This post began as an innocent nod to the Calgary Microcredit Conference that is taking place on September 11. In Alberta, just as in many places, we are seeing folks come forward into the nonprofit sector and social space who want to do more than donate their money.
For readers of SocialFinance.ca, this isn’t necessarily new. But for everyday donors, hearing from Matt Flannery from Kiva and on micro-savings from the Gates Foundation, it will change they way they engage in solving social issues.
Ten years ago, this same sentiment, changing the way donors engage, is what birthed the Social Venture Partners movement – offering donors the ability to do more than write a cheque. At that time, doing more meant that they would add their time and professional skills into the mix. Still, at the end of the day, their financial contribution was still a charitable donation.
Ten years later, appetites are increasing. We know this from initiatives like Kiva, but we’re seeing it on a local level as well. Folks are hearing about the success of micro-lending and are wondering what it would mean to contribute to a loan fund – and possibly make a financial return? For SVP Calgary, we’re consider what microcredit or a loan fund would look like, and what it would accomplish on a local level (vs. the international scale we’re use to seeing.)
It’s easy to be swayed by the bright lights of social enterprise and impact investing. The models are alluring especially in contrast to the continuing reports of the dismal state of the nonprofit sector – from funding to staffing to service wait lists. Social enterprise gives non-profits hope for sustainability and investment opportunities lure donors who are numb from writing cheques.
For donors that I know, investing in social change triggers another side of them. They are intrigued by what it would mean for how their money is put to use – and yes, there might be a financial return. What is unclear, as somewhat witnessed in the Unitus and SKS controversy, is what is ethically correct to do with a financial return? Reinvest as folks at Kiva are likely to do? Or walk away, somewhat more well off and having helped out? Who decides?
When we get down to the nitty-gritty, these are value based questions. What do we value – charitable giving, social change, return on investment? In full disclosure, I’ve been on all sides of this debate – writing on a previous occasion about ethics in philanthropy.
Asking ourselves about what we value in social enterprise is increasingly important – even if the entire field doesn’t achieve a consensus. At the end of the day, the question becomes “If I’ve done something good for the world and gotten a perk myself, is that a bad thing?” It’s a value judgment.
At some point, as more organizations reach success with their loan and equity offerings, we’ll need to ask ourselves more questions. Whether the answers continue to reside on an organization by organization basis will be seen. As I see it, social enterprise simply by having enterprise in its name is already leaning to one side – and it’ll be interesting to see how the existing divisions within the space become more apparent with increased trial and error.
The Calgary Microcredit Conference on September 11 is being hosted by Uend:poverty, Rotarian Action Group for Microcredit (RAGM), and the Rotary District 5360 Microcredit Task Force.