COVID-19 UPDATE: To read how VCIB is ready to help organizations that may need our support during these unprecedented times, click here.

Connection is critical

To my LinkedIn community –

Many of you may have read Vancity Community Investment Bank CEO @Jay-Ann Gilfoy’s recent post on how at the bank we continue to work with our clients, community members, and other organizations during these uncertain times. Our mission has always been to use the tools of finance to create positive social, environmental, and cultural change, and this remains true now more than ever.

I’d like to extend a heartfelt thank you to my team, who has been working tirelessly to help our clients facing COVID-19 related financial challenges. Our clients are change-makers in their sectors and require creative solutions to continue their values-based work, and it has made me immensely proud to see my team in action over the past weeks, delivering amidst great uncertainty – and doing it all remotely while practicing social distancing.

If your team is also working in overdrive or facing new and stressful challenges due to remote work, I thought I’d share some tactics VCIB has put into place to help keep motivated, to support our clients, and most importantly, to stay mentally healthy:

Virtual Coffee Talks

Like a touch base at the water cooler or café, we have encouraged our team members to set up a daily “virtual coffee talk” with another team member, including those they may not know particularly well. 100% social, these are personal check-ins with an emphasis on non-work talk. With virtual conversations focusing primarily around work, we think it’s also important to ensure people prioritize staying socially connected. Sharing some time and conversation with a colleague is a simple, grounding act that acts as a welcome moment of reprieve.

Happy Hour – From Afar

To minimize potential cabin fever, VCIB is hosting a virtual Happy Hour every Friday for the next few weeks. Our team members are invited to bring a snack, a drink, and even a pet for some virtual team fun and bonding (at a distance).

Lens of Compassion

As a bank that focuses on compassion as a driver for the work we do in the community, it’s important we turn that lens internally at times like these. When people get busy and stressed in isolation, compassion may slip by the wayside. As a leader, I am committed to asking – and listening – to how my team members are coping. I trust them and know the work will get done, but it’s the compassion that we bring to each other in this uncertain time that will prevent mental distress and burnout. I’m encouraging all leaders to consider focusing on your people while they focus on the work. They need you.

I recognize I’m in a position of privilege to share these thoughts, and I understand that COVID-19 will hit the poor and the marginalized the hardest. Social distancing and remote work are not opportunities that are shared equally, and we must all do everything we can to ensure that the most vulnerable in the community are supported during this difficult time.

We’re working on building partnerships in our communities to help direct support where it’s needed most, stay tuned for further updates from @Jay-Ann Gilfoy.

Stay healthy, and let’s take care of each other.

Supporting Communities Affected by COVID-19

I know we’re all feeling the discomfort that comes from the current unprecedented time we that have been living in over these last few weeks. Like me, I hope you’re also feeling inspired by the outpouring of generous and creative responses to the pandemic and support for those most affected.

At VCIB, our client base is exclusively made up of organizations driving social, environmental and economic change. These are non-profits and social enterprises who do challenging work even in the best of times. We have always said that what makes us different than a traditional financial institution is our ability to design creative solutions for our clients’ needs, and we will continue to do so during this time.

Community is at the heart of our name and our mission, and we’re proud to share that we’ve partnered with the Toronto Foundation to launch the Better Toronto Coalition. This initiative will connect concerned residents with non-profit leaders and help deliver rapid-response support to organizations delivering essential services to our city’s most vulnerable.

We know that not all Torontonians will be equally affected by this crisis, and this coalition will bring us together to help our neighbours and friends whose lives have been turned upside down by loss of income, lack of access to services and mental health challenges.

Here’s how to get involved:

If you’re a donor, community partner, or concerned Torontonian, join the Better Toronto Coalition on weekly webinars where we’ll hear from non-profit leaders about what they’re seeing and feeling in response to COVID-19. We’ll talk about where donations are most needed and what other kinds of supports are valuable.

For those looking for a central place to give, Toronto Foundation has established the Better Toronto Coalition Fund where you can pool your donation to support organizations on the front lines. All funding will be 100% unrestricted. By supporting a coordinated effort, we ensure that no one is left behind.

To learn more about how you or your organization can support or contribute to the coalition, please visit: https://torontofoundation.ca/better-toronto-coalition.

With all that said, you do not have to contribute to the fund to be part of the coalition. Anyone can participate in the webinars to meet and hear from the organizations keeping our communities afloat. We also encourage you to give directly to any number of vital organizations on the ground. The Toronto Foundation is keeping a great list of organizations on their website for you to consider.

What’s next

At VCIB we believe that financial institutions can and must play a key role in enabling and shaping ambitious solutions — this applies to the climate crisis, the affordability crisis, issues of economic injustice, and to this pandemic. In addition to the philanthropic community, we also hope to see other financial institutions participate in this coalition and fund and we are working to engage other banks, credit unions and insurance companies to be part of scaling this work.

It is easy to feel isolated right now – both figuratively and literally – and that can be deeply unsettling. One thing research tell us is that one of the best ways to stay resilient in the face of challenges is to reach out, to act, and to be a part of something bigger than ourselves. And this is what continues to motivate me and my team.

What we’re doing here today is the kind of work that will sustain us as individuals and organizations. The COVID-19 crisis will stabilize and pass, but the work that we do to create more inclusive, affordable and sustainable communities will remain and will be as critical as ever.

I’m looking forward to being part of this coalition and continuing to foster these impactful partnerships as we navigate the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond.

Jay-Ann Gilfoy

Chief Executive Officer

Vancity Community Investment Bank

An Update from VCIB regarding COVID-19

Just like many of you, we’re closely following recent events related to the COVID-19 pandemic. I wanted to let you know how we’re responding and to say that all of us here at Vancity Community Investment Bank are ready to help organizations that may need our support during these unprecedented times.

As a values-based financial institution, we know that our clients are change-makers who focus on making our communities a better place. The work they do and the investments they make are not just business as usual. For people to do that work, especially in times of uncertainty, we know they need a unique type of service and support.

Our team is here to continue to have forward-looking conversations and help manage the challenges many of these organizations face during this time of great uncertainty. We are in this journey together for the long term, both when times are good, and when they’re more challenging.

For our clients who are facing financial challenges related to COVID-19, or if we can be of some other support in any way, please let us know and contact your Account Manager directly.

We are currently following the latest advice from our provincial and federal health agencies regarding social distancing, and have our team working remotely, to ensure we can protect the health and well being of our employees, and to continue our operations without interruption.

Across the bank, we are restricting business travel, requiring self-isolation for employees travelling from

impacted countries, encouraging virtual meetings, and re-evaluating our guidelines around events. We will continue to evolve this approach based on the advice of public health officials.

I know we’re all feeling the discomfort that comes from the rapid pace of change these past few weeks have seen. However, the measures and market positions we’ve taken as a bank position us well to manage through the current market, and leave us well-prepared to continue building the sustainable tomorrow we all believe in.

Amidst a rapidly evolving environment, the one thing that hasn’t changed is our dedication to the success of those organizations making our communities a better place to live.

Sincerely,

Jay-Ann Gilfoy

Chief Executive Officer

Vancity Community Investment Bank

Every Degree Matters: Five Take-Aways from the Global Alliance on Banking Values Summit

On February 26, I had the privilege of representing Vancity Community Investment Bank (VCIB) at the Global Alliance on Banking Values Summit. Hosted in Bern, Switzerland, the gathering brought together the 65 members banks of the Global Alliance on Banking Values to grapple with the conference theme: how ‘every degree matters’ in the fight against climate change. Here are my top five take-aways.

1. Poverty and the climate are interwoven and the climate fight is global

In the global north, when we think about fighting climate change with finance, we often think about financing big solar or wind projects. We also tend to think about this work as separate from poverty alleviation efforts. In the global south, things are different.

The conference was attended by representatives from member banks in Bangladesh, India, and countries in South America, among others. These members spoke about the impact of climate change on their customers who live in flood plains; and the devastating impacts of droughts, fires, and the sea levels rising. In tandem, they spoke about poverty in their communities, and about their community member’s lack of access to banking services.

For me, this re-emphasized that the effects of climate change are having a disproportionate impact on people in the global south right now; and clarified that as a financial institution in the global north, we must continue to think about how our climate change investments are also helping to reduce global poverty.

2. We Must Protect Nature While Building the Next Economy

The summit featured a presentation by Margaret Kuhlow, Finance Practice Leader with World Wildlife Fund International. In her remarks, Margaret reminded us that we can’t address the climate without thinking about preserving our existing natural environment. Many new economy business models rely on assumptions about nature continuing to do what it’s always done — removing carbon dioxide from the air, pollinating flowers, and offering us air we can breathe. But without planning, these assumptions might not hold true.

As we work to finance the climate future, we need to put in as much energy and commitment into the protection of our natural environment, as we do into our development of climate change adaptation technologies and other novel solutions.

3. There are Opportunities to Invest in both Climate Leaders & Laggards

At VCIB, we’ve been fortunate to have the opportunity to invest in climate leaders — social enterprises, nonprofits and businesses — who are pioneers in helping to create a low-carbon future. During the summit, we spoke about the importance of continuing to finance these companies. In tandem however, we also discussed the importance of financing existing businesses to transition their business models to something cleaner and greener.

There are companies across our economy — food service businesses, manufacturing companies, and energy providers, to name a few — who want to adapt their business models to meet present climate realities. They too need financing to support this transition.

4. Youth Should be at the Table As we Build a New Climate Future

The summit featured a public symposium that brought together young climate activists, bank representatives, government officials, and citizens to discuss the question: “what could a carbon neutral Switzerland look like in 2030?”.

I was at a table focused on what the banking sector can do to move toward a low-carbon future. Over the course of the discussion, many financial industry participants tried to diffuse the issue, pointing at the responsibility of other institutions to drive progress (“The government needs to do it!” or “How can banks move forward if we don’t yet have the proper regulation”?). Youth at the table persisted.

“The planet is dying,” they said, “Why can’t you act on this? Why can’t you do anything now?”. This perspective was valuable and very welcome in helping to ensure the urgency of the crisis was underscored during the discussion; and highlighted the importance of having youth at the table.

5. There are Opportunities to Drive Progress in Canada alongside the GABV

The Canadian banking sector is not nearly as far along as our European counterparts in leveraging finance to drive sustainable development. We’re making progress however, and conversations are beginning to take place.

Members of the Global Alliance on Banking Values, like Vancity Credit Union, are the pioneers worldwide in using finance to drive a low-carbon future. Acting independently, it can feel like we’re very tiny. But together, we can have a significant impact. As we move forward, there is opportunity to do so in alignment with the other members of the Global Alliance on Banking Values, driving progress together as we build the next economy.

At VCIB, every day is women’s day.

Sunday was International Women’s Day, so I am sure that everyone’s feeds are flooded this week with personal and professional stories about what this day means to them, and to the women in their lives. The theme for this year is #EachforEqual, reinforcing the importance of gender parity and a concept that deeply resonates with me — that equality is not just a women’s issue, but a business issue.

As the VP of Impact at a social purpose bank, I know firsthand that gender equality is essential in helping economies and communities to thrive, and that empowering women doesn’t just make ethical sense, it also makes good business sense. Our parent company, Vancity, also knows this well; they were the first financial institution to offer mortgages to women without a male co-signor, and Vancity’s very first loan was to a young woman for $100—at a time when loaning money to women was relatively uncommon. Today, both Vancity and VCIB have woman CEOs at their helms, working tirelessly to amplify the message that social impact and finance belong in the same sentence.

So, what does #EachforEqual look like at VCIB?

I am proud to say that our team at VCIB walks the walk of gender inclusivity and equality every single day. Here at VCIB, we are leading the way for our industry when it comes to representation of women in our leadership team, benefits and flexibility that allow women to be supported throughout life changes and not driven out of the workforce, equity in the workplace, and opportunities for growth and development.

I am fortunate to work with exemplary women in leadership positions within the organization. I recently spoke to several of my female colleagues, asking them how they think VCIB demonstrates the #EachforEqual ethos on a daily basis, and their answers all alluded every person not only being given a voice within the organization, but that they’re routinely encouraged to use it. Through mentorship and accessibility to C-suite female leaders, we make it a priority at VCIB to have women at all levels feel empowered in their role at the company and beyond.


To this end, a young colleague of mine pointed out she’s noticed that women are typically talked over in meetings, especially when they are underrepresented at the table. At VCIB, she finds that her leaders’ value and ask for everyone’s opinions equally, even from those who may not be the first to speak up or the loudest voice in the room.

This feedback is deeply encouraging to me as I reflect on how we’re implementing #EachforEqual values every day, making sure that we elevate the diverse voices of our team so that folks don’t have to struggle to be heard. It’s important to note that while we’ve made a lot of progress in this space, there is always more that can and should be done to amplify voices from women of colour, trans women, and gender non-conforming folks as well. A seat at the table for all is the key to a truly equitable workplace.

I know that personally, not having to fight anymore for every opportunity I want allows me to work at the most optimal level – when I’m not having to fight for my spot, which I have in the past, I serve my team better, I am a more collaborative leader, and I have the space and time to encourage everyone to be their best.

The future of #EachforEqual

 

Moving Towards Economic Reconciliation

In late February, I was fortunate to moderate a panel focused on Indigenous Investment Vehicles and Opportunities at the National Aboriginal Capital Corporations Association’s (NACCA) Indigenous Prosperity Forum. NACCA is network of over 50 Aboriginal Financial Institutions (AFIs) dedicated to stimulating economic growth for all Indigenous people in Canada. The AFI network has provided over 45,000 loans totaling over $2.5 billion to businesses owned by First Nations, Métis, and Inuit people, and NACCA supports this network by building AFI capacity and fostering Indigenous business development.

In Canada, funding for Indigenous business development has traditionally been viewed as provided by government. However, in recent years the opportunity is becoming more obvious and the requirement for financial institutions to be nimble and creative is urgent. It’s time for finance and Impact Investors to think dramatically differently about how we begin to support this space.

Admittedly, VCIB is new to the landscape of Indigenous financing, and the learning curve is steep, however we are dedicated to delivering impact in the sector as one of the pillars of our purpose driven approach.

Our parent company, Vancity Credit Union, sets an outstanding example for how these opportunities can be filled by the financial industry. Since 2011, Vancity has provided $5.9 million in grants and more than $70 million in financing to Indigenous projects that have positive community impact and contribute to the economic strength of the organizations and communities that they work in partnership with.

The three panelists were @Rob Rollingson from Indian Business Corporation (IBC), @Jeff Cyr from Raven Indigenous Capital, and @Derek Ballantyne from CMHC/New Market Funds, all of whom are subject matter experts in their respective fields.

I’ve been reflecting on our discussion and a few important themes have emerged for me:

Meaningful partnerships are starting to be built with the intention of connecting private capital to the Indigenous economy, with three key examples from each of our panelists:

IBC fosters meaningful partnerships with a local First Nation to create economic development through developmental lending and financial services, outside of conventional funding programs.

Raven Capital is working in partnership with Indigenous social enterprises to accelerate their success by providing them access to capital through a private equity fund, and bespoke technical assistance within an Indigenous cultural framework.

New Market Funds, with their affiliates and managed funds, provides innovative capital solutions for community partners who create long-term impact, is beginning to lend directly to AFI’s.

Overall, a key takeaway is that meaningful partnerships are needed to provide the kind of additional capital at scale to allow for the next phase of growth.

The AFI’s are an existing, community-based vehicle to mobilize resources, and the Indigenous Growth Fund is an incredible starting point to build out and scale even more of this capacity.

Congratulations to NACCA and the Government of Canada on this new, innovative fund that will leverage government investment to raise additional capital from institutional investors. The fund will make capital available to the AFIs to provide loans to new and expanding Indigenous businesses and is an incredibly important step toward economic reconciliation.

It seems that organizations are looking at different debt solutions, but equity is still a missing piece of the puzzle.         

With this said, it makes it even more exciting that organizations like Raven Capital are emerging and gaining such great traction.

The impacts of community development lending are profound, with financial returns and a massive social multiplier in terms of health and well being.

When we think of the growth of the social finance market, support for Indigenous Economic Development is a key pillar for Canada.

At VCIB, we know that Indigenous businesses have the potential to contribute of upwards of $100 billion dollars to the Canadian economy. The key to this potential is that together we can overcome the barriers that exist in bringing that figure to fruition. We know that finance can and should play a role in driving solutions to these challenges, and I’m committed to creative solutions that require thinking differently about how we support Indigenous Business Development.

Overall, what stood out for me most was the unwavering personal and professional dedication each panelist has for what they do, and I believe that it is this personal approach to addressing the social finance ecosystem that will help us best understand the barriers to moving the needle on economic reconciliation.

Thank you, to the panelists, NACAA, and the engaged audience who encouraged such a productive conversation. On behalf of VCIB, we’re so grateful to have been invited into this conversation and to have had the opportunity to learn from each of the panelists. We look forward to continuing to support NACCA and the Indigenous Community in Canada.

Vancity Community Investment Bank is a member of CDIC and is a Certified B-CorpTM