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SVI Partner Spotlight: Vancity

By Katya Potapova. Posted on October 27, 2020 in Professional Development, Stories + Recipes

Vancouver City Savings Credit Union or Vancity, as it is commonly called, has been a longtime partner of Social Venture Institute and Hollyhock. In the spirit of this partnership, Vancity has collaborated, mentored, and held us accountable as we work together to build and strengthen the ecosystem of social entrepreneurs in BC and beyond. 

We have been honoured to work with Catherine Ludgate at Vancity. She holds strong ethics, compassion, and business acumen simultaneously and never ceases to leave us without an “ah-ha!” moment after every meeting. Catherine manages Community Investments at Vancity, where she embodies the principles of co-operatives in all her work and relationships. In this interview, Catherine shares honestly about her personal SVI experience and some tips for aspiring entrepreneurs and those new to the community. 

How did you get involved with SVI?

My personal involvement with SVI started back in the early 2000s when I directed a National Social Enterprise, I was invited to present one of the case studies. For me it was a fabulous learning experience being able to share my business challenge and having 140 people become friends and offer me and each other suggestions, advice, hope, guidance to keep doing the work which at times is incredibly hard. I felt very nurtured in a fundamental kind of way by the friends I made and also critical allies – people who would hold me accountable. I felt that I truly entered a community of different-minded people who all happen to have the same focus on the social enterprise and community changing force. It was a life-changing experience, not just for me personally but for my social enterprise of course too. We learned enough new skills there to carry on, to be more healthy, sustainable, focused, disciplined, and vibrant, and back then we were at a make or break point. 

A couple years later I was offered a job at Vancity which I was thrilled to take as I have been aware of their work in the social impact sector. After joining I learned about the nature of mutually supportive relationships between Vancity and Hollyhock and SVI, and so I changed my view from being an actor to being an investor. I was delighted then to be able to attend SVI on behalf of the credit union and to see the community grow by a hundred people a year, and how through careful curation of ideas, people, practice, and fun, SVI created a space that challenged each of us to do better. It has been so important for the development of so many social enterprises and purpose-driven businesses. Many of which have flourished and many of which have failed, but what we have learned is that even a failure is a success. We all learned and grew, and shared what we learned, we adapted and made the changes that were needed for the world that we want. 

This is beautiful, Vancity has been supporting SVI for over 20 years!

Yes, but we really don’t think of ourselves as sponsors, we think of ourselves as co-investors in the space, ideas and community. For us the involvement in SVI is viewed as a community investment and a very important partnership. We have been very interested in the ecosystem that SVI curates and holds, in social enterprises and entrepreneurs, in what we can learn together. SVI has been a critical part of that conversation, convening and webbing of so many people and ideas together. I know in my heart this is what our members would want us to do. As a credit union, our role is to invest and reinvest our members’ money in the community. There is no profit motive for a small group of shareholders, we are seeking to mobilize community assets and resources for community good and progressive community change. So the investments we did for the past 20 years through SVI are important to our members because of the way SVI and Hollyhock envision a better future and are being forces for good. 

Speaking of envisioning a better future, what do you see happening in the future and how else can we support our communities especially in these tough times?  

Gathering and sharing is really important but it’s also very important to keep those connections beyond those gatherings to reach out to. It’s tough and lonely work to run a social enterprise or a for-profit business for good. That loneliness is broken down when you have these kinds of gatherings and make connections with people who help you master or solve or think through fundamental business challenges, who hold you accountable, adjust new solutions, offer the camaraderie and support or even a lifeline in some cases around fundamental problems, who make you feel like a part of a community of change. That brings us hope which is so needed in moments like we are in right now with COVID, the world economic crisis and recession. Gatherings like SVI give us ways of thinking about a better future. We do not want to rebuild because we know what we had was not good enough. We are in a moment right now where we can envision a better future together because we must. We need to address the problems of climate justice, inequality and financial and economic inclusion in equity, and work together for a different better future. We must seize this moment. So let’s give up the practices and businesses and dependencies of the past and really build a better future that is truly sustainable and equitable. That is why I think the connections to SVI and Hollyhock are more important than ever to keep us focused on a bright new horizon and to dispel the loneliness and anxiety that each of us feel and give each other hope and work from places of hope. 

Catherine, you have mentioned accountability a couple of times now. What do you mean by keeping each other accountable through these SVI connections?

I don’t mean accountability in a traditional way like annual reporting or impact measurements. I mean personal accountability to live up to our commitments and have ways to hold our own cells, souls and hearts accountable in order to see a way forward. For me it has been possible because of good connections and having almost life coaches, for example Mike Rowlands is that SVI connection for me. Mike and I are not great friends but I think of him as a great mentor. If I phone him and ask to help me walk through a problem, he would fearlessly ask me to be fundamentally honest about what I was challenged with and what I was actually trying to solve. I know he’d always hold me personally accountable to see any biases, challenges, inadequacies, and strengths that I bring to my problem-solving. Of course Mike cannot be that for everyone but each of us comes away from SVI with a circle of folks who would keep us accountable as we need it. We all make a promise for a better world, so bring it on – call me on my shit, call me on my ego, call me on my blind spots and kick me to keep my promises and move forward. Everyone needs someone to do all of that. 

Wow, I admire so much the honesty in your answers! Any last words of inspiration or recommendations?

Of course, I actually always found it challenging going to SVI because I’m an introvert and being fully present in a room full of extroverts and big personalities who seem fearless is scary. But I would encourage anyone who is like me more on the introverted scale to put on your “big girl” pants and do your best because the more open you are the more you can present wholeheartedly and participate fully, the more rich your experience would be. Yes, it is exhausting and draining and challenging to be that way even for the virtual gathering but it’s absolutely worth doing. At least that’s what I’ve gotten out of any SVI and Hollyhock adventures, I go being open to the experience as fully as I can, as challenging as that is, because again it is so profoundly useful and life-affirming when you participate wholeheartedly.

Thank you so much for participating!

I wish you all the best! 

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