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Driving social innovation

Impact-a-thon readies students, community groups for social finance

By Susan White

A Centre for Social Enterprise-led (CSE) competition is helping Memorial University expand its support for local social purpose organizations.

Dr. Gillian Morrissey stands behind a microphone and podium. She's wearing a black blazer and has long brown hair.
Dr. Gillian Morrissey speaks during the Centre for Social Enterprise’s annual impact-a-thon.
Photo: Rich Blenkinsopp

The CSE held its annual impact-a-thon from March 11-13 and, for the first time, opened the competition to community organizations.

The event was held in partnership with Propel Impact. Based in British Columbia, Propel Impact is a national non-profit that runs programs focused on impact investing and social innovation.

Dr. Gillian Morrissey, CSE manager, says the expanded competition involved two days of training for both Memorial students and social purpose organizations, following which the community groups could participate in a pitch competition before a panel of judges.

“One of our three strategic pillars is to drive social innovation in the province,” Dr. Morrissey said. “Events such as these are part of how we do that, as well as supporting growth and capacity building in new or emerging areas in the province. We want to build capacity among folks working in the community and social enterprise sectors so that they are ready to leverage opportunities on the horizon.”

Social Finance Fund

One of those opportunities is the $755 million Social Finance Fund announced by the federal government last May.

This fund will be deployed over the next 10 years to advance the growth of the social finance market in Canada and increase access to flexible finance opportunities for social-purpose organizations.

“We’re in a much more informed position to look for social financing investment.” — Kim Todd

This broad category includes social enterprises, non-profit organizations, charities and co-operatives.

Kim Todd, founder of Guide to the Good, took part in the impact-a-thon and placed second during the pitch competition.

She signed up to help her organization get ready for opportunities to come.

“We wanted to learn more about social finance, understand what’s coming and be in a position to take advantage of it,” Ms. Todd said. “The impact-a-thon created a way to do that and to pitch to actual investors. We’re in a much more informed position to look for social financing investment, that’s for sure.”

The judging panel included Dònal Traynor of Community Finance Ireland, Joy Warimah from Boann Social Capital, Kyle Zhang from Tapestry Community Capital and Mark Lane from Northpine Foundation, all of whom are investors or social finance leaders.

Aaron Rodgers, general manager of O’Brien Farm, won the pitch competition, taking home $1,000.

He says the experience was “excellent.”

“I was overwhelmed with learning opportunities, networking opportunities and a general sense of community goodwill,” Mr. Rodgers said. “Running a non-profit can often feel siloed, even though you’re publicly communicating your mission, so it was great to talk with other folks that manage and understand the day-to-day successes and challenges of non-profits.”

Killick Cost Food Hub was the final participant, placing third.

Student experiences

Another key aspect of the event was the learning opportunities it provided for Memorial University students.

Each participating community organization was paired with a student to help them develop their business pitch.

“Each business idea is centred on people, and folklore is all about people and their involvement within the given social groups.” — Israt Jahan Lipa

Israt Jahan Lipa is a PhD student in the Department of Folklore, Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences. She was paired with Ms. Todd and Guide to the Good.

“It was fascinating to apply my folkloric perspectives into a business model, which we think of as two different, or even sometimes opposite, worlds,” Ms. Lipa said. “But for me, it was very connected as each business idea is centred on people, and folklore is all about people and their involvement within the given social groups.”

Israt Jahan Lipa and Kim Todd sit on concrete steps inside the Emera Innovation Exchange, Signal Hill Campus.
From left are Memorial University PhD student Israt Jahan Lipa and Kim Todd, who worked together on a pitch presentation for Guide to the Good.
Photo: Rich Blenkinsopp

Originally from Bangladesh, she says the experience also helped her better understand the not-for-profit sector in Newfoundland and Labrador.

“The most amazing thing I absorbed was to learn different ideas from different people of diverse organizations,” said Ms. Lipa. “It was a great collaboration for me to know many organizations and their excellent works for community betterment of this province.”

Julia Silverman is an undergraduate engineering student who was paired with O’Brien Farm.

“I learned that there are many different models for how people are serving vulnerable sections of society through social venturism.” — Julia Silverman

Ms. Silverman says she had “so many” interesting conversations during the training days.

“The main thing I learned is that overhead costs can be demanding on these ventures,” she said. “I learned that there are many different models for how people are serving vulnerable sections of society through social venturism.”

The CSE’s impact-a-thon was part of the Community Ideas Festival, which ran from March 12-15 at the Emera Innovation Exchange, Signal Hill Campus.

The festival was led by the CSE, Community Sector Council of Newfoundland and Labrador, Newfoundland and Labrador Federation of Co-operatives and the Community Foundation of Newfoundland and Labrador.


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