Interview with our co-director Violaine Des Rosiers in Les Affaires

On November 26, the Government of Canada announced the creation of a $755 million Social Finance Fund, a commitment applauded by the Maison de l’innovation sociale (MIS) in its press release. Stating that the government recognized the relevance of social and environmental innovation to maximize and accelerate the impact of the solutions put forward by agents of change, the MIS also welcomed the establishment of favourable conditions to attract private investments to social impact projects. 

Despite the importance of this news, it has received little media coverage in Québec. However, the newspaper Les Affaires jumped on this announcement and spoke with the co-director of the MIS, Violaine Des Rosiers, about the role of social innovation as a vector for the development of private companies and the importance of revising the tax system and financial tools to encourage their buy-in.

Are there models other than charitable donations to support projects with high social and environmental impact?

According to the co-director, a fund like this will diversify financial tools beyond the model of charitable donations to help businesses and organizations innovate and integrate social and environmental performance into their business strategies. In the article Des crédits et un fonds pour l’innovation sociale (Credits and a fund for social innovation), which is reserved for subscribers to Les Affaires, it draws a parallel between financial tools related to social innovation and government investments in research and development (R&D):

“The Government of Canada now recognizes that social innovation also contributes to the strength of the economy and the well-being of citizens. It is essential to solve the contemporary social, environmental and economic issues that hinder the necessary transformation of society,” continues Violaine Des Rosiers. “The government is therefore inspired by the support it gives to R&D to develop support for social innovation. This involves deploying financial tools and incentives so that those already engaged in social innovation practices can do so on a larger scale and so that other actors, such as private companies, benefit from doing so as well.”

In another excerpt from this article, she gives a concrete example of a private company that integrates social innovation into its business strategy.

Let’s take a concrete example: a food retailer notices that certain trucks in its fleet are doing their routes without being filled to capacity. Conscious of the existence of “food deserts” (areas where residents don’t have access to fresh food within a radius of 750 metres from their homes), the retailer offers charities the ability to load the food they collect to their trucks for easier distribution. The NPO does not have the means to own its own fleet of trucks, but it can pay the cost of these deliveries. Social innovation is not based on charity. The food retailer therefore optimizes its fleet of trucks while tackling a social issue: food deserts. It is a social innovation initiated by a business.

And to continue:

Imagine now that this retailer systematically optimizes all the routes to help fight against food deserts. Shouldn’t the retailer benefit from a tax credit? The Canadian government is currently considering tax incentives for social innovation. This, in anticipation of the upcoming budget and social innovation support strategy, will be unveiled in the spring of 2019. The government is using the support it gives to R&D through grants and tax incentives as a model to develop support for social innovation. This involves deploying financial tools and incentives so that those already engaged in social innovation practices can do so on a larger scale and so that other actors, such as private companies, benefit from doing so as well.

It goes without saying that this announcement will raise social innovation to the ranks of a strategic lever for social, economic and environmental development across the country and that’s excellent news. To read the full article, subscribe to Journal Les Affaires.

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