to create a community workspace comprised of diverse groups of people, who positively impact the community, encourage collaboration, incubate emerging enterprises, and spark new models and ideas to contribute to the economic prosperity of London.  

1. Design Jams - Pillar and Emerging Leaders co-hosted 3 Design Jams with 130 attendees to determine the interest and vision for a social innovation shared space for London. The overwhelming response was a need and a commitment by attendees to be part of co-creating a social innovation shared space. check out the video captured by at the Design Jams

2. Pre-application - We have had 96 pre-applications completed to date and it is still an open application process. Please visit  and feel free to share with others. This is an opportunity to confirm interest in playing a part as a tenant, a member or an interested participant. We have documented an interest in 20,000-30,000 square feet so far.

3. Business Model & Financials - We are currently confirming the business model and testing the financial assumptions for a social innovation shared space.

4. Social Innovation Shared Space Bus Tour - on Friday May 10th we hosted a diverse group of 40 attendees on a bus tour to visit the Centre for Social Innovation Annex & Artscape Wychwood Barns in Toronto. Attendees had the opportunity to see first hand how these spaces work and to ask questions.

5.. Site Selection - We have a site selection committee who is developing the criteria and requirements to determine how it relates to our real estate needs.

We are working towards having a draft feasibility and business plan in June. 

We greatly appreciate the support of London Community Foundation and United Way London & Middlesex who have generously funded the feasibility and business plan process.
If you have any questions or input please feel free to contact us.
Warm regards,

Michelle Baldwin, Executive Director Pillar Nonprofit Network
Sean Quigley, Executive Director, Emerging Leaders    226-289-2360 

Monday, May 13, 2013

Social Finance London: is in gathering mode

Guest Blogger: Lina Bowden, Social Finance Specialist

How does a community go about addressing its most pressing social issues and how does it achieve its goals of inclusivity, resiliency and vibrancy? The system we currently accept is one where governments and nonprofits have the primary responsibility for achieving these goals. Businesses and citizens contribute through philanthropic contributions and volunteerism but most traditional models do not expect much more from the business sector.

For a number of years now, social finance has been a growing concept that provides another way to tackle community needs with significant potential for impact. Charitable Foundations (like our own London Community Foundation) are allocating part of their investments to loan funds that make social investments in the community with a blend of financial and social or environmental returns. Individual and institutional investors have the same opportunity to explore ways of investing a small portion of their investment portfolios in local social investments. At the same time, community groups are devising new ways to utilize capital injections that are paid back to an investor, as alternatives to models that rely solely on grant dollars. Similarly, microloans to micro-entrepreneurs are being used to help individuals who face financial stability challenges.  Social enterprises are also on the rise as nonprofits and social entrepreneurs are finding innovative business models that address their mission.

Gathering Steam
In 2011, the United WayLondon & Middlesex partnered with Goodwill, Family Service Thames Valley & Libro Financial to pilot a microloan / matched savings program. Also in 2011, Pillar Nonprofit Network, in partnership with the Richard Ivey School ofBusiness and United Way London & Middlesex, launched the Social Enterprisefor Sustainable Communities initiative, which provides grants to start up social enterprises as well as supports and coaching. London CommunityFoundation established a Social Finance Committee and a Loan Fund that initially will focus on affordable housing investments. Community Futures Fund offers loans to start up businesses (including social enterprises) in Middlesex County.  Throughout 2012, models for raising social purpose capital, such as community bonds, were being explored by a number of community groups.  

Gathering at Grosvenor
London kicked off 2013 with a collective exploration of community-based social finance.  On Monday January 21st, 2013 thirty-two of London’s community’s leaders gathered at Grosvenor Lodge to talk about social finance within the context of our city of London.  Participants were from organizations that are already exploring or implementing social finance opportunities, including the City of London, Libro Financial, London Community Foundation, Sisters of St. Joseph, OceanRock Financial, Pillar Nonprofit Network, Richard Ivey School of Business, United Way of London and Middlesex, Community Futures Fund, Old East Village, Westany Holdings, WOTCH. We also had invited guests from the Centre for ImpactInvesting at the MaRS Centre in Toronto.

Four themes emerged from our discussion:
1)     The work around social finance could not be done by one organization alone in our community, but rather should have collective ownership and leadership.
2)     We need to engage more people in the discussion from the business sector and local players from the investment field.
3)     Education and awareness of this new field will be critical in generating a level of confidence and understanding of social finance approaches. This applies both the supply side (investors) and the demand side (community groups with ideas for using the capital for long term social impact).
4)     We need an intermediary or clearinghouse to connect the supply and demand locally, while linking to existing structures outside of our community, such as the Social Venture Exchange.

Gathering a Shared Leadership Group
Early in May 2013, London Community Foundation, United Way London & Middlesex, Pillar Nonprofit Network and the Sisters of St. Joseph enthusiastically agreed to collectively fund and support the continuation of the work started at the Grosvenor Gathering. A 12-month initiative, Social Finance London, has been launched to continue to bring people together to talk and learn about localized social finance opportunities. Throughout June, we will formulate plans to move this work forward here in London, while tapping into the incredible resources that already exist here in Canada, such as and the Centre for Impact Investing team. If you are interested in getting connected with Social Finance London contact me at

Federal Government steps into social finance through HRSDC Call for Concepts
At the close of 2012, HRSDC announced a Social Finance Call for Concepts.  Last week HRSDC released their report, sharing some of the examples of how investment capital from the private sector (foundations, pension plans and individuals) can be tied to the government’s social program dollars to create meaningful social impact.

In other countries, ideas such as social impact bonds (SIBs) have garnered much attention –both from skeptics who say governments must not relinquish their responsibility for investing in social programs –and from proponents who see the exponential benefits to communities when the private sector, nonprofit sector and governments work together.

I personally see many positive outcomes from our government’s interest in social finance. A social impact bond program is only one of the ways to garner cross-sector investment in social needs. There are many other opportunities for cross-sector investment in solutions to social problems and some of these are highlighted in the report from HRSDC. As Canada moves forward with possible new policies and partnerships that support social finance initiatives, there is a great potential to have magnified impact on our communities. 

The recent Globe and Mail article provides some further background.

Lina Bowden, MA, FCMA
Social Finance London
Twitter: @linabowden