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Social Change Requires More Than Just a Retweet

Posted on March 26, 2015 in Sector News

Last week, as the sun shone on one of the warmest days Toronto has seen in a while, my neighbour hanged himself in the locker room of our apartment building. I didn’t know him. I hardly said two words to him, a reality I now regret. Still, the act left me winded. That a man in the prime of his life, newly married to boot, with “a promising future,” would end his life was distressing enough. But the reaction of others was troubling too.

Some fellow tenants have been tsk-tsking ever since his untimely death, questioning the man’s apathetic demeanour, his irrational decision to leave a recent job without a Plan B and an inability to appreciate his new bride and seemingly perfect life. These post-mortem arbiters are judging the decisions of a man they hardly knew, whose actions they don’t understand and seem disinclined to even try.

If they did, they’d see the all-too familiar, yet often silent, footsteps of depression tracing this man’s most recent path. They’d comprehend that the disease doesn’t discriminate as to whom it touches, whose lives it turns upside down, whose decisions it derails and whose loved ones it leaves behind, shaken to their very core.

In 2009 there were 3,890 suicides in Canada, a rate of 11.5 per 100,000 people, with mental illness the most common precursor. To be sure, there are many out there fighting these statistics — and fighting hard. It’s heart-warming to see such initiatives like Bell Let’s Talk day reducing stigma and elevating the conversation around mental health toward greater understanding and giving the battle-weary motivation to reach out for help.

The Jan 28 event inspired active online engagement, attracted celebrity endorsements and the attention of media, all the while raising vital charitable dollars. But a one-day social media event is not enough to significantly move the needle away from ignorance, fear and silence. After all, what happens the next day, and the day after that?

Social change requires more than a social media plan. It requires a long-term sustainable strategy. Because in our content-rich, highly distracted world, passion is sometimes overrun by profit, causes are sidestepped by things like limited overhead and the desire to stay current fuels an unyielding need to move onto the next big thing.

Mental health issues, like other social challenges, can’t be fought in the boxing ring of virtual popularity contests or social media hype. They can’t be properly addressed without looking them straight in the eye the day after the event’s done, when the dishes are piled up in the sink and the guests who promised to help clean up have long gone. Because that’s when the work really begins. That’s when real change happens.

Suicide and mental health must establish themselves as vital and dedicated parts of our everyday conversations. Maybe then people like my neighbour would have a fighting chance to counter the ingrained belief that opening up and asking for support is only for the weak. Maybe then others wouldn’t so easily dismiss his actions without attempting to understand them.

Our fight against stigma — like our fight for any social cause — needs to move beyond a hashtag culture so easily sidetracked by followers, re-tweets and brand promotion that it forgets about the real purpose behind any social campaign: long-term sustainable impact.

Originally published in the Huffington Post

Elisa Birnbaum is the co-founder, publisher and editor-in-chief of SEE Change Magazine, and works as a freelance journalist, producer and communications consultant. She is also the president of Elle Communications.




Juma Ventures and Super Bowl 50 Fund create reliable jobs for low-income youth

Posted on March 26, 2015 in Sector News

from Tamara Orozco, Marketing and Communications Manager at Juma Ventures

Juma Ventures uses the power of social enterprise to drive opportunity for low-income youth. Juma was thrilled to have been one among five recently awarded the ‘Game Changer’ grant by the San Francisco Bay Area Super Bowl 50 Host Committee to enhance their work serving Bay Area teens. As a ‘Game Changer,’ Juma will receive $500,000 to deepen and expand their work, providing employment opportunities, financial literacy and academic assistance to Bay Area young people. This partnership is valuable to the world of social entrepreneurship and beyond as it will provide more employment and asset building opportunities for young people at a time when youth employment is at an historic low and debt from student loans is at an all-time high.

Today, a four-year college degree is worth, on average, $1 million in additional lifetime earnings, but nearly half of all U.S. adults have a high school degree or less. For those workers, when the labor market hit bottom two years ago, it never recovered, turning every job search into a zero sum game: In order for you to get a job, someone else had to lose his.

Closing the opportunity gap in education is an essential strategy to creating a more just and equitable society, a challenge that has worsened in recent years. In the U.S., 30.6% of non-Hispanic Whites possess at least a baccalaureate degree, in contrast to only 12.1% of Hispanics and 17.6% of African Americans.

Juma is responding to a growing educational and financial crisis. Through partnerships with sports stadium concessionaires, Juma employed 958 youth in six cities in 2014 -- 641 of these in the Bay Area. Juma sets up Individual Development Accounts for youth to save money and provides a two-to-one match for every dollar that is saved, turning $1,000 into $3,000 that can be used for higher education.

With Super Bowl grant funding, Juma will be able to expand our Bay Area social enterprises to include new enterprises in the Moscone Center, Oracle Arena, and Avaya and Spartan stadiums. These new enterprises will yield a combined increase of net sales from $1,712,869 to $2,467,395 (44%), youth employment from 285 to 340 (19%), and youth wages from $444,182 to $543,411 (22%). Those 55 additional high school participants will be substantially better prepared for the world of work, learn how to manage money, save over $1,000 (matched) for college, and have the support to address their academic challenges. The impact is substantial. An additional 53 low-income youth will graduate high school, and 52 of these will go to college.

To date, Juma has employed 4,000 low-income students who have generated $20 million in enterprise revenue, earned $4 million in wages, and saved more than $2 million for college. For most youth, Juma is a first job experience. “We believe that the world’s greatest social service program is a job,” says Marc Spencer, CEO of Juma. “At a job, you learn to show up on time, take personal responsibility, and become a leader. It’s about more than a paycheck. Early employment correlates with better paying careers later in life.”

Partnering with the Super Bowl 50 Fund is an exciting endeavor that will expand opportunities for the Bay Area’s most vulnerable youth. Juma is looking forward to sharing the impact.


Two Nonprofit Accelerator Graduates Launch New Social Ventures

Posted on March 26, 2015 in Sector News

The Colorado Nonprofit Social Enterprise Exchange (The Exchange)—a project of interSector Partners, L3C and JVoyles Nonprofit Consulting—announces the launch of two new social enterprises developed by graduates of The Exchange.

Since graduating from the formal accelerator program in April 2014, eight nonprofits have been further developing business plans and raising start-up capital toward launch of their new businesses. These two new for-profit social ventures will create earned revenue to support the nonprofits’ missions and / or economic opportunity for the communities they serve.

Strong, Smart and Bold Beans is a social venture of Girls Incorporated of Metro Denver. This coffee cart-business, located in the new Corky Gonzales Library, will employ participants in the Girls Inc. program providing them with job skills, an entrepreneurial mindset and part-time employment. Proceeds from the coffee cart will allow Girls Inc. to support its mission-focused programming. Strong, Smart and Bold Beans holds its grand opening on Thursday, March 5th,
from 4 p.m. – 6 p.m. at 1498 Julian Street, Denver, CO.

The Safety Store at South Campus, a project of Children’s Health Advocacy Institute at Children’s Hospital Colorado, is set to welcome the community on Saturday, February 28th, from 10 a.m. – 1 p.m. at the Children’s Hospital South Campus, 1811 Plaza Drive, Highlands Ranch, CO. The new social venture capitalizes on CHAI’s expertise in child safety and injury prevention by selling top-rated safety products and providing access to trained safety experts
who provide guidance on everything from how to select and install a car seat to how to childproof your home.

Business launches are the culmination of the business ideation and development program that helps nonprofits create new businesses in support of their missions. Their motivations for considering social enterprise include loss of government and other funding, a desire to build more sustainable nonprofits, the chance to direct more funding toward mission-focused activities and the opportunity to employ clients.

Through the support of generous funding from The Denver Foundation, Rose Community Foundation, The Piton Foundation, Third Generation of Hunt Alternatives, Anschutz Foundation, Bright Mountain Foundation and local community sponsors such as Vectra Bank and Emily Davis and Associates Consulting, The Exchange is offered to nonprofits at a significantly subsidized rate of $7,500 per organization, which includes including the core curriculum and a year of launch and implementation support.

Information on the inaugural Social Enterprise Cohort can be found at: and the 2015 Social Enterprise Cohort overview is available at:


The Four Stages of Social Alchemy: Transforming problems into ideas that change the world

Posted on November 20, 2014 in Sector News

Transformative social change is the new standard for the social sector, and impact the bottom line. But, what does this mean and how do we get there?

Like millions around the world, we were saddened this summer by the sudden passing of Robin Williams, a true original. We were particularly moved by his words, “No matter what people tell you, words and ideas can change the world.” At Social Impact Architects, we strive to understand and help define the transformative process that must occur in order for this to happen in the social sector.

Transformative social change is the new standard for the social sector, and impact is the new bottom line. But, what does this mean and how do we get there? These questions have been circulating around our office for the past year, and this summer we set out to answer them. Transformative social change always starts with a problem needing to be solved. The social sector’s responsibility is to take that problem, transform it into an idea and then an impactful solution, which can be scaled to create change. But, how can we get better at creating this “social alchemy”?

Here are some of our initial thoughts on the four stages of turning a problem into social gold:


In the first stage we are scientists, uncovering the problem and developing hypotheses. Rather than jumping to a solution, we believe design thinking is a more effective approach. Design thinking combines empathy for the problem, creativity for solutions and rationality for the best fit. In his TEDTalk, Tim Brown, CEO of IDEO – one of the leading companies in design thinking – posits that design thinking can and should be used to tackle new and bigger problems, such as global warming, healthcare, education, etc. To innovate, we must first understand the problem from all the angles, including why it exists and why it persists. We cannot jump to the idea until all the research is done and we have brainstormed all the possible ideas.


In the second stage, we are engineers, measuring and testing the idea for its impact. If the idea has merit, it will move through a virtuous cycle of continuous improvement – BUILD -> MEASURE -> LEARN – until impact has been proven through extensive evaluation. If the idea is problematic, it may need to go back to the Innovate stage to be re-developed. This is not seen as failure, but instead as a rapid prototyping process where ideas are tested quickly and are allowed to fail early and cheaply. In the social sector, we also call this stage the “Lean Start-Up,” which can be a valuable way to design a program where impact has already been proven and can be customized for a local context.

Impact & Scale

In the third and fourth stages, we have proven impact and now need to take the idea to scale. We are franchise owners, focused on replicating THE idea in a number of different environments. In the social sector, THE idea – often a program or organization – has many layers and the element(s) that are most impactful are difficult to unravel. The first step is to develop a list of elements that are core to the impactful idea and that are non-essential to impact, and test their success separately. As we continue to think about social alchemy, it begs more questions of us and the social sector as a whole. For example, we love to innovate, but how good are we at taking it to impact and scale? We need to scale, but are we starting with well-designed ideas? What processes and supports need to be in place to assist with this transformation?

Here is some food for thought on the topic by one of our favorite authors, Paulo Coelho, who wrote in The Alchemist: “This is why alchemy exists….So that everyone will search for his treasure, find it, and then want to be better than he was in his former life. … That’s what alchemists do. They show that, when we strive to become better than we are, everything around us becomes better too.”

We must strive to become better at transforming problems into ideas that will change the world.

Suzanne Smith is a serial social entrepreneur and bridges many disciplines as a coach and consultant to social sector organizations as Founder and Managing Director of Social Impact Architects and Co-Founder of Flywheel: Social Enterprise Hub. She also educates future social entrepreneurs as a frequent guest lecturer at campuses across the country and as Adjunct Professor at the University of North Texas and Research Fellow at the Center for the Advancement of Social Entrepreneurship at Duke University. She is also a leading author, blogger (@socialtrendspot), and top-rated speaker.



An Introduction to SROI: Evaluator's Cut

Posted on November 20, 2014 in Sector News

The world of program evaluation, like any other, has its hot topics. Multi-methods evaluation, developmental evaluation and data visualization are a few of the things evaluators have been buzzing about recently. At the 2014 annual Canadian Evaluation Society conference in Ottawa, Social Return on Investment (SROI) splashed onto the evaluation scene in Canada with three interesting and diverse presentations on the topic. More about that later.

First, for those not familiar with it: What is SROI? The international SROI Network defines SROI as “…an approach to understanding and managing the value of the social, economic and environmental outcomes created by an activity or an organization.” It is a principles-based approach that seeks to reflect the net social, economic and/or environmental value for stakeholders and change that is often not valued or described in monetary terms.

The international SROI Network further highlights that the approach aims to give participants a voice in resource allocation decisions and that it is “a story and not a number.” This is a reference to something that stands out the first time you read an SROI report: the SROI ratio, which describes the net social, economic and/or environmental return for every dollar invested in the program in financial terms (e.g. an SROI ratio of 3.14:1 indicates a $3.14 social return for every $1 invested in the program).

So where does SROI fit into the larger evaluation world and what does it add? What makes it unique and when is it best used? As an evaluator, I see SROI as a tool that can help me, the program staff, participants and funders to understand program cost, efficiency, and effectiveness in terms of value. I think this goes broader than the Rossi et al. conceptualization of the assessment of program cost and efficiency, because it includes an analysis of the financial and in kind input, as well as the value created and consumed for various stakeholders that experience change due to the program. If you are an evaluator thinking of using the SROI methodology, the good news is that the front end of an SROI analysis is an outcome-based evaluation.

Scoping, identifying key stakeholders, clarifying the program’s theory of change, and mapping and measuring outcomes for each program activity are all standard parts of an SROI analysis. Some of SROI’s unique attributes are that:

  • It goes further to research and assign financial proxies for those outcomes that allow for it
  • It typically takes a broader look at outcomes for various target stakeholders and not just the program’s target participants (e.g. funders, communities, siblings and parents of target participants and public services)


  • It advocates for and applies a built in, standardized process of differentiating between outcomes and impact by calculating discount rate, attribution, deadweight, drop-off and displacement to ensure a defensible SROI is calculated (avoiding over-claiming of the social return)
  • It tells the story of change for stakeholders, using both qualitative and quantitative change descriptions from the outcome-based evaluation as well as a description, in financial terms, of the net value created for stakeholders (this is the SROI ratio)

The three SROI sessions at the evaluation conference mentioned at the beginning of this article provide a good snapshot of where SROI is currently surfacing in the Canadian evaluation landscape. The presentations were about: (i) three evaluator’s experiences conducting an SROI analysis for the first time; (ii) an emerging meta-analysis of 150 SROI reports; and (iii) an introduction to SROI for evaluators by a leading Canadian practitioner. SROI is most definitely being discussed, considered and utilized by Canadian evaluators and program staff. It is also reaching a level of maturity and exposure where robust discussions can be had about the appropriate use of and assumptions behind the methodology.

Through various networks and within multiple private, public and non-profit organizations, the community of SROI practitioners and users are growing, leading to a growing body of knowledge and work that informs SROI practice.

SROI has come into my sparse ‘assessment of program cost & efficiency’ toolbox at an opportune time as I have become more aware of and involved in social change, partnership and entrepreneurship initiatives. The SROI methodology is providing this evaluator with a flexible but grounded approach to help program staff, participants and funders measure, understand and talk about social change.

For more information on the methodology and to get involved in the social value measurement conversation, visit:

The SROI Network. (2012). A guide to Social Return on Investment. (2nd ed.).
Rossi, P.H., Lipsey, M.W., & Freeman, H.E. (2004). Evaluation. A systematic approach. (7th ed.). Thousand Oaks: Sage 

Jasper Buys joined SiMPACT Strategy Group in June of 2014 after a number of years focused on strategic planning and evaluation at Athabasca University. Jasper holds a Master of Social Sciences degree in Organizational Psychology from the University of Cape Town in South Africa. His focus at SiMPACT is in SROI and evaluation consulting for various federally, provincially and foundation funded programs and initiatives that aim to create positive social, economic and/or environmental impact. Jasper is a director of the Alberta and North West Territories Chapter of the Canadian Evaluation Society, a Rotarian and a self-appointed ambassador for the fine wines of South Africa. Jasper and his wife, Lecia, live in Calgary with their energetic Labrador puppy, Nelson.


A Campaign to Encourage Employers to Give Traditional Hiring Practices the Day Off

Posted on November 20, 2014 in Sector News

Today in the United States, companies are struggling to fill more than 4 million entry-level positions, while 6 million 16- to- 24 year olds remain out of school and out of work. These young adults, known as opportunity youth, are motivated, loyal, hard workers, but they lack opportunity, often because they have yet to earn the traditional credentials that employers value. These young adults represent an unrealized opportunity for employers nationwide to access millions of talented workers and to grow their businesses and the economy.

To close this divide between our employers in need of talent and our young people in need of opportunity, we are thrilled to announce the new Grads of Life campaign. Grads of Life is a national Public Service Announcement (PSA) campaign designed to transform employers’ perceptions of opportunity youth from social liabilities to essential economic assets and call businesses to act. Specifically, the PSA campaign encourages employers to rethink their hiring practices and equips them with the information and tools to find, cultivate, and train this great pool of untapped talent at The comprehensive multi-media campaign, comprised of TV, radio, print, outdoor and digital ads, was developed by a coalition of nonprofit partners in collaboration with the Ad Council and Arnold Worldwide.

The PSA drives viewers to, an online resource designed to provide employers of all sizes across sectors with the information and the tools they need to learn about, invest in, and customize pathways to work within their companies. features success stories that identify and spotlight employers who are investing in employment pathways and a Partner Directory that provides employers with access to a vetted list of community-based partners that they can collaborate with to build pathway opportunities. Whether an employer wants to develop and engage young talent to produce a workforce with technical, academic, and professional skills, or wants to discover an alternative model for selecting the strongest and best part-time or full-time employees, can help.

Innovative employers across the U.S. have created pathways to employment programs and are realizing the competitive advantage of a reliable pipeline of entry-level employees with skills that match their business needs. However, many more employers need to get in the game and learn how employment pathway models like mentoring, internships, school-to-work, and hiring pathways can help their businesses build a better workforce from a historically overlooked talent pool of motivated young adults.

As committed partners, whether in business, non-profit, philanthropy or government, your energy and expertise are essential to propel employers to consider opportunity youth as a reliable source of skilled workers, and to spur businesses to act by creating more opportunities for underserved youth in our country. As we spread the word, we are actively seeking partners to amplify the campaign’s message: ranging from non-profit stakeholders to philanthropic supporters.

We encourage readers to explore and for more information, please contact the Grads of Life campaign at


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