A Year in Review with SVX: 2021
2021 was a wild roller coaster ride. Businesses and families faced continued COVID-19 challenges, communities faced unprecedented weather events spurred by climate change, and local and national governments faced an ever changing political and economic environment. But one principle became ever more clear: it is critical that we work together and take care of each other. Our team at SVX — while separated by the Hollywood squares of our Zoom windows — collaborated with each other and with our ecosystem partners. We feel incredibly lucky that while 2021 was a challenging year, it was also a year of growth and resilience for SVX. We were able to scale our portfolio of projects, expand our team, and grow our impact.
From gender and racial equity to housing to climate action, our resolve to continue learning about and working on our country’s most pressing issues only strengthened. We are grateful to have the opportunity to work alongside our wonderful partners, clients, and collaborators to advance a thriving impact ecosystem.
Check out some of the highlights of our work in 2021:
We scaled up our work with women and non-binary entrepreneurs through the Women of Ontario Social Enterprise Network (WOSEN).
The purpose of WOSEN is to advance a new vision for entrepreneurship systems that are inclusive, safe and supportive and enable diverse women and non-binary people to achieve their goals in life and in their changemaking endeavours. We are leveraging our positions of privilege in our institutions to push against barriers to allow for space to create change and believe that engaging in this new model will have spillover effects for the entrepreneurs who engage in their efforts to influence other systems. In addition to our reflections below, you can learn more about the progress of the WOSEN project in the Interim WOSEN Report.
WOSEN Winter and Summer Start Program
In 2021, SVX designed and launched two programs directed at supporting women, two-spirit and non-binary identifying entrepreneurs to validate and launch their social enterprise idea. The two START programs ran concurrently for 8–9 weeks each between the months of February 2021 and July 2021. In total, we received nearly 50 applications, conducted nearly the same amount of intake calls and had 20+ exception women run through the programs. Each cohort attended 8–9 weekly sessions (roughly 50 hours total) with over 118 coaching hours delivered between both the Winter and Summer STARTs.
It was amazing to see such strong empathetic relationships grow and flourish within the cohort during the eight (8) weeks we were together. Trust was built during the eight (8) weeks, participants proposed to have regular co-work sessions together, trade services and have further conversations with each other beyond the sessions. Participants were energized with their START experience and planned to join more advanced WOSEN programs in the future, i.e., Investment Readiness Support.
WOSEN entrepreneurs launched online stores, set up networks in technology and construction; received grants and loans, and formed new partnerships.
As a testament to the impact of the program, one participant said they feel “uplifted, more curious and excited to take the next steps in [their] business.” They said that they felt “empowered with amazing tools and contacts to support me navigate the rest of this journey.”
WOSEN Fall/Winter Grow Program
In recognition that entrepreneurs need support built to match their specific business stage, the GROW program was born. WOSEN and SVX’s GROW program was designed for social entrepreneurs looking to take their business to the next level. Social entrepreneurs at the GROW stage have a validated business idea and are looking to refine their business model and strategy in order to achieve their next enterprise milestone.
The GROW program is a 16-week cohort program and will provide social entrepreneurs with access to funding networks and related skills/resources, confidence, access to a community of advisors and peers, coaching, b-weekly sessions, and accountability co-working spaces.
WOSEN Funder Pair Pilot
WOSEN believes in connecting social enterprises to value-aligned funders. With this mission in mind, the concept of ‘’Funder Pair’’ was born. We strove to create an avenue for the women founders in our WOSEN Programs to connect with value-aligned funders who were intentionally looking to address systemic barriers and support women-led ventures. The entrepreneurs in Funder Pair would have come from existing WOSEN cohort programs such as the Investment Readiness Supports program and our Start & Grow Accelerators in which they were provided with responsive and customized support & coaching.
The WOSEN team conceptualized and designed a program in which entrepreneurs could get matched with funders in a one-on-one type pairing. Funder Pair provided education to entrepreneurs and funders alike and allowed funders to better understand funder criteria. This pairing allowed opportunities for a ‘’right fit match’’ between Funder and Venture.
The Pilot successfully ran during the Summer of 2021. Many lessons were learned from this initial pilot and served to inform the launch of Funder Pair 2.0, planned for January-April 2022.
This new program reflects on the lessons learned from the pilot, notably, that relationship building is of primordial importance, as is the creation of a space free of power dynamics and judgment which could catalyze peer learning.
We worked with food systems entrepreneurs in Eastern Ontario to build and strengthen food systems in local communities through our Build Back Better Challenge and Venture Bootcamp.
In collaboration with LIFT Philanthropy Partners and with the support of County Coworking, the Build Back Better Challenge was designed for Canadian social enterprise leaders with food systems solutions to help rebuild their communities following the impacts of COVID-19. This challenge sought to assist impact-driven organizations in Eastern Ontario in successfully emerging from this unique and challenging period by helping to improve their investment readiness, impact, and operations. We were pleased to be able to work with four high impact non-profit organizations in the Challenge. You can read more about them here.
Supported by the Regional Relief and Recovery Fund of the Government of Canada, SVX partnered with Esplanade, Rhizome, and County Coworking to support sustainable food businesses and agtech through the Impact8 Venture Bootcamp. From traditional farms to agtech enterprises to eco-tourism, the Prince Edward County region has an active community of social entrepreneurs working to help all of us live sustainably. The Impact8 Venture Bootcamp featured six entrepreneurs creating impact responses to food system and climate challenges in their communities. You can read more about them here.
We worked directly with investors to build their capacity and understanding of impact investing.
We had the good fortune of working with our clients to set and revise their impact strategies, develop their impact reporting frameworks, and augment their deal sourcing and due diligence capacity. We delivered over 15 education sessions and events to deepen and strengthen our investor community’s work in impact investing. This included one-to-many sessions such as joint event with Community Foundations of Canada on our Land and Water and CMHC’s event on Affordable Housing, as well as one-on-one arrangements with key clients such as the Congregation of the Sisters of St Joseph in Canada. The focus of our capacity-building sessions ranged significantly, covering topics from market growth and trends in Canada to diving deep into innovative finance tools such as the Social Impact Bond.
We worked to explore and develop impact capital solutions in housing, climate action, Indigenous reconciliation, economic development and impact measurement.
SVX is actively engaged in the discovery, design and deployment of impact capital solutions, from exploring the application of impact investing strategies for large organizations and networks to designing and deploying impact investing products like housing bonds. This year we focused on delivering a variety of services including tailored leadership training, custom research with detailed analysis on specific topics within the social finance ecosystem and capital raise feasibility and development. This encompasses the services we have provided to support some of the organizations we have worked with this past year including Habitat for Humanity Halton-Mississauga, First Nations Technical Institute (FNTI), Mohawk Council of Akwesasne, and Common Approach. We have the good fortune of continuing to work with organizations like Carolinian Canada, Low Carbon Cities Canada (LC3), Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC), and the Government of Manitoba into 2022 (and beyond!). We are excited to work alongside the social finance community to further build and strengthen this ecosystem for both issuers and investors.
We worked with great organizations and funds raising capital on the SVX platform.
Over the past eight (8) months, issuers on the SVX platform raised over $3.8 million, with campaigns closed: the YMCAs of Quebec Alternative Suspension Social Impact Bond and TAS LP3. We continued to work with other issuers including the One Planet Living Fund and Deetken Impact. We have also completed due diligence on some new issuers that are expected to launch their offerings in early 2022 — keep an eye on this space for more info to come soon!
We worked to start-up, scale up, and support impact investing funds across Canada, particularly place-based funds.
VERGE Breakthrough Fund continues to have a positive impact, looking at scale-up of operations in 2022, including a new fund to come. You can read a case study about VERGE’s impact here.
We also supported the development and growth of a number of impact funds, including:
- Continuing co-development of the Seed2Impact Fund, a place-based social impact fund to build sustainable food systems and agriculture in rural Eastern Ontario. The Seed2Impact Fund is expected to go to market next year.
- Working with the Sudbury Catalyst Fund to provide workshops for Board and management on due diligence.
- Working with the Thrive Fund on Vancouver Island to provide support for their due diligence process;
- Working with partners on the development of a place-based fund for the GTA.
TechSoup closed its $11.5 million campaign on the SVX US platform.
TechSoup, the pilot issuer on the SVX US platform, closed its three year, $11.5 million campaign, which included $4 million raised through a Direct Public Offering (DPO) of debt securities and $7.5 million raised through loans, recoverable grants and donations. Over 209 investors supported the SVX US campaign, including individuals making smaller individual investments of $50 to institutions making multi-million dollar investments. For every $100 invested, TechSoup is able to distribute an estimated $47,000 of additional resources to nonprofits. Following the success of the TechSoup offering, SVX US is preparing to launch a new set of community capital campaigns and relaunch in early 2022. You can read more about TechSoup and the campaign close here.
We worked with partners to explore cross-sectoral approaches to impact investing ecosystem building in Peru.
Alongside our partners — Deetken Impact, SVX Mexico, and Impacto — we worked on an ecosystem development project in Peru, including sector mapping, developing education strategies, and creating an action plan for a proposed National Advisory Board (NAB) on impact investing. Using our previous insights gleaned from a similar engagement in Colombia, we formed a framework for local leaders to start up a NAB in Peru. You can learn more about guidelines for forming a NAB here and case studies from around the world here.
Alongside a set of great partners, we embarked upon the Catalyst: Community Finance Initiative.
The Catalyst: Community Finance Initiative is a multi-year project to develop enhanced ecosystem and policy infrastructure to support the start-up and scale up community finance organizations in urban, rural and Northern communities in Ontario and across the country. A growing, wide range of networks, intermediaries and funders are launching this initiative including: Pillar Nonprofit Network, SVX, Upper Canada Equity Fund, DUCA Impact Lab, United Church of Canada, Vancity Community Investment Bank (VCIB), SETSI, CapitalW, 10C, the Centre for Social Innovation (CSI), Community Foundations of Canada (CFC), and SI Canada.
This effort builds upon the recent work of Impact Response and Scaling Impact, including convening of community capital stakeholders in Ontario in fall 2020, as well as the longstanding efforts of individuals and institutions across Ontario that have been engaged in this work for decades.
Whether you are a credit union, community futures organization, municipal government, foundation, or another active or emerging community finance stakeholder in Ontario interested in this work, we want to hear from you. We’ll have many opportunities for you to participate, but you can start to join the conversation by participating in our stakeholder survey.
We helped launch Impact United, a movement of Canadian asset owners seeking to dedicate their investments towards social, economic and environmental justice.
In June, we had the good fortune of working with dozens of partners and supporters to launch Impact United, a thriving community of asset owners and investors mobilizing capital for good. Impact United aims to foster coordinated, informed and collective action among existing and prospective impact investors. In addition to facilitating educational programming and collective actions, Impact United will organize events for the community to connect on various subjects of interest. The movement launched with a public event for investors called “United for Climate Action,” an opportunity for investors to explore climate action investing that are both impactful and high return.
In the six months since launching, Impact United has grown immensely, including:
- 187 asset owners in our community;
- Eleven (11) Movement Leaders and Supporters; and
- Five (5) Knowledge Partners.
We’re proud to have convened twelve (12) educational events ranging from affordable housing to climate action to refugee lens investing. We have many exciting things planned for 2022, including the launch of our Pledge, as well as more timely and engaging events.
We released the 2021 Annual Canadian Impact Investor Survey.
As an initiative of Impact United, we conducted the 2021 Annual Canadian Impact Investor Survey in the spring. The survey set out to answer important questions about the current state of impact investing in Canada, the preferences that investors hold, and the roadblocks that exist for asset owners.
Five important insights emerged from the results of the survey that both encourage and empower us. Certainly, there is more work to be done to support investors and to continue building a vibrant sector, but the future is very bright. You can read about our five key insights in this summary blog here and check out the full report here.
We have worked to examine how we can better embed health and wellness as well as justice, equity, diversity and inclusion (JEDI) into our internal operations.
As our team grew this year and with an attention to the challenges brought on by COVID, we prioritized embedding health and wellness in our internal practices. We took steps to support the mental health of our team, including a weekly Zoom-free Wednesday afternoon, bi-monthly Friday afternoons off, stipends for personal mental health and wellness measures, and ongoing discussions about mental health.
We are also taking steps to establish Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (JEDI) as a strategic operational priority. We’ve implemented Diversity Days, an initiative enabling staff members to take two additional days off to celebrate cultural holidays. We have also made good progress on an internal audit of our practices and policies, with clear next steps on how to take action. We’re looking forward to working together to keep building JEDI into the fabric of the team.
We are continuing to support and participate in a number of systems change initiatives focused on equity, community economics, and impact measurement.
Our team continued to support and participate in initiatives to promote ecosystem-level efforts, including the Shorefast Community Economics Pilot, New Power Labs, Impact Frontiers, and SETSI Solidarity Working Group. These initiatives are important to shift the tides of both mainstream finance and social finance towards equity and inclusion, and we look forward to continuing to support these movements.
We re-designed the SVX website to make it easier to work with us and to learn about the work we do.
Our team worked hard behind the scenes to create a website that tells the SVX story and what we do. We’re excited to have launched a new look for our website — check it out!
We created various knowledge products for the impact investing sector.
In line with our mandate to provide insights and knowledge for the impact investing ecosystem, we created knowledge products including:
- VERGE Capital: A case study of accessible financing for women-led social enterprises
- Place-Based Impact Investing: Catalyzing women-led enterprises in Ontario’s COVID recovery
- Corporate Knights: Four steps asset owners can take to invest in vital climate action (Op-ed)
- TAS: Building more inclusive and livable cities
- Carolinian Canada Conservation Impact Bond: Blog Series
- Peru Impact Investing Ecosystem: Blog Series
We welcomed many new team members to the SVX family.
Our organization welcomed a number of great new team members in 2021, including Paula, Helen, Anumeet, Richard, Rohan, and Dominick. We also had the good fortune of working with outstanding interns including Alex, Keshiv, Cindy, Valerie, and Brandon. And we said a fond farewell to our colleague Sukhmeet.
Alongside continuing work on a number of the projects above, there are a number of exciting initiatives on the horizon for 2022, including:
- Refreshing the way that our platform works to better serve the social finance ecosystem and enact transformative change;
- Advancing work on the Catalyst: Community Finance Initiative to support enabling policy and ecosystem infrastructure for community capital institutions; and
- Supporting a number of high potential impact projects and issuers across Canada, US and Latin America.