Meet Paula Sahyoun, Associate at SVX
SVX welcomed Paula Sahyoun to the SVX family as an Analyst in January 2021. Paula has since been promoted to the role of Associate, leading investor and venture education programming at the firm and supporting a number of different organizational projects ranging from advisory to fund design.
Paula has an academic background in health sciences from the University of Waterloo and she has spent the last few years deeply engaged within Canada’s social innovation ecosystem. As a student, she launched her own local social enterprise benefitting the Waterloo community. She worked within the Government of Ontario’s Social Enterprise Unit as a Policy Advisor, as well as at the open data Montreal based start-up OpenNorth as a Project Lead.
Most recently, Paula was a Social Innovation Fellow at the McConnell Family Foundation. At McConnell, Paula worked on the Re-Code (post-secondary social infrastructure) team, the public interest journalism team, and led McConnell’s youth and climate granting and engagement strategy.
Paula is the first Youth Director on the board of Plan International Canada. She is also recognized as a World Economic Forum Global Shaper, Climate Reality Leader and United Nations SDSN Local Pathways Fellow. Shaped by these experiences, Paula strongly believes in the power of capital, civic engagement and participation to catalyze macro-level societal change.
When you were ten (10) years old, what did you want to be when you grew up?
I teeter-tottered between two very different answers at that age. I really wanted to be a farmer. As a result of my voracious fiction reading habit, I’d regularly find myself daydreaming about farming life. I imagined myself feeding chickens, planting seeds, riding horses and playing in the creek. I don’t think I truly understood how much work went into farming, but these childhood daydreams definitely contributed to my present day respect for agricultural and food systems workers.
My second answer was that I wanted to be a doctor. I grew up in an immigrant household with two medical professionals as parents and the messaging that being a physician was the ultimate success. Throughout high school, I volunteered at hospitals and loved the idea of helping my community and caring for others. It was only once I reached university that I realized there were other possible paths to achieving those same ends. I was exposed to the breadth of options available to those seeking to make change in the world and learned how much I enjoy thinking at a macro, systems level.
What SDG is most important to you and why?
It’s so nerdy that I have a favorite SDG but I actually have an immediate answer to this question. My favorite SDG is SDG 11 — Sustainable Cities and Communities. SDG 11 calls for making cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable.
A large majority of the world’s population lives within urban centres and it’s only going to increase, as 68% of the world’s population is projected to live in urban areas by 2050. Our built environment and the intertwined systems that make up cities have an unparalleled impact on individual and community outcomes — but also large scale macro level change. Improving outcomes within cities improves outcomes across a number of different SDG goals and targets whether it be health, climate, poverty, cohesion, innovation.
What is the last book you read (that wasn’t about impact investing)?
I have a political economy / political theory book club with two great friends of mine from university. The last book we read was the Deficit Myth: Modern Monetary Theory and the Birth of the People’s Economy by Stephanie Kelton.
Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) is a revolutionary macroeconomic concept that aims to dispel mainstream conventional beliefs around federal government spending. MMT purports that sovereign issuers, that is to say states that issue their own fiat currency like the USA and Canada, need not be concerned with debts or running deficits. Kelton goes through each pro and counter arguments of MMT in a digestible manner with clear examples and analogies. I’d definitely recommend this book regardless of your opinion on the theory. It was a super informative read introducing a radical way of thinking. Exactly the type of status-quo questioning that is needed to create change and incite meaningful discussion!
Who is one person you admire in the world of impact investing and/or social and environmental justice?
Jane Jacobs. Following the theme of the SDG question, I consider myself an urban enthusiast and really admire Jane Jacob’s drive, work and legacy. She was a paradigm shifting change maker, urbanist, and activist. She saw cities as integrated systems and had revolutionary ideas on how cities should be built and function. Jane also advocated for intentional city planning as a means of achieving equity for different groups, championing participatory planning and engagement. She believed that “Cities can provide something for everybody when they are created by everybody” (The Death and Life of Great American Cities, 1961.)
I believe that in the West we suffer with a tendency towards over-individualization and atomization. We are social creatures and thrive when the space within which we live is built with our wellbeing in mind. Details around walkability, green spaces, community spaces, affordability, heritage are all crucially important to determining quality of life.
I admire Jane because her visions and ideas shifted paradigms and have inspired a new way of thinking about cities. Her thinking was revolutionary at the time it was introduced but her drive for change rang so true that her ideas are now considered conventional wisdom.
I hope that this same paradigm shift can happen with impact investing and the use of capital or with other social justice concepts. I believe that continued advocacy can push us towards a place in which inclusive and progressive practices centering empathy and human entraide are status quo and commonplace.
Why is impact investing important to you?
I truly believe in the power of revolutionary system shifting ideas and I think that impact investing is one of them. The society we live in is, more often than not, motivated by economic incentives. Impact investing presents an opportunity to redirect the flow of capital in a way that is not only financially beneficial but beneficial to people and the environment. I hope that one day investing in accordance with your values and in support of people and places becomes the norm.
The current way of operating is not optimal. Questioning the way things have always been done is necessary and will allow us to usher in a more empathetic way of doing things — ways in which purpose and impact are not just happy externalities but core objectives.