Last week, at the inaugural Women in Social Business Forum in Ottawa, the Honourable Diane Finley, minister of human resources and skills development, released a report outlining the results of the National Call for Concepts for Social Finance. The report, “Harnessing the Power of Social Finance,” profiles 15 of the over 150 proposals to leverage social finance as an innovative approach to tackling social and environmental challenges in Canada.

The call for concepts was launched in November at the Social Finance Forum organized by the MaRS Centre for Impact Investing. It is noteworthy that in less than three months (including the Christmas break), a host of individuals and organizations marshalled their energies toward putting forward proposals that would use social finance methods.

The results demonstrate that Canadians across the country are thinking about how to apply innovative financing methods and partner across multiple sectors in order to revitalize traditional ways of funding and delivering public services.

More than half of the self-identified respondents were based in Ontario alone, and over three-quarters of them were from the non-profit or charitable sector. This makes it clear that more work needs to be done to support broader engagement with social finance.

There was also recognition that many of the challenges we face today are interconnected and deeply complex. Of the 154 proposals submitted, no one issue area stood out as a priority; rather, a third of all proposals incorporated multiple issues. The community identified youth, health, Aboriginal Peoples, housing and homelessness as particularly important issue areas.

There has been significant coverage and commentary regarding the report since it was published. Much of the conversation has focused around the idea of getting the private sector involved in delivering social services, and more still on a specific social finance instrument, the social impact bond. Adam Jagelewski of the MaRS Centre for Impact Investing was part of a conversation on a recent segment of “Power and Politics” on CBC as well, discussing the concept. Watch the segment here, beginning at the 1:20:35 mark.

Examples of social finance ideas

While the social impact bond model is indeed a very interesting one, it is only one of the instruments that were referenced in the ideas proposed by Canadians. Here are some examples of other social finance ideas (see the full list here).

These ideas truly convey the breadth of approaches that social finance encompasses. The discourse around social finance is not limited solely to impact investing or social impact bonds.

The real story of the report released by Human Resources and Skills Development Canada is that Canada is witnessing a larger cultural shift to the idea that no one single sector can provide the solutions that are required, and that it is quickly emerging as one of the global leaders in impact investing.

Nabeel Ahmed

Nabeel is the Managing Editor of at the MaRS Centre for Impact Investing and an Associate at SiG@MaRS. He also manages media and online marketing for the Association for the Development of Pakistan, a microphilanthropy organization that identifies and funds sustainable development initiatives in Pakistan. See more…