Changing the Nature of Business: 25 Years of Social Venture Institute

25 years ago, Hollyhock saw a need. Business and entrepreneurship was clearly ready for a major refresh. The age of profit-only valuation was creating more and more inequity, environmental degradation, and cultural loss. In a world of ever more complex challenges, business needed to change and become a positive force for good.

Social entrepreneurs – innovators who are propelled by a social mission – are inherently creative, motivated, and relentlessly looking to help society work more fairly and effectively. Entrepreneurship is a distributed model of complexity and diversity, like the natural world. Working in tandem with government systems that protect and regulate “the commons,” the entrepreneurial ecosystem has the potential to create change on a global scale. Fair taxation, strong social safety nets, equal opportunity, and creation of beneficial products and services of all kinds, can happen in an equitable, thoughtful, less harmful way.

As the “me, mine, more” of the 80’s met the 90’s, many signals showed up across the landscape that it was time for a change. Making positive contributions to society and the planet, while still making money and supporting a good life for one’s family, was a powerful motivator to modern generations. We can solve major problems. We can do this better.

Hollyhock‘s founding in 1982 had strong seeds of this thinking. “How can we be a local business that creates livelihoods, while demonstrating a positive social and ecological influence on our region?”

A movement was seeding… with profound credit to organizations like the Social Venture Circle, Canadian Businesses for Social Responsibility, B Corporation, Credit Unions like Vancity, Third Sector, and Socially Responsible Investing, alongside environmental and social justice not-for-profits and social enterprise as a new model for doing business.

SVI – Social Venture Institute – was a logical emergence out of Hollyhock. The time was right.

In 1995, thirty entrepreneurs of widely varied topics, products, and services, made the pilgrimage-like journey to Cortes Island, up the coast on the inland waters of the Salish Sea in the traditional and ancestral territories of the Klahoose, Tla’amin, and Homalco Nations. This gathering, a quarter of a century ago, was the first of what today represents approximately 75 similar convenings that have since happened on Cortes Island, in Vancouver, Banff, the Bay Area, New York, Toronto, and now this year, online.

Creative offshoots for different sectors also grew from this soil. Many other conferences such as Social Change Institute, Web of Change, Media That Matters, Environmental Leadership Training, Run for Office, Activate: Digital Leadership, and many other efforts, grew and flourished.

The nature of the SVI gathering was “FreeWare.” Like an open source technology, we shared intelligently designed, engaging and experiential models of learning and gathering. The experience is intimate and connective, with forward thinking content. The land became one of the primary facilitators, along with skillful teachers, advisors, and a movement of creative entrepreneurs. Inspiration was seeded in a soil of collaboration, and a culture of “help each other festivals.”

Festivals? Yes, with inspiration from creative artistic festivals, having fun and truly seeing and caring for one another in our authenticity, gave fuel to now 25 years of many dozens of such gatherings. SVI became a type of alternative “degree” of exposure to a cultural movement championing business as a force for good.

For profit or social profit, both are essential. Taking the skills of money, finance, and business, and turning them into a positive contribution through products and services, with ecosystemic and inclusive culture, encouraged along many hundreds of enterprises, professionals, creatives, and change agents who reinvented the purpose of business.

Today, these ideas are spreading rapidly. Universities now teach social enterprise in courses. Civic organizations have more and better tools. Principles of being savvy about money, remembering ourselves as whole people who belong to the communities we serve, and that “help each other” culture, have seeded and spread throughout society and economic activity.

And SVI thrives. 25 years and going strong. SVI has expanded into flourishing networks, enterprises, insights, partnerships, and learning.

This is all thanks to each leader in the SVI community, now over 3,000 and counting. Each person spread their vision and values which have helped birth and strengthen a new type of social change. Every leader, supporter, collaborator, and advisor together have built this movement. SVI alumni, through sharing experiences, wisdom, and vulnerability have contributed pioneering work that will influence the meaning and purpose of money, finance, and business, for new generations, far into the future.

And the times now demand our best.

As the population accelerates towards 10 billion people on this precious planet, as health, environmental, and social crises rise to an all time high, in an age of pandemic lock-downs and social unrest, many people are wondering if we can truly live together in a safe, fair, and creative future.

Might entrepreneurs be essential to the social and environmental change needed to move us forward through this time? How can we build on the last 25 years to innovate, once again, to support our society in a just economic and social recovery, building back better than before?

These are questions with answers that remain to be written, but I’m confident that the social enterprise movement, with its zest for innovation and positive impact, will play a key role in the future we create.

You can join us in starting to answer these questions and more at SVI 25 on October 13-16. This connective virtual experience is an exciting collaboration between SVI Hollyhock, SVI Women in the Bay Area, and SVI Banff to celebrate the 25th anniversary of Social Venture Institute. Don’t let the online nature of this gathering fool you – the essence of the connective experience have been intelligently distilled with an innovative mix of technology, thoughtful creativity, and human-centred organizing. It is a natural progression as we build mutual support for this movement across sectors, generations, and now geographical locations. I can’t wait to see you there.

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Editor: Loretta Laurin
Photo Credit: Jason Guille

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