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What are the signs of a good conversation?  Not knowing exactly how it began and not wanting it to end.

I’d like to thank the attendees of “Let’s Talk About Impact” – some of their comments and feedback have been quoted below. We gathered at the curious venue of Boneta, to talk about impact – a rather ambiguous, bold, and broad word that in recent months has often been associated with investing in a socially responsible way or as I’ve called it for these events:  investing with our values.

Measuring impact is a hot topic.  The Foundation Center in the US lists over 170 impact assessment tools, which just goes to show there is no one way that captures the information we actually need or want in order to make a decision about impact.

“I really loved the discussion around how we could rethink measurement systems – would love to have been able to dig deeper there. Finance industries rely on quantitative analysis to function every day – layering in more qualitative data could be really interesting.”

The role of numbers and quantitative analysis in decision-making is undoubtedly useful.  It can help us filter out options from a wide set, but we have to be careful to count the things we mean to count.  Research has also shown that our emotions not only play a part in our decision-making, but that we cannot make decisions without them (check out Antonio Damasio’s scientific research).

I had intentionally chosen Boneta as the venue for our discussion about impact because it is part of the family of restaurants operated by Mark Brand.  Mark purchased the Save-On Meats building in downtown Vancouver last year.  Save-On Meats operated for years as a butcher shop providing meat to Downtown Eastside residents at affordable prices.  We talked about the continuity Mark brought to the building and its services, by making it part of his business model and mission to re-open the butcher shop and continue providing meat affordably.  We talked about the objective of connectedness that is instilled in the way the building is used and the thoughtfulness in the way Mark approached the venture including food preparation space for local businesses, a rooftop garden, and collaboration with the City of Vancouver and SOLEfood.  The Save-On Meats diner shares the ground floor with the butcher shop and the second floor serves as a commissary kitchen for restaurants in the Mark Brand group, making the revitalization of the building economically viable.

I posed a couple of questions to the group:  How do you know what your impact is?  How do you know what impact you’re having?  What was interesting was that the responses to this reflected internal signals that someone was having a positive impact in the world (being authentic, feeling energized) as well as external signals (feedback from others around them).   I followed it up with this question:  When other people have supported you, what did you have to do to attract their support?  A shared story attracted supporters that understood the mission, were aligned with and also passionate about the mission.  Someone else in the group suggested that supporters were attracted to  to the “why”, not the “what” or the “how” of someone’s project, venture, or journey.  My reason for putting these questions out there is that this is what businesses and entrepreneurs are faced with when trying to assess their impact.  They are trying to “measure” their impact in order to convince others to join them or support them.

I like to encourage people to think differently about things, so when I get asked a question like “is there such a thing as a bad investment?”, you’re going to get a different sort of answer from me.  I suggested that there is no such thing as a bad investment, just bad fit, bad timing, or a bad decision.  What I mean by that is a good investment in a venture or business happens when it is a good fit with the investor, when it is the right time for the sort of investment made, or when the investment happens based on an integrated decision (emotions, intuition, and analysis aligned).  Good investments go beyond just money.  An investor’s knowledge, experience, and their desire to gain as much information as possible about an investment opportunity can be key to a good investment decision.  In direct investing, an investor’s expertise and network can also make a difference to the success of a business.  If a business seeks a type of investment that is inappropriate for its stage of development (seeking debt too early or equity investment too late), then the outcomes could fail to meet everyone’s expectations.  And I’ve heard of investments gone wrong when someone has invested based on an emotional decision, where the analysis didn’t stack up or relying too heavily on analysis and not trusting one’s intuition.

Folks at the event were curious how they could invest in businesses that were aligned with their values.  This is a message echoed by many people I’ve spoken with in the course of developing the business model for Pique Ventures.

“Overall, the discussion made me curious to learn more about investing in general and impact investing, in particular. I say investing in general because I wasn’t aware of the significance of the [securities] regulations and what impact they had in potentially acting as a ‘barrier to entry’ for a wider range of impact investors, not just the high net worth individuals that you mentioned. I’m curious about the importance of policy as an enabler/inhibitor in social innovation.”

I’ll be posting a 3-part series of posts on sourcing money from the crowd, in which I’ll also touch upon the limitations (and potential opportunities) of investing directly in businesses you really care about.  This will lead into the fourth event in the Pique Ventures conversation series which will be in August.  We’ll be discussing in greater detail what funding and investing by the crowd might look like.

“I really enjoyed the discussion and inquiry into making an impact with our investments.  Awareness was brought to the point that every choice we make is an investment.  Imagine our impact to drive innovation and change when we all choose to invest in projects or businesses that make a difference.
I love what Bonnie is doing, excited to learn more, meet people up to great things and see investing become more friendly to everybody.
I love the possibility that I could smartly invest in a values based business that makes a positive impact in the community and also get support as a small business of impact looking for funding.”

We had so much to discuss, our conversation continued well beyond the scheduled end of the event.  Not to worry, you’ll have another opportunity to join in the conversation on July 24th:  Let’s Talk About Returns, when we’ll be focusing on the money matters of investing with our values.