"Building Social Infrastructure" in Practice

Alyssa OplandUncategorizedLeave a Comment

Cropped Group Photo

Our mission at Canopy is to “build the social and economic infrastructure necessary to align capital markets with community outcomes.” While we were very intentional in choosing this language, it can be difficult to imagine what this might look like in practice.

What you’re seeing in the photo above is a group Canopy convened week before last in Roseburg, Oregon from the fields of investing, philanthropy and education. Traveling from across five states to rural Oregon, this group committed time, space and thoughtfulness to take on the challenge of rural economic development. This group included students and staff from the University of Oregon, The Bullitt Foundation, Meyer Memorial Trust, The Russell Family Foundation, The Laird Norton Family Foundation, The Lora L. and Martin N. Kelley Family Foundation Trust, Philanthropy Northwest, Gilded Rogue, the Global Impact Investing Network, Threshold Group, the Community Development Venture Capital Alliance, Sealaska, The Greater Tacoma Community Foundation, The Rasmuson Foundation, and our gracious hosts The Ford Family Foundation.

While participants each had slightly different motivations for why they joined the group, there was a common interest in breaking down barriers that exist in their communities’ investment ecosystems by learning with and from each other. Participants also shared a recognition that we will get farther when we bring people along together. As the group came together in Roseburg – a town so recently scarred by horrific violence – this alignment was a particularly poignant reminder that now more than ever do we need new, collaborative approaches aimed at building stronger communities.

Conversations throughout the day were rich and interactive. At the end of the afternoon, we asked participants to reflect on the session and their experience with Canopy’s inaugural learning community. Below you will find a few attendees’ thoughts in response to this question:

What is the greatest opportunity for this learning community?

“Target the next generation: Continue to engage students in the work that you do, speak at college campuses, [and] provide internships. There is still so much room for innovation in the impact investing field. Keep the conversation fresh. Emphasize collaboration over competition as the fundamental value that will take impact investing to great heights.” – Chris Ableidinger, Oregon Business Consulting Group, University of Oregon

“Continue to build relationships with cohort participants – share knowledge, grow trust and make connections with others inside the cohort.” – Ann Saxton, Philanthropy Northwest

“Develop a network where people can knock on each other’s’ doors to share useful resources or specific lessons learned from past experiences for those tackling similar challenges. This learning community can draw on work from across the US, showcase that work through stories – both successes and failures – and share it with a broad audience.” – Sarah Mahlab, Canopy

“This ‘incubator’ approach is very valuable and clearly has built passion and connections within the group. The greatest opportunity is to make this experience scalable. What does a scalable learning community look like? What technologies? “Gamification” for impact investing.” – Rich Duncombe, University of Oregon

“A key question that came to my mind during the session is how we can continue to bring more traditional asset owners, i.e., big banks, pension fund trustees, investment advisors, foundations, etc. into the impact investing market. The biggest opportunity for the learning community is to really push beyond the usual suspects and engage these investors who might still be hesitant or unaware of these new opportunities that are emerging.” – Brett Stevenson, The Global Impact Investing Network

Our takeaway from these insights? Bringing people together is powerful…but not scalable. The value of networks and connectivity that social media has been maximizing over the past decade provides an untapped opportunity for community economics. Through the continuation of this learning cohort, and a second group launching in early 2016, Canopy will explore and develop tools to democratize the field of place-based investing and put the power of connectivity in everyone’s hands.

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