World Vision Canada Social Innovation Challenge creates long-term global impact

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There’s a proverb in the Philippines that says: while the blanket is short, learn to bend. The saying teaches its listeners to make use of what they have.

Such is the case with World Vision Canada. Founded in 1957 and today deeply entrenched in community development work in over 99 countries around the world — including the Philippines — World Vision staff realized that they were making a difference but could have far more impact if they made another use of their connections.

They were uniquely positioned both to hear about real challenges from their community partners and to be aware of the growing movement of social innovators across Canada, people who wanted to develop businesses that were good for people and planet as well as profit. Josh Folkema, Senior Lead, Operations, Research & Development, Data Management - Impact Investing at World Vision, recognized that they could bring the two groups together so that the community partners could crowdsource creative solutions to real problems while these social innovators could both work on real, pressing problems and have the opportunity to test and refine their solutions in concert with the community partners.

Four years ago, they turned to an emerging model with the development of their Social Innovation Challenge. This annual pitch competition invites entrepreneurs and innovators looking to make a social impact on the world to create business solutions that address some of the difficult development challenges that have been identified by those living in these communities.

A new direction for 2019

The first three challenges addressed broad challenges – the 2016 focus was water, sanitation and health, 2017 addressed energy poverty, and 2018 considered food security and nutrition – but this year’s challenge was far more targeted.

It was also the first year to take a human-centred approach — where a specific community is involved from problem identification right through to solution.

The community involved in the 2019 challenge is the island of Iloilo in the Philippines, and more specifically the people of Sto. Nino Sur and Sto. Nino Norte. Canadian social innovators were asked to tackle that community’s challenge of waste disposal. This is a major problem in the Philippines, which is ranked as the third worst plastic polluter in world, contributing nearly two million tonnes of plastic waste into the ocean each year, in addition to mismanaged waste throughout the country.

Last fall, after the World Vision team announced the 2019 challenge, various partners across the country took it up, with engineering professors adding the challenge to their course curricula and social innovation hubs promoting the challenge. By the end of February, 46 teams of innovators from across the country had responded to the challenge, submitting their business models. From there, the ideas were evaluated by community members and staff on the ground in the Philippines, and a short list of five finalist teams was announced. Those teams spent two months going through an online-based social innovation acceleration model where they were coached on their business model as well as how to pitch their idea at the June pitch competition.

Introducing the finalists

The five finalist teams vying for the prize of $25,000 in project seed capital from World Vision as well as business development support for a year and a trip to the field to help them implement their idea with the Philippines team were the following:

LocalLife, a team offeringa segmented plan starting with a large-scale education program leading into community-wide clean-ups and local refill stations.

Virtuous Waste, whose goal is to reinvent how products are packaged, replacing plastic with natural seaweed packaging.

Oru, who isdeveloping a company employing local people to produce a paper-like alternative to single-use plastics, made of ingredients that are natural, waterproof, biodegradable and local to the community.

PEI Station, which turns waste into profitable products, using green technology to repurpose plastic into marketable products, providing job opportunities and motivation for recycling for local residents.

Umalalay, who focuses on offering cash for trash, as well as educating and empowering communities and their residents to see the opportunities in reverse value chains of waste.

Antoinette Marie, Associate with World Vision Canada’s Impact Investing, says, “This process has been very contextually relevant and impactful because it has integrated the community in Iloilo. That community has responded with enthusiasm, with government officials and industries eager to partner with these innovative Canadian teams as soon as possible.”

And the winner is...

But these companies and government officials had to wait until after the June 19 pitch competition at which the five teams competed for the prize. The pitch competition was judged by a panel of four judges: Kamran Kamal, Senior Director, Market-Creating Innovation and Enterprise Initiatives, World Vision Canada; Vanessa Rementilla, Executive Director, Experience Design Strategy, Cineplex Digital Media; Rommel Fuerte, Executive Director, World Vision Development Foundation and National Director of World Vision Philippines; and, James Pothirajulu, VP of Programs and Policy, World Vision Canada.

Rementilla who was born in the Philippines and who has family in the very community of the challenge, says, “As judges we weighed three factors: what was desirable and needed in the community, what was feasible in the local context, and whether ideas were viable from a business perspective.” Of the winning idea, she adds, “As a start-up, they will go through many challenges and see whether their novel idea will take, but if it does, the idea could have much greater impact throughout the Philippines and beyond. That’s the really exciting part.”

The project the judges ultimately chose was Virtuous Waste. Rementilla says of this project, “Seaweed is an abundant resource that has largely been untapped and has potential to add value to the challenge of reducing waste.”

Kristen Fajardo of the winning all-female team from the University of Waterloo’s Global Business and Digital Arts program is enthusiastic about the experience. “This has been such a unique learning opportunity. I feel so fortunate to work with a supportive team on a project that really hits home for me. Being raised in a Filipino household, I have always heard about the struggles of growing up in a place where environmental issues are so visible. I’m happy and thankful to hopefully make a positive change in these affected communities, and one day, around the world.” Over the next year, the team will work with the World Vision team in the Philippines to refine and test their ideas.

Creating long-term impact

Wanting to keep in mind the reason for the pitch competition, the World Vision team sought to connect the pitch competition event with the Filipino community as much as possible. With the help of generous sponsors, the event – attended by more than 100 investors and leaders interested in World Vision’s work in this area – was held on June 19 at Toronto’s Artscape Daniels Launchpad, with food catered by a Filipino chef and a Filipino artist creating artistic activations at the event. The competition was also livestreamed in the Philippines.

The pitch competition was also an opportunity for World Vision to off a prelaunch of their newly rebranded impact investing arm, Origin Capital. Marie says, “We know that people donate to causes they believe in and we believe this should also be extended to where people put their investments. Our goal is to help enable that. Origin Capital is still part of World Vision but is organized separately as an impact investment branch that goes beyond World Vision’s historical philanthropic work. We were delighted that investors came out to the Social Innovation Challenge so that we could show them that we aren’t simply talking about creating impact and fighting the root causes of inequality, but we are also doing it and investing in it.”

Not only are investors seeing the value of social innovation, so are World Vision’s partners. After the success of four Canadian-based Social Innovation Challenges, the model is being replicated in a variety of countries throughout the world, including the US, Ethiopia and more. The pitch competitions will be open to entrepreneurs in developing countries just as these ones have been open to Canadians.

Marie returns to the Filipino proverb that invites people to use well the resources they have. “No organization knows it all, has it all or understands it all. We are here to innovate and iterate, just as we’ve asked the teams in the Challenge to do, and we’ve asked our investors and donors to do. In that pursuit, we are constantly learning and developing new partnerships so that together we can make a difference in real-world challenges.”

CharityVillage and Bmeaningful were proud to be media partners in support of the 2019 Social Innovation Challenge.

Susan Fish is a writer/editor at Storywell, a company that helps individuals and organizations tell their story well. She has written for the nonprofit sector for more than two decades and loves a good story.

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