Investment and Return: Another Angle

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By Groundswell Social Ventures program participant, Dave Ives.

I’ve reached the stage in the ‘GSVI’ process (Groundswell Social Venture Incubator), where I’m learning more about different business models. This got me thinking about the whole subject of ‘investment and return,’ the subject of this blog. Let me start by setting the scene so you know my angle, (not that you have to agree!). I think the words ‘investment’ and ‘return’ have become pretty ugly words today. I immediately associate these words with the world of realty, a world of greed where the rich just keep getting richer. But as I take a moment to pause; step back from my cultural filter and reflect; I am reminded of the positive principles of ‘I&R’ (investment and return) that make it a good and worthy concept to meditate on further (and by meditate I mean fill your mind, not empty it!). A few thoughts…

First, let’s remove money from the equation when speaking of I&R; not that money itself is bad, but we at GS all know that there are plenty of other forms of capital out there; knowledge, space, social, etc…

Second, social ventures are about investing in people. As I think back about the most influential people in my life; my parents, that teacher, a youth worker, close friend; they were all people who invested a huge amount into me; their time, love, trust, patience; not to mention blood, sweat and tears!

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Third, social ventures are about investing in people for their profit. In the context of realty, the one who invests is usually the one who gets the greatest return. In contrast, in the context of community based social ventures, the return is shared between those who invest and those who are being invested in. Think about it…

When we invest in those in need, our motivation and hope is that they will benefit from our efforts, the beauty is that we too also get a return in the process. For example, I used to mentor young people with challenges. I’m pretty sure that they benefitted from my efforts, but I know that I also benefited from seeing them grow and overcome their hurdles. This kind of investment is special because the investors yield a return as well as the investees; and this return is arguably greater than any monetary investment. Can anyone put a price tag on that kind of fulfillment?!

I’m aware that for the sake of this blog, I am stripping back a complex issue into pretty primitive parts, so please forgive me for that. It’s just that I found myself feeling bogged down by how I was going to make money from my social venture and it didn’t feel good. I’m definitely not saying that making a financial profit isn’t a good thing, anyone who wants to stay in business for the long term needs to find a model that generates sustainable revenue; especially if they want to keep living in Vancouver! What I am saying is this; let’s not make financial return our main motivation. Let’s keep hold of why we are doing what we doing; investing in the cause and letting the return follow… and my bet is that the return will be greater than you expected!