Monthly Archives: July 2013

Community Economic Development Investment Funds: the Nova Scotia Experience


 Written by Allison Smith, Thrive

What: Calgary Community Capital Network is hosting a meet-up focusing on CED Investment Funds.

Where: Calgary Economic Development- 5th floor, Global Business Centre, 136 8th Ave SE

When: August 13th from 10:00am – 12:00pm

This is a two part event:

1)Webinar presentation from 10:00am – 11:00pm

2)Facilitated local discussion from 11:00am – 12:00pm

Background Information: Community Economic Development Investment Funds are pools of capital, formed through the sale of shares (or units), to persons within a defined community, created to operate or invest in one or more local businesses. The Nova Scotia Equity Tax Credit encourages local residents to invest in small businesses through CEDIFs with a personal tax credit of 30 per cent. Over the 14 years of their existence, CEDIFs have grown from an untested concept to a proven model for community capital development that now manages more than $50 million in 48 funds, all raised from local individuals. The model has been transferred to Prince Edward Island and other provinces have also expressed interest.

This session will introduce the CEDIF model, illustrate the impacts it has had redirecting investments for local impact, and consider key lessons from Nova Scotia’s success.

The event is co-hosted by The Canadian CED Network, Thrive-Calgary’s CED Network, and Calgary Economic Development.

For more information visit the meet-up:

Social Impact Bonds and their Role in Canada

Written by Mark Hlady, Finance for Good

We are on the verge of a revolution in social service delivery. Our publically funded system does not have the resources to lead this revolution alone. Social impact bonds (SIBs) allow private sector champions to make profitable investments to enhance our community and save our government money.

Through research, anecdotal observation, and conversations with local government we’ve recognized that government decision makers around the world tend to be caught in a cycle of reactionary spending on social services. Most funding goes towards programs that help individuals only after an issue has arisen: hospitals help individuals who have become ill, prisons incarcerate individuals who have committed a crime, and shelters provide beds to individuals who are homeless. Significant research has shown a more effective social system would focus on preventative measures, identifying the root causes behind social issues. What if we could prevent individuals from ever becoming ill, re-offending, or becoming chronically homeless? Doing this would not only create better lives for our citizens, it would also create significant economic savings for our government.

So, if preventative spending is more effective and cheaper, it’s logical to question why such a system has yet to be adopted. There are two key reasons for this; first, preventative spending inherently caries a degree of uncertainty because funding is provided to help individuals who are not in need of remedial care (e.g., hospitalization or incarceration) and many service organizations do not have the robust data sets required to prove the effectiveness of such programs. Second, rising healthcare and correctional system costs have trapped the government in a cycle of reactionary spending in which all available funds are being dedicated to those immediately in need, and an investment in preventive care is deprioritized. Together, these two broad challenges create the impetus behind social impact bonds.

Social impact bonds (SIBs) use funding from private investors to scale-up innovative social programs. The social benefits of the program are linked to economic results (e.g. reduced healthcare costs, lower prison costs, increased employment) and the effectiveness of the program is monitored and tracked. If the social program is able to achieve its target outcome, the government will pay investors back their initial capital, plus an incremental return. We refer to this structure as “pay-for-success” since the government is only required to pay if the program is proven successful.

The SIB concept began in the UK. In 2010, Social Finance UK raised £5 million which was used to develop a collaborative system of service providers who together help reduce recidivism rates amongst ex-offenders in Peterborough. If the program is effective in reducing recidivism rates by at least 7.5%, the government will use cashable savings resulting from reduced prison costs to repay investors.

Since the initial SIB in Peterborough, the concept has expanded exponentially. More than 20 SIBs have been developed around the world, primarily in the UK, US, and Australia. Additionally, the UK government recently committed £40 million to the development of future projects, while in the US, President Obama has committed $500 million to future projects in his most recent budget. At this point, Canada has not yet raised its first SIB, but interest is growing, particularly in Alberta, Ontario, and Atlantic Canada.

The reason Canada has yet to raise a SIB is because collaboration among all of the necessary stakeholders – government officials, social service providers, and private investors – has proven challenging to facilitate. To overcome this challenge, we started Finance for Good, Canada’s first SIB intermediary. In this role, we develop the necessary tools, networks, and processes to bring SIBs to Canada. Since each stakeholder has different interests and concerns, we build customized, actionable plans to prepare each group for future SIBs, as well as a collaborative process that brings everyone together to make the most important decisions. Our process is based on what was used in the UK, tweaked based our knowledge of local interests within Canada.

Some of our ongoing initiatives include:

  • Working with government officials, primarily in Alberta and Nova Scotia, to educate them on SIBs and effective SIB design processes
  • Engaging with service providers and community organizations in varying capacities to help them to develop and track observable metrics to prove the effectiveness of their programs and link their success to economic variables (we’re helping them become “SIB-ready”)
  • Connecting interested investors to potential projects and building a market for SIBs as investment vehicles

Based on our engagement with stakeholders across all sectors in society, we are confident that SIBs will soon be introduced in Canada to support and expand social programs across the country. We are not yet positive which initiatives will be chosen to scale up with a SIB, but we have identified a number of exciting service providers in Alberta with tremendous potential to create positive impacts on the lives of our province’s most vulnerable groups.

A sample of the Alberta programs we believe in are based on:

  • “Housing-first” principles, which combines affordable housing with necessary support services to break the cycle of chronic homelessness
  • Integrated crisis diversion aimed at helping vulnerable individuals reduce police contact and actively directing them towards social services fitting their needs
  • Innovative counseling techniques aimed at reducing time children spend in foster care

Canada is recognized globally for having a strong social system, however, the system is currently challenged by increasing costs and a cycle of reactionary spending. SIBs are one option to overcome these challenges and expand the funds available to social service organizations. So far we are extremely encouraged by the enthusiasm each of our stakeholder groups is showing toward SIBs. We look forward to continuing our work and bringing SIBs to Canada!

If you are interested in hearing more about our work at Finance for Good, we invite you to view our website at, or reach out to us directly at

SquareKnot: A grassroots worker’s cooperative supporting meaningful employment

Written By Allison Smith, Thrive


SquareKnot is a new worker’s cooperative starting to take shape in Calgary. After chatting with one of the founding members, Chett Matchett,  it became apparent how rewarding and challenging building a cooperative can be, and how necessary it is for meaningful employment.

A worker’s cooperative provides its members with meaningful employment by operating an enterprise that abides by the cooperative principles and core values.  These shared values are focused around community, inclusivity, sustainability, trust and respect.  The main goal is to provide the best possible working conditions for the members and to increase the resiliency of the vibrant Calgary community. Chett says meaningful employment is when work and life seamlessly blend together. “When you wake up in the morning, you’re excited and inspired to make your living by doing the work that you love to do,” she explained.

SquareKnot works on community enhancing projects, with a focus on do-it-yourself workshops. Previous workshops have included alternative medicine, make your own mead and green body care products. The founders love the sense of empowerment that comes from learning, knowledge sharing and skills training that happens during these workshops. Members  currently receive a discount when participating in the DIY workshops, are given the opportunity to engage with the community and the option to facilitate their own workshop. Chett explained that having the opportunity to facilitate a workshop is a great learning opportunity and provides an outlet to share your passion with community members.  After members are paid fairly for their contributions, further funds are focused back into SquareKnot.  These funds then strengthen ongoing projects or kick start new ones that are collectively agreed upon to meet SquareKnot’s values and to contribute to the greater community.

At this early stage there is a lot of discussion on solidifying  a shared vision for SquareKnot. Chett, the Communications and Marketing Manager, says there is no shortage of ideas of what this cooperative could be or turn into over the next few years. With 8 long time friends as the founders, each with different passions and skill-sets, the possibilities are endless. Chett explained that when they come together there are lots of laughs, lots of ideas, and deep rooted inspiring conversations.

Learning the Ins & Outs of Collective Decision Making

As a worker’s cooperative, SquareKnot is managed and democratically controlled by its members. “You can go fast alone, but can go a lot farther if you work together,” Chett says in response to learning about collective decision making. This has been the biggest learning experience. “We all have a lot of passions and enthusiasm,” Chett said. “It’s learning to utilize that energy, and those skill sets to teach others that is difficult to define,” she added.  The founding members were familiar with co-ops mostly in theory, but have experienced a steep learning curve on how to practice the co-op model. To keep decision making collective, with no single leader, they rotate the leadership responsibility for meetings among members.

SquareKnot works with different hubs in the community such as the Sunnyside Market, Community Natural Foods and East Village Collaboratorium. These relationships have been easy to make, strong and useful. “In general, people are very excited that there is a small grassroots co-op trying to make its way in Calgary,” Chett explained.  SquareKnot has seen the benefit and importance of local supporting local and continues to build these valuable connections.

Chett said it takes patience, an open mind and a deep desire to create meaningful work for not only yourself, but for all those involved.  “If we all work, in small ways and large, we can co-create a society that can meet its own needs without diminishing the resources of future generations, strengthen ties between community members and foster more space for creativity, connection and joy.”  Chett explained.

Learn more about SquareKnot and stay tuned for upcoming workshops, here:

5 Living Wage Leaders in Calgary


Written by Allison Smith, Thrive

Vibrant Communities Calgary has over 100 organizations and businesses in Calgary that have been  identified as living wage leaders. Being a living wage leader means the organization has a commitment to providing full-time employees with an hourly  salary that allows them to reach the poverty line and enables them to meet their basic needs. According to the Calgary’s Living Wage Action Team  an individual working full time needs to make a minimum of $14.50/hour without benefits, or $13.00/hour with benefits to earn a Living Wage in Calgary. Full time meaning 35 hours per week, 52 weeks a year.   This figure is based on the Statistics Canada 2012 before-tax Low Income Cut-Off amount for an individual with no dependents. This figure is also above the minimum wage in Calgary, which doesn’t quite make sense. According to the Poverty Costs 2.0: Investing in Alberta report, Alberta has the lowest minimum wage in Canada at $9.75. The idea is that individuals that are working shouldn’t be living in poverty and hard-work SHOULD be rewarded! Furthermore, maintaining basic needs is a right not a privilege!

Here are 5 organizations that are living wage leaders in YYC:

1)  The Arusha Centre:   The Arusha Centre is a collectively run, member-supported organization that provides resources and programming on local and global social justice issues! They’ve pledged to be a living wage leader. Learn more here: 

2) Bluplanet Recycling:  Serving the condominium sector in Calgary, BluPlanet Recycling is a no-sorting, mixed materials recycling collection service! They’re also advocates of providing a living wage! Visit their website for more info:

3) First Calgary Financial: First Calgary Financial is Calgary’s only locally-owned, full-service financial institution and the 9th largest credit union in Canada. First Calgary Financial’s 500 employees are proud to be leading, learning and living in the communities they serve. They are big supporters of providing living wage jobs and meaningful employment. For more information, visit

4) YWCA Calgary: YWCA is committed to breaking the cycle of poverty by supporting healthy women, healthy families and thriving communities. They’re also committed to advocating for living wage jobs! Learn more about YWCA Calgary, here

5) Sunnyside Natural Market: Sunnyside Natural Market provides local and organic produce in the heart of the Kensington community. And they’re a living wage leader in Calgary! Learn more here:

To learn more about living wage leaders in Calgary visit the Vibrant Communities Calgary website:

Interested in becoming a Living Wage Leader? Check out the quick online application : apply now!

Mountain Equipment Co-op: A thriving co-op, community engagment leader & sustainability champion!

Written by Allison Smith, Thrive

As Calgary’s largest outdoor retailer and one of Canada’s best known co-operatives, Mountain Equipment Co-op focuses on gear for active outdoor lifestyles. From out of a van back in 1971, MEC has always been a co-op building on the trust of its loyal members.

How the co-op works: members are asked to pay a fee of $5 to shop at MEC which is equivalent to 1 share in the organization. Therefore, MEC is owned by over 3.5 million people across Canada! Being owned by its members changes its approach to decision making. “Our shareholders want us to provide them with goods and services. Where shareholders in the conventional sense are profit driven,” Brad Clute, Sustainability and Community Involvement Coordinator in Calgary says.

Being a member has its perks since MEC profits are given back to its members.  In addition, members have the ability to elect the board of directors, keeping it democratically controlled. “The board is for our membership by our membership,” Brad explained.

The day to day operations of the co-op is just like any other business with a CEO, frontline staff and so on. Although there are some important differences.“Our mark up is a lot lower. Our warranty and repair policies are much more liberal than industry standard,” Brad explained.

In addition, they provide free backcountry 101 workshops, which is part of the co-op philosophy of engaging the community. “That’s what our members want us to do, so that’s what we do,” he noted.

Community partnerships.

All of their community grant, partnership and product donation programs are umbrellaed under a program called 1% for the Planet, where 1% of their Gross Sales goes towards environmental and outdoor access related issues in Canada. For MEC, its important to re-invest its profits to increase community co-operation, engagement and development.

“We’re always partnering with like minded organizations to drive our mandate,” Brad said. “Any business that doesn’t work on partnering and exchanging services, is strategically behind in the game, on all levels,” he explained.

Keeping sustainability a priority.

MEC is also a leader in sustainability practices such as ethical sourcing and the bluesign standard.

Ethical sourcing focuses on the working conditions of the manufacturers both within Canada and abroad. With globalization, and trade tariffs being lifted, the business reality is manufacturing often happens overseas.  “Even though we’re a big fish in the Canadian retail market, we can’t open our own plant here,” Brad commented on the supply chain reality. However, due to their reputation in ethical sourcing, they have the ability to influence other businesses to sign on to similar ethical sourcing practices. Furthermore, MEC strives to keep as much of the production within the Canadian market place as they understand the importance in building a strong local economy.

MEC is also apart of bluesign, which examines the environmental impact of their supply chain and how to reduce their environmental impact without sacrificing quality.

At the Calgary office there are sustainability policies and an environmental integrity committee in place for the day to day operations of the store. Some of their actions to stay sustainable include VOC free paint, no carpet, composting and Bullfrog powered electricity. What’s most impressive is that the Calgary store has a ~ 95% waste diversion rate!

The staff are on board with the policies such as no single use coffee cup and no single use shopping bag which is worked into their performance measurements. They help ensure this by adequately training staff, doing frequent “dumpster dives” to see the success of the recycling programs and having a green building program.

Online gear swaps happen twice a year in their parking lot. “We want to keep things out of the landfill and help people get the gear that they can actually use,” Brad explained. Last year the left over gear, over 3 tonnes, was donated to Inn from the Cold.

A commitment to living-wage jobs.

MEC is also a great place to work that promotes work-life balance, living wage jobs and meaningful employment. “Our ethics attract staff with similar values,” Brad said .

The Vibrant Workplace Calgary has recognized MEC for their living-wage and human resource policies, that are well above industry standard.  For example, MEC helps staff finance a bike, boat or computer through the interest-free employee loan program.  MECs commitment to its employees is engrained in the employees benefit program that offers employer-matching RRSPs and tuition assistance that keeps their staff healthy and happy.

Engaging youth and new Canadians.

Focusing on low income youth and new Canadians is a bit of an unspoken rule at MEC. They strive to get youth outdoors that normally don’t have access to camps, workshops and equipment.  Although, Brad explained that even though MEC tries to be as inclusive as possible, it’s a hard barrier to crack.

One way they try to be inclusive is through the Learn to Camp Program in partnership with Parks Canada. The program takes new Canadian families camping for the first time and aims to build their skill-set and to have some fun in their new home country. A year ago Brad attended the program and still remembers the heart-warming stories of the first time campers.  “A little girl had her first cup of hot chocolate ever! Sitting on a stump beside a fire…. Just to see those moments, a lot of us take for granted growing up in Canada,” he said.

To learn more about MECs sustainability and community engagement initiatives visit their website here: MEC website