At Social Capital Partners, we look for leverage points where a purposeful intervention by our team can drive a systemic change. We are okay with failure (and have many examples to prove it!). It is an essential part of the path to success, so we are willing to take big risks. If the idea is exciting enough, we have the capability to dig in for the long term on a project. We try to work with partners whenever possible, so we’d love to get feedback on our current areas of interest. We’re open to discussing these with anyone who wants to help us think these things through.
Present of Work
The “Future of Work” has been a ubiquitous topic over the past year or so. The focus has been on artificial intelligence, robots and trying to predict who will lose how many jobs when. The people SCP has focused on since its inception, people facing barriers to employment, will be among the most affected by some of these predictions, so we started thinking about what the “Future of Work” actually means.
Our work has led us to the following view: it’s the present of work, not the future of work, that we need to think about. Things have already changed substantially, and over 30% of our workforce is in non-standard work (i.e. not in a permanent full-time job). We are spending time unearthing the key innovations happening right now around the world to support non-standard workers, both by government and by the market, as we try to answer the question: What would it take for Canada to be the best place to be a non-standard worker? While we haven’t found a great project to work on yet in this area, we’re working with partners like Deloitte to help re-frame the conversation from the paralyzing “Future-of-Work” to the action-oriented “Present-of-Work.” Tackling the present is how we prepare for the future. Jon Shell wrote about our current paralysis and Jocelyn Phillips presented some of our early views on this topic in Vancouver recently.
Corporate Impact Investment
We attended a great talk that profiled the creation of Ignite, the impact investment fund of Centrica, in the UK and a panel that profiled the funds of Salesforce and Comcast. In each case these companies already had robust venture capital capabilities and a significant commitment to CSR. Why did they form impact funds?
These corporate funds focus on different things, but each one fits with the company’s aspirational “purpose.” Centrica’s invests in alternative energy, Comcast’s in minority ownership and Salesforce in social purpose start-ups that can benefit from their technology. Each applies their significant resources (supply chain, customer base, knowledge) to enhance support for entrepreneurs. The employees of each company are encouraged to help which increases engagement and exposes them to innovation. And the stories that can be told of successful start-ups are another powerful way companies can show their support for their community – perhaps even more powerful than traditional CSR.
Our view is that Canada can and should take a leading role in this exciting new area of impact investing. We’re thrilled that Kate Subak has joined SCP to help us think through how creating impact funds can be an easy decision for major Canadian companies. Over the next year we hope to test a few big ideas.
Locally Owned Businesses
One of the topics we discussed when thinking about our next focus is wealth inequality. How could SCP be helpful in addressing the growth of inequality? Both partners have a background as entrepreneurs and SCP has worked with many small businesses over the years. We know that a driver of wealth inequality is increased concentration of private company ownership in fewer and fewer hands. So, is there a way that more resilient small businesses and a more diverse set of owners could help stall consolidation?
We’re far from the answer to that question, but we’ve started down the path. Jon attended an event run by a group called Neighbourhood Economics in September. The purpose of the event was to bring together people interested in supporting strong businesses at the neighbourhood level, and supporting under served entrepreneurs. A terrific group trying to solve an important challenge.
Everyone at the event was either focused on how to get capital to under served communities, and how to help provide technical support to aspiring entrepreneurs. Jon’s observation was that very little time was spent on the businesses themselves. If 100 entrepreneurs in 100 neighbourhoods were all working on the same type of business, is there a way to link them all to benefit from scale? Especially now that technology makes the benefits of scale easier to achieve? We’re now thinking through this concept and open to anyone who wants to either partner or offer some advice.
The Next Step for Employment and Training
This is the least developed of our current areas of interest. Our work in workforce development over the past decade has given us some perspective on the government-funded employment and training system. We, as well as many others, believe that it’s critical for the system to incorporate technology into their service offering as that’s how job-seekers look for both jobs and training and it’s how employers hire.
An interesting question is how will that play out? In both Ontario and other jurisdictions, governments are partnering with companies like Google and LinkedIn to add capacity. Is that the right way to address the needs of people facing barriers to employment over the long term? Or does a new technology platform need to be developed? And if so, how? We all know the government track record with building technology solutions. How will the installed base of employment service providers adapt to using new tech?
As work changes our employment and training system needs some dramatic changes to provide appropriate service. And the issues the system is intended to deal with, like displacement of workers due to automation, are only going to get worse. We’re trying to figure out how experience can be helpful in thinking this through.
Clearly a broad set of topics! If you have a perspective you’d like to share about any of these, please reach out. As our thinking develops, we’ll try to share it here. Onward!