Change Agent Series featuring Geoff Cape: award-winning social entrepreneur

Date: June 22, 2010

Time: 6:00pm to 7:00pm followed by reception
Location: Accelerator Centre, 295 Hagey Boulevard, Research and Technology Park

—From the Exchange Magazine—-

WATERLOO – Geoff Cape, award-winning social entrepreneur and Executive Director and co-founder of Evergreen, will be the featured speaker at Capacity Waterloo Region’s third Change Agent Series event June 22 in Waterloo. Cape will talk about Evergreen’s expansion into social enterprise with the new Brick Works development, a centre for innovation and fresh thinking that will inspire future generations to rethink their place in the world.

“We’re delighted to feature Geoff in our Change Agent series,” said Cathy Brothers, Executive Director in Residence at Capacity Waterloo Region. “The series highlights the stories and strategies of social entrepreneurs whose ideas are making change and Geoff is a fantastic example of a leader who is doing just that. He and Evergreen are pushing boundaries and exploring new territory for non-profits, including new ways to fund great work.”

Cape has headed up Evergreen since he co-founded it in 1991. In 1999, he was selected as one of Canada’s “Top 40 Under 40” by The Globe and Mail Report on Business magazine. In 2005, Cape was inducted into an International Fellowship by Ashoka: Innovators for the Public and two years later he won the prestigious Schwab Foundation’s “Canadian Social Entrepreneur of the Year” Award, Canada’s top social entrepreneurship honour.

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Evergreen engages Canadians in creating and sustaining dynamic outdoor spaces—in schools, communities and homes. By deepening the connection between people and nature, and empowering Canadians to take a hands-on approach to their urban environments, Evergreen is improving the health of our cities. Evergreen’s Brick Works is a unique environmental community centre and green cities centre for urban sustainability currently under construction in the heart of Toronto’s Don River Valley. This natural and industrial heritage site and its ongoing engaging programming, from Farmers’ Markets to seminars and plantings, is already inspiring and educating the community to embrace a sustainable future.

The Change Agent series is part of Capacity Waterloo Region’s efforts to develop an enabling environment for non-profits and social ventures that brings together resources from all sectors to support the people and ideas that build lasting social change.

The evening will also feature a major announcement from The Cowan Foundation and Capacity Waterloo Region. Cowan is also the sponsor for this event.

Two Emerging Trends

Two emerging trends are coinciding that are changing the way we give back to the community . The first trend is the recognition that Not-for-Profit Organizations must grasp online technology and social media to maximize their efforts. The other trend is a burgeoning generation of young professionals that want to contribute to the greater social good. How can we effectively engage this generation so that they can have that positive effect on the greater social good?

In the heart of the technology industry in Waterloo, Ontario I have seen the dizzying advance of technology in all parts of our lives. Everyone is carrying around a mobile computing platform that they continually check for up-to-date weather, emails, restaurants, stock quotes, twitter feeds, facebook messages, and the list goes on. Then they go home to their computer and are continually checking Twitter, Facebook, and Digg feeds (amongst hundreds of other social media tools) to keep track of the world around them. Our lives have become interwoven with the ebb and flow of the online world.

While the ordinary citizens are beginning to take their mobile device and online experience for granted as a matter of daily life, companies and organizations are desperately trying to keep up with emerging trends in online technology to increase their exposure and services to maximize their profits. Some have successfully grasped the rapidly changing nature of technology and social media, while others simply can’t keep up due to a lack of understanding, resources, and energy.

The case for Not-for-Profit Organizations

There is a particular type of organization that are in a unique position when it comes to the use of social media and online technology. That is, the Not-for-Profit Organization (NPO) with a social cause. A NPO can stand to gain everything from effectively using social media in increasing their organization’s exposure, running advocacy campaigns, and finding new sources of funding to continue and expand their work. However, NPOs have a fundamental weakness that is inherent in their operations, and that is, the lack of a sustainable and healthy funding source. Because of that weakness, many NPOs are unable to keep up with this dizzying advance of technology because of a lack in resources, usually in the form of a lack of employee time.

This inability to keep up may leave some NPOs apathetic about effectively using social media and emerging online technology which creates a cycle that leaves them further and further away from their online presence and greater public exposure.

The Emerging Trend of the Young Professional

The situation may seem bleak for these NPOs, but there is another emerging trend that is gaining momentum. That trend is the willingness and energy of young people in the technical-skills professions that want to contribute to a greater social impact. Those technical-skills professions lie in the financial, graphic design, web design, engineering, computer science fields, to name a few. These young people have graduated from university and college with a technical degree and are immediately thrust into the corporate world where they will make the big bucks and be put to work to maximize the profits of their respective corporations. But it isn’t only about the money anymore for these young professionals. They want to create a greater social impact on the world around them and not only an impact on the quarterly reports of their corporations.

So, that’s the situation we have right now. We have NPOs that know they need to develop their social media and online presence to maximize their efforts but are being left behind and we have an emerging class of young professions that want to contribute to a greater social impact.

So how will we effectively engage this generation of young professionals to contribute to the greater social good?

A Solution: Time for Change

One such example of a social venture to bridge the gap between the young professionals and the not-for-profit sector is the Time for Change initiative. The inaugural event took place on December 3rd, 2009 at the HotShots Gallery in Toronto, Ontario. The event was a silent photo auction, but instead of participants bidding money, they bid time in the form of hours that will be matched with not-for-profit organizations. The event raised 517 hours from the participants with matching hours from the organizers (including myself) to a total of 1,034 hours for 12 auctioned photos. The organizers will then match those hours from the participants with various organizations in the community in the form of volunteer time.

Most of the participants were coming from a corporate background and were around the ages of 23 to 30. Most had technical skills in computer science, graphic design, web design, accounting, marketing, etc. and most wanted to find a way to give back to the greater social good. This event presented itself as such an opportunity. Each participant will be contacted personally by us, the organizers, Kristina Lugo (@kristinalugo), Ruby Ku (@rubyku), Renjie Butalid (@renjie), and Nick Petten (@petten) to find which technical skills they would like to contribute to the advancement of a not-for-profit organization. We then work with the organizations to find out how those technical skills can be applied to their operations.

An Experiment in Social Impact

We openly state that this is an experiment to see how the concept will work in the real world. We don’t necessarily have all the solutions to creating the relationships between the young professionals, the organizers and the NPOs. We are going to critically assess each method we use and listen to the feedback of each participant and organization involved. Our fundamental philosophy is that of creating a relationship between both sectors, the corporate sector where the young professionals work and the NPO sector so that we can all contribute to a greater social impact.

To find out more about the Time for Change initiative, visit our blog at: www.t4change.com. And search Twitter with the hashtag: #t4change for the latest discussions on the subject.