So, at the end of the last post, I said that the goal of creating a provincial system of microcredit for artists might seem like a pipe-dream, but for a movement going on called social finance. Social finance is embedded in another concept, social innovation. I’ve mentioned on my website that I never would have thought of exploring microfinance for artists if I hadn’t been fortunate enough through my tenure at CADA-ON to become part of the community at Centre for Social Innovation. (One of the many things that hugely impressed me in my early days at CSI was that they had the sense to include the arts in their mix of social entrepreneurs and nfp organizations. This is not something I take for granted in any organization including the word “social”, because of – you know – that bad smell that still clings about the arts being a frill.)

A major hub of social innovation in Canada is Social Innovation Generation, or SiG, which is a collaborative partnership between The J.W. McConnell Family Foundation, the University of Waterloo, the MaRS Discovery District, and the PLAN Institute. You can click here for SiGs definitions of social innovation and examples including fair trade, microfinance and peacekeeping. In addition to their own, they reference other definitions of social innovation including this one I like:

Specifically, we define social innovations as new ideas (products, services and models) that simultaneously meet social needs (more effectively than alternatives) and create new social relationships or collaborations. In other words they are innovations that are both good for society and enhance society’s capacity to act.
(The Social Innovation eXchange (SIX) and the Young Foundation for the Bureau of European Policy Advisors. (2010). Study on Social Innovation Report, p. 17- 18.)

Then there’s CSIs alternative definition, simply: “…. a social innovation is an idea that works for the public good.”

The environment is a major focus of social innovation, social entrepreneurship and social finance. Social justice is the ultimate goal of global microfinance and fair trade. So social innovation is about changing the world and making it a better place; “changing” and “better” connote values and if we view values through the bifurcated lens of right and left politics, these are values operating within areas that are conventionally left-wing. However, entrepreneurship and social finance operate in the realm of business and the market economy, which many of us associate with a right-wing realm. So social innovation is another convergence and breakdown of bifurcation. (I am guessing that within the world of social finance arguments against it crop up accusing it of being aligned with a right-wing agenda to limit government social spending – a view sticking to conventional bifurcation. I have already noticed that within the fields of social finance and impact investing, proponents are very busy persuading business that social good and profit do not have to be mutually exclusive – breaking down bifurcation always requires action on both sides I guess!)

In my 36-year career as an artist I have continually struggled with the tension between feeling that what I do is less worthwhile than saving the planet or changing laws to achieve greater social justice and my belief in artistic experience as essential to humanity. I don’t remember a moment in my lifetime when those of us in the arts haven’t found it necessary to defend what we do and advocate for its role in society. Often, the context for this is fighting for public funding.

So, I have been mindful that in my quest to achieve a micro-credit program for individual artists in Ontario, soon enough the question will arise – do the arts “belong” in social innovation and finance?

I am just too old and tired of justifying the arts to get involved if the question arises and prefer to look for where the river bends than force through (a lesson learned the hard way I might add). Therefore, I was delighted to discover on the website of a leading light of social finance for nfp organizations and charities, the Community Forward Fund, that two of their case studies were arts organizations, Debaj Creation Centre and Hamilton Artists Inc. (where I had an exhibition myself not too long ago!!). This is a promising sign! (I learned this while attending the forum, Social Finance for Non Profits presented by MaRS Centre for Impact Investing.)

Returning to that definition of social innovation quoted above, my dream for MARProject is for a model that meets the social need of improving the economic status of artists through new relationships and collaborations with microcredit financial institutions, thereby improving artists’ capacity to act for the good of society.

So, I still haven’t made social finance the specific topic of a post, as I’d like to do for artists who have not heard of it. Maybe next time, but I hope a picture is emerging.