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Winnipeg Hosts its first Social Finance Forum

On an unseasonably warm November 15, 2016, around 90 people gathered in the Winnipeg Convention Centre for the first ever Winnipeg Social Finance Forum. It was a unique mix of stakeholders and individuals: financial institutions, foundations, CED leaders and practitioners, civil servants, political staff and business leaders. While it was a broad mix of stakeholders, the one-day conference had a single focus: lending and investment in the social economy, including social enterprises, non-profit and cooperatives.

The conference was initiated by the Winnipeg Social Finance Working Group, a collection of sector leaders dedicated to improving the capital and financing environment for the social economy. The Forum was organized by SEED Winnipeg and the Canadian CED Network Manitoba, and showcased national and local leaders in both plenary presentations and deep-dive breakout sessions.

National Speakers:

  • Derek Ballantyne, Community Forward Fund
  • Lars Boggild, Purpose Capital
  • Andy Broderick, New Market Fund & Vancity
  • Adam Jagelewski, MaRS Centre for Impact Investing

Local Speakers:

  • Vera Goussaert, Manitoba Coop Association
  • Sherman Kreiner, University of Winnipeg Community Renewal Corporation & Community Ownership Solutions
  • John Loxley, University of Manitoba
  • Derek Pachal, Jubilee Fund
  • Jeffrey Patteson, Assiniboine Credit Union
  • Heather Sadowy, Peg City Car Coop

The motivation for hosting the forum emerged over the past year. Between the growing national interest in social finance and the recently-elected Progressive Conservative government’s pledge to implement social impact bonds, members of the Winnipeg Social Finance Working Group saw an opportunity to bring together stakeholders to learn together and broaden the local conversation, while highlighting some of the successful Made in Manitoba social finance tools already operating.

So what did we take away from the Forum?

Relationships: New people are interested in social finance. Others have been working in the social economy for decades, wrestling with the challenge of financing for a long time. The Forum contributed to sparking new connections between stakeholders, and set the stage for ongoing dialogue and learning. Trust and familiarity, especially in a small place like Manitoba, are essential for fostering a strategic and supportive financing environment and the necessary collaborations that scale the impact of our work.

Niches, locations and strengths: Place-based solutions are needed to address the unique challenges of our local context. There are strengths to build upon, including existing tools and knowledge. There are also lots of niches to be considered, for instance the varying degrees of risk and themes for investment (affordable housing, small business, etc.). This means there may be room, and a need, for various tools and actors.

Capacity — it’s more than just money: Having financing available for community initiatives does not mean the financing is accessible. Without supporting the technical capacity of practitioners to understand financing, efforts put into developing social finance opportunities will not be taken advantage of. This includes the complicated work of stacking multiple tools for one project (tax credits, programs, debt, etc.). There is a strong role for intermediaries to work with enterprises, gather evidence, and facilitate the relationships needed to successfully finance and scale social economy initiatives.

Be cautious and strategic: We must be cautious as the provincial government forges ahead with their plans to implement a social impact bond, as there are clear hazards that must be addressed. Items highlighted include transparency, cost and ultimately efficacy. Considering the limited resources we have, efforts should be strategic and coordinated — we will miss out on other key priorities if all our attention is devoted to SIBs. Continuing to come together as a sector and broader community is essential to maintaining this focus.

Moving forward, the Winnipeg Social Finance Working Group will come together to set the course for the near future. We want to continue taking advantage of the growing interest in financing the social economy. We want to ensure the connections and relationships made at the Forum are built upon. And we want to make sure that the potential impact of great community initiatives is supported, not hindered, by Manitoba’s finance environment.

If you would to keep up to date with the Winnipeg Social Finance Working Group, you can sign up for the Social Enterprise Manitoba newsletter or contact Darcy Penner at darcy.penner@ccednet-rcdec.ca.

See a Winnipeg Free Press article on the WSFF by Martin Cash.

Photo credit: Impak Finance