Financing Conservation in the Carolinian Zone, Part 3: Three Key Insights from Engaging Our Community

Image Source: Leanne Gauthier-Helmer, via Long Point Walsingham Forest Priority Place

The Carolinian Canada Conservation Impact Bond (CIB) is an ambitious social finance initiative harnessing a combination of impact investment alongside business and government contributions to accelerate positive landscape renewals and improvements in the Carolinian Zone of Southern Ontario. The multi-phase initiative seeks to improve a combined 1,000 acres of habitat in this ecologically significant region of Ontario, protecting the region’s fragile biodiversity and freshwater reserves.

In this blog series, we are highlighting the Carolinian CIB, the development of its phase two bond, and results from two of our community consultation sessions through May and July. In part three of three, we are delighted to share insights and learnings we’ve derived from two of our public community consultation sessions over the past several weeks.

If you haven’t already, or would like a refresher on the Carolinian CIB, please check out parts one and two of our blog series to learn more about the CIB, the challenges and opportunities in this region, and taking climate action through conservation finance.

What did we do?

On Thursday, May 27th, Carolinian Canada, VERGE Capital, and SVX held a virtual Conservation Finance Showcase featuring an overview of the conservation impact bond concept and provide an in-depth overview of live case study in Canada, including the successful Deshkan Ziibi pilot and the design for the Phase II bond. You can view the slide deck and Showcase recording here to catch up and learn more about the CIB as it’s been developed thus far.

During the Showcase, we engaged with over 35 community members from various sectors, from conservation specialists to asset owners to students to corporate partners. This wide range of perspectives enabled a fruitful discussion with many important questions and points of feedback.

There was certainly a high level of interest in the product from the community members. But given the novelty and relative unfamiliarity of this type of bond,, we wanted to ensure we were educating and engaging our community deeply. We decided to hold a second convening through a more intimate and conversational “Campfire-style” event. The Campfire was also an opportunity to invite our partners from 3M Canada and Chippewa of the Thames, in response to feedback we received from Showcase participants that we were missing voices from these two key partners.

The Campfire event was held on Thursday, July 8 and featured a brief recap about the CIB product before diving into a Q&A session with our panel of speakers, which included representatives from Chippewas of the Thames, 3M Canada, Carolinian Canada, and SVX. Emma Young, Senior Environment Officer at Chippewas of the Thames, and Diane Piedade, Partnerships Manager at 3M Canada, were invited to share their stories and experiences with the ongoing development of the CIB. In the spirit of a campfire, we wanted to give our audience of community members the opportunity to participate and ask questions to our panel. You can view the event recording here to hear the conversation in full.

What did we learn?

Through these two sessions with interested members of the community, we received great feedback about this project. We’re very thankful to those who participated in our sessions for their time and consideration. We identified three key insights from the community that will guide us into the next steps of the development process:

  1. There is great interest in the bond from many different sectors and organizations;
  2. The bond is a complex product and more needs to be done to educate both potential supporters and the broader public about how it works.
  3. Building relationships and trust is key given the cross-sectoral and collaborative nature of this type of financial innovation.

These two community sessions have drawn a lot of interest from community members across different sectors and organizations, including environmentalists, funds and investors, academics and students, and corporate representatives. Both of the sessions drew dozens of folks interested in learning more about conservation finance and the opportunity in the Carolinian Zone. This shows that there is an appetite for investment products like the CIB and for opportunities to protect and renew habitat.

Image Source: “Restoring the Human-Nature Bond,” 3Mgives volunteers on-site

Diane, who leads 3M Canada’s 3Mgives portfolio striving to invest in education, community, and the environment, said that tackling climate change is a priority of 3M’s — especially at the intersection of community and healthy landscapes.

“Knowing that the Carolinian Canada spans from Toronto to the Windsor area, knowing that it’s in our backyard, where our head office is based in London, has been really important to us,” she said. “And then also having the opportunity for our employees to get involved with different things with Carolinian Canada has been really important to us.”

The locality and close proximity of the Carolinian Zone represents an opportunity for many organizations and stakeholders to effect change close to home, which may explain why so many are interested in a product like this. At the same time, it’s clear that more education is needed to ensure that stakeholders from different sectors understand the CIB.

Given the variety of stakeholders and community members who have participated in our sessions, we recognized the divergent learning pathways we have when it comes to this topic. The lens and interests of ecologists are clearly different from those of investors when it comes to conservation finance, even when looking at the same product. In the development process, we see the importance of getting everyone to a shared understanding about the CIB, particularly with these multiple lenses and the complexity of the product.

What we found encouraging is that there has been a great deal of appreciation for the range of perspectives from across the table and a shared understanding that we can all learn from one another. We look forward to continuing to take opportunities to speak to a range of stakeholders and educate on the CIB.

Part of the continued learning process and a value that was reiterated many times throughout the two community sessions has been the importance of building relationships and trust. Indeed, the process of developing the bond from the very beginning has been a collaborative effort of cross-sectoral partners.

“I feel like it’s been a bond that’s been co-developed and it’s taken us time to build relationships and to learn. I would say even in those early stages, maybe we weren’t even focusing on the bond as much — we were focusing on the partners and what are our strengths, what can we bring, and how can we support each other,” said Emma, who is the Senior Environment Officer at Chippewas of the Thames.

“I hope we’ve been able to bring an Indigenous perspective and to share with our partners, our responsibility and that role that we have and that other Indigenous nations have to be caretakers of this land,” she added.

This important perspective, as well as multiple others, have been critical to designing the CIB to be impactful, scalable, and centred on reconciliation. Even though building these partnerships and trust takes time and resources, they are very important and sets the CIB apart from other conservation finance products. As we embark on the next steps of the development process, our engagement must continue to be cross-sectoral and partnerships-focused.

What’s next?

Over the summer, Carolinian Canada, VERGE Capital, and SVX will continue building relationships with our community and with our existing partners to develop the CIB with the aim of launching an investable product by Fall 2021. We will continue our efforts to educate the multiple stakeholder groups who have engaged with us already, as well as others who are interested.

If you have any questions or wish to discuss the CIB, we would love to hear from you! Please don’t hesitate to get in touch with André Vashist andre.vashist@carolinian.org or Adam Spence at adam.spence@svx.ca.

Although this is the final post in this blog series, we will continue to post updates about the CIB product as we approach going to market. Stay up to date through following us and Carolinian Canada on LinkedIn and through our newsletter!

SVX is financial services firm & impact investing platform connecting ventures, funds, and investors to catalyze investment capital for impact. #ImpInv #SocEnt

SVX is financial services firm & impact investing platform connecting ventures, funds, and investors to catalyze investment capital for impact. #ImpInv #SocEnt