Exponential Topics and Trends in 2019

Exponential Topics and Trends in 2019

The SingularityU (SU) Canada community is focused on encouraging people to think BIG, consider what could be, and what their role is in our rapidly changing society. 

Looking back on 2019, here are three of the top areas of conversation we had this year, and that we see continuing into 2020 and beyond. 

The blockchain revolution continues

There have been some arguments that blockchain is becoming over-hyped, yet continued investment in blockchain by companies such as Walmart, FedEx, and Mastercard prove the technology is still going strong. For instance, this year Mastercard announced a partnership with enterprise blockchain technology company R3 to develop a new cross-border payment system, while Walmart is utilizing blockchain technology to create a food traceability system. 

Deloitte Insight’s Annual Tech Trends report pointed out that, while previously mostly associated with cryptocurrencies, “today, blockchain is to trust what the web was to communication: a profoundly disruptive technology that transforms not only business but the way humans transact and engage.” 

2020 is shaping up to be a momentous year for blockchain technology and digital assets ecosystems, with developments such as the launching of China’s Central Bank Digital Currency (CBDC), and the growth of lightning network adoption worldwide. 

SU Canada Blockchain Faculty Anne Connelly posits that decentralization is going to transform our society. By disintermediating centralized trust providers, blockchain technology is enabling this societal change to occur. 

“A blockchain is a single source of truth for every person on the planet,” she explained during her session at the 2019 SU Canada Summit. “It enables us to go back to transacting at a peer-to-peer level the way we used to, but at a scale that has never been possible before.” 

Similarly, SU Canada Blockchain Faculty Matthew Spoke believes in the transformative power of blockchain technology, and in revisiting the traditional, hierarchical structures of governance. “The premise of decentralized, peer-to-peer networks as an underpinning technology is potentially a suitable alternative to hierarchies,” he said in a recent webinar. “It is a way to coordinate social institutions in a way that is beneficial for everyone and more fast-paced than the current systems of governance that we have today.” 

The food industry is moving beyond the dinner table, and off the farm

Dr. Irwin Adam at the 2019 SingularityU Canada Summit

“Everything we eat has broader implications on a global scale, said Dr. Irwin Adam, SU Canada Future of Food Faculty, at the 2019 SU Canada Summit. “By 2050, we will have grown our population by another 3 billion people, and we will need to figure out ways to not only feed them, but to feed them the best quality food, while protecting our world and our climate.” 

Dr. Adam explained that food is becoming a nexus for all of technology, and global tech experts are converging on the food supply system in order to improve it. The dinner table, he argued, is also a place where we are negotiating our future. 

The popularity of consuming more meatless and plant-based foods has dominated the industry this year. The plant-based Impossible Burger stands out as one of the best inventions of 2019, and recently, its maker, Impossible Foods, received the 2019 United Nations Global Climate Action Award for its efforts to boost awareness of food’s environmental impact.  

The traditional food chain is also being shaken up, with scientists exploring ways of bypassing animal products. Dutch startup Meatable’s OPTi-OX technology involves engineering induced pluripotent stem cells for specific cell types, and then ‘reprogramming’ them to adult stem cells, which yield consistent, homogeneous and rapid cell batches. While it takes a cow around three years to grow to full size, Meatable claims they can complete the entire operation in three weeks.

This has not come to full force just yet, as high costs present a barrier to adoption, as do wary consumer perceptions of consuming cultured meat products. 2020 is likely to see further advancements if these costs fall, as consumer interest is definitely growing.

Work is moving outside of the office

There is no doubt that technology has reshaped the world of work, from automation to robotic blacksmithing

Many professional occupations are no longer confined to a physical address, as the option to work remotely continues to become more popular. More than 26 million Americans, about 16 per cent of the total workforce, now work remotely at least part-time. Many are harnessing digital technologies, such as augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR), to create completely new business models. 

Not just the stuff of gaming, augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) are being used in the workplace

One instance of VR in the workplace may be found at eXp Realty, a North American VR real estate company. It has been named a best place to work in Glassdoor’s 2020 Employees’ Choice Awards for the third consecutive year and has grown to over 25,000 agents, all without any traditional, physical office space. 

How? Enter VirBELA, a VR platform that connects users in an online “campus,” so eXp Realty employees from around the world can virtually attend team meetings and training seminars.

The SU Canada team recently successfully tested out the VirBELA platform with the Fall 2019 Executive Program cohort. The takeaway? Holding live meetings no longer needs to follow the status quo, and can still allow for meaningful face-to-face contact.

Stay up-to-date on the latest exponential trends and topics by subscribing to the SU Canada newsletter and following @SingularityUCan. Visit the SingularityU Hub for more news coverage, feature articles, analysis and insights. 

Cryptocurrency and Philanthropy – Unlocking New Models of Giving

Cryptocurrency and Philanthropy - Unlocking New Models of Giving

by Krista Pawley, Co-Founder, Head of Reputation and Impact, SingularityU Canada

After the shopping blitz on Black Friday and Cyber Monday, this Tuesday, December 3, marks Giving Tuesday, the movement dedicated to giving back and supporting charities and non-profits. And while thousands of charities around the world will use this opportunity to encourage donations, only 2 per cent of them accept cryptocurrencies – a huge miss given the untapped giving potential.  

In Canada, adoption of cryptocurrency has grown significantly, with past or present ownership increasing from 3 percent in 2016 to  ~9 per cent, and general awareness of bitcoin at a high of 89 per cent  (in brief, bitcoin is the digital currency that utilizes cryptocurrency, which is the technology that acts as a medium for facilitating the conduct of various safe and secure financial transactions). 

While some of the largest nonprofit organizations in the world, including the United Way and The Red Cross accept bitcoin donations, cryptocurrency donations are only accepted by 2 per cent of nonprofit organizations in the U.S., Canada and Europe. By focusing their efforts on traditional donation methods, many charities are missing a largely untapped market, where an enormous opportunity awaits.  

SingularityU Canada Blockchain Faculty Anne Connelly prepared a report on the status of cryptocurrency donation programs at Canadian charities. Released on November 28, The Landscape of Cryptocurrency Donation Programs: Only 4% of Canadian Charities are Capturing This Lucrative Donor Market, contrasts interview results with Canadian charities against a survey sent concurrently to Canadian cryptocurrency holders to determine their giving preferences. 

“The goal [of this project] was to show the gap between the volume of Canadians who own cryptocurrencies and would be willing to donate them, compared to the number of charities that accept them,” Connelly said.  

Of the 163 Canadian charities contacted for this project (~4 per cent), responses were received from 115, with seven of them having a cryptocurrency program of some type. Yet perhaps the most meaningful takeaway is that, as a result of Connelly’s inquires, 24 charities expressed interest in setting up a program, if they did not already have one, which goes to show that there are a number of organizations that will participate, if prompted to. 

The survey shared with the Canadian cryptocurrency community received 48 responses. Of those respondents, 90 per cent had previously donated to a charity using Canadian dollars, and 44 per cent were more likely to donate to a charity that had a cryptocurrency program, versus one that did not. Part of this, Connelly explained, is a reflection on the charity’s innovative mindset, and the notion that if they had a program, they would likely be more innovative across all aspects of their business, not just their fundraising programs. 

Connelly holds that this group is the fastest growing donor segment in Canada, and one that will be even larger in the years to come. This community has a number of wealthy donor prospects (with five Canadians on Forbes’ Top 15 Richest People in Crypto list), yet few organizations that can cater to their needs. 

As cryptocurrency donors differ greatly from traditional major donors, social-profits need to adopt a different strategy when approaching them, she noted.  

This is because some early adopters of cryptocurrency are interested in the philosophy behind the organizations they support, including their approach to freedom of access to financial services. Crypto donors are not only interested in the fact that a charity accepts cryptocurrency, but also that the charity believes in many of the principles behind it. 

A regulatory barrier also stands in the way of crypto-giving. Current Canadian capital gains tax regulations do not allow individuals to make a donation of cryptocurrency without paying capital gains tax. If the Federal Government wants to unlock this treasure trove of donations, regulatory changes need to be made. 

The numbers and intent are there: Canadians are philanthropic, with those above the age of 15 (~23.8 million) donating to charitable and nonprofit organizations, and the average Canadian donating 0.53 per cent of their income each year

Cryptocurrency holders have much to give, yet Canadian charities are largely overlooking this community. Ahead of the holiday season, charities should consider the inclusiveness of their outreach strategies, and understand the positive impact that may be made by embracing the changing donor landscape. 

SingularityU Canada Chapters: Connecting Canadians from Coast to Coast

SingularityU Canada Chapters: Connecting Canadians from Coast to Coast

SingularityU (SU) Canada Chapters are championed by SU alumni to continue the conversation, through local meet-ups and other informal events. Below, find out everything you need to know about these volunteer-led SU Chapters, and how to join the Canadian, and global, conversation.

What are Chapters?

SingularityU (SU) Canada events such as Summits, Executive Programs, and custom programs connect groups large and small to collectively learn about and explore the world’s grand challenges. Yet we know that the conversation and connections need to continue beyond these events – that is where Chapters play an important role. 

Through meetups and community events, SU Chapters facilitate vibrant local innovation ecosystems, whose participants focus on furthering the SU mission of leveraging exponential technologies to solve humanity’s grand challenges. 

Who leads Chapters?

Each Chapter has a dedicated volunteer leadership team, led by a Chapter Ambassador. Teams receive support from SU to launch their Chapters, followed by ongoing assistance and coaching throughout the first few months of operations, including an ‘incubation period’ in the Chapter’s first 90 days.

Chapters are flourishing around the world – there are over 170 SU Chapters worldwide in over 70 countries, including Sri Lanka, Chile and Austria (view the full chapter roster). Currently, there are four Chapters in Canada: Ottawa, Calgary, Montreal and Vancouver, all of which have been started by SU Canada alumni.

After attending the 2019 SU Canada Summit in Edmonton this past April, Matt Boudreau, Calgary Chapter Ambassador and his peers were inspired to kickstart Chapter representation in Alberta. 

“In a city full of bright, entrepreneurial minds who strive to better the world around, there is much opportunity to harness the great things that are already happening and really get our city thinking exponentially on a global scale,” he said. “Our ultimate goal is to bring exponential thinkers together from all industries and walks of life to form a community that will create an impact globally, and we are excited about what the city can and will accomplish with this community.” 

Last month, SU Canada was pleased to announce the launch of the Calgary Chapter! 

What do Chapters do?

Leadership teams convene local innovators in regular gatherings, both in person and virtually, that attract compelling speakers on a wide variety of topics. Chapter events and get-togethers connect like-minded individuals who are inspired to think BIG and explore how exponential technologies are impacting our world. Members hail from a wide range of industries and professions, from entrepreneurs and academics to policymakers. 

A recent Vancouver Chapter meet and greet

Chapter events often feature local speakers, and at low costs of entry – never more than the price of three lattes!

A recent event held by the Ottawa Chapter in September explored how disruptive technologies will impact the way we work. Speakers included Tanya Woods, Managing Director, Canada, Chamber of Digital Commerce, and Stephen Harrington, Director, Deloitte. Through interactive and engaging sessions, the speakers covered topics such as: why gender data and analysis matter for the way we work, and how to get your team from where they are today to where they need to be, five years from now.

After the sessions, attendees had a chance to mingle with one another, building new connections and discussing what they learned. 

SingularityU Canada works closely with the Chapters to amplify their stories. Keep an eye out for SU Canada social media posts on @SingularityUCan, and subscribe to our newsletter for news and updates about upcoming events. 

How can you get involved?

Canada is a large country, home to a wealth of innovative thinkers and doers, and SU Canada encourages alumni from across the country to champion a chapter.  Are you interested in starting a new chapter in your community? Put your city on the world stage and apply today

If you are located in one of the cities that our four existing chapters live, we welcome you to join their exponential conversations!! Contact your local Chapter: 

Calgary  Calgary@chapter.su.org

Vancouver  vancouver@chapter.su.org

Montréal montreal@chapter.su.org 

Ottawa jonconnelly@connelly.ca  

Blockchain 101 with Blockchain Faculty Anne Connelly

Faculty Q + A

Blockchain 101 with Blockchain Faculty Anne Connelly

Anne, you are a leader and powerful voice in the global blockchain community – how did you first become involved in blockchain?

I first learned about bitcoin on Twitter in 2012. Immediately I thought back to my work in Central Africa with the ixo Foundation where I used to carry knapsacks full of cash across the country so we could pay our doctors and nurses. From there I realized that many of the applications of crypto and blockchain would be transformative for the communities I’d worked with.

If you had to explain blockchain to your grandparents, how would you define it?

It’s good you didn’t say parents. They’re OGs in the space. For grandparents… remember when you used to have to send letters to communicate with people far away? Sending money is like that today. It takes a long time and involves many companies in the middle to make it happen. Now think about how your ability to communicate changed when email came around. Blockchain is a technology that enables you to send money as easily as you send an email, without all those companies in the middle.

What are the industries or sectors in which you think blockchain could have the greatest impact in the next five years?

In five years, we’ll see more pick up on the enterprise side. Firstly, in finance – we’re already seeing pickup by the banking sector, and the tokenization of securities will completely transform investing. Secondly, in supply chain – for traceability of goods both in terms of authenticity, but also in terms of source verification. We’ve seen movement here by Walmart in ensuring food safety.

We heard you are working on a new graphic novel. Can you tell us a bit about your love of graphic novels and this specific project?

We’ve seen the rise of comic characters in popular culture, but graphic novels are not just for superhero stories. Many graphic novels tell the stories of real people facing war, heartbreak, or revolution. I am working with Chief Nyamweya, an artist in Kenya, to create a graphic novel that tells the story of a young Kenyan woman who learns about blockchain and uses it to transform her community. We are going to make the digital version free to access so youth across the continent can learn about blockchain and how it can impact their lives.

An excerpt from Anne’s upcoming graphic novel, “Trust”
How did you first become involved with SU Canada, and what do you enjoy most about your involvement in the SU Canada community?

I’ve been with SU Canada since January of 2018 when I joined as Faculty. Since then I’ve spoken at the 2019 Summit in Edmonton and at Executive Programs across the country.
Singularity University is a unique community of people who are improving the world around them and using technology to achieve it. I love our alumni, the curiosity they bring to the table to solve challenges, and how everyone supports one another.

As a speaker at this October’s SU Canada Executive Program, what are you most looking forward to?

Last time I got chased by a rooster across the vineyard. I have no doubt this year will be exponentially more fun.

Why do you think it is important that we run these Executive Programs, and what is the biggest takeaway participants can get from attending?

Not only will the Executive Program teach you how to think about your organization’s role in a world that is 10-50 years away, but it will connect you with the network you need to make that change.

Apply today to connect with Anne, other Canadian faculty and global leaders at the 2019 Executive Program, on October 21-24 in Niagara-on-the-lake, Ontario.

Top Takeaways from the 2019 SingularityU Global Summit

Dr. Peter Diamandis, Singularity University's Executive Director & Founder

Top Takeaways from the 2019 SingularityU Global Summit

1. Meta-trends are Transforming our World

Create the future. This was the theme of the 2019 Singularity University Global Summit, held on August 19-21 in San Francisco. Singularity University’s (SU) global community of leaders and changemakers gathered for three full days of inspirational talks concerning the future of our world, and the technologies that will shape it. 

In his opening keynote, Peter Diamandis, SU Executive Director and Founder, spoke about a series of meta-trends, and the convergence of various technologies (such as robotics, 3D printing and synthetic biology). 

“It’s the convergence of these technologies that is really transforming our world,” he said. “It’s how two, three or four of these are coming together and creating new business models.”

“As entrepreneurs, I think that’s the most important thing that we should be looking at – what are the new business models?” 

Of the 20 meta-trends, Diamandis is tracking 10 of them: 

  1. Increasing global abundance (what people have access to is more abundant than ever before) 
  2. Accelerating demonetization and democratization
  3. Everyone, everywhere is connected at gigabit speeds
  4. Everything, everywhere is connected 
  5. You can know anything, anytime, anywhere 
  6. Autonomous personalized transport that is fast and cheap
  7. Increasing human intelligence
  8. Increasing human longevity “healthspan”
  9. Capital abundance: access to capital everywhere (more capital is available to invest in companies, crowdfunding is hitting all-time highs, and is expected to reach $300 B by 2025)
  10. Globally abundant cheap renewable energy 
“Technology is the force that takes what used to be scarce and makes it abundant.”  – Peter Diamandis

Citing evidence of progress and hope, such as global death rates from natural catastrophes decreasing, global literacy increasing and the decreasing cost of food, Diamandis demonstrated that the “world is quietly becoming more abundant.” 

“One of the reasons why the world is getting better is that you as entrepreneurs are trying more and more startups, more and more crazy ideas,” he said. “The day before something is truly a breakthrough, it’s a crazy idea.” 

We are also witnessing a global expansion in connectivity – within four to six years, we will move from half of the world being connected (3.8 billion people), to the entire globe being connected. “What happens when 4.2 billion new minds enter the global conversation?” he questioned. “If you thought the world was going fast, wait until 4 billion new inventors come online.” 

The SU Canada team was on the ground for the event and has created a series of blogs highlighting some of the most poignant and thought-provoking sessions. 

Spatial Computing will Transform Smart Cities

AI Can be Used for Good  

Human Work is Changing, and is Exponential

Mothers in the Workplace = Superheroes

Mothers in the Workplace = Superheroes

Top Takeaways from the 2019 SingularityU Global Summit

4. Mothers in the Workplace = Superheroes

Amy Nelson, CEO & Founder of The Riveter, delivered a riveting (pun intended), and inspirational talk on the power that women bring to the workforce, and to the future of work. A mother with four young daughters, Amy previously worked as a corporate litigator on Wall Street before founding The Riveter, a modern day union for working women that offers content, community and coworking spaces in various cities across the United States. 

Amy highlighted some poignant statistics: women with children are 79 per cent less likely to be hired than those without children. Women with children are also 100 per cent less likely to be promoted than those without children. 

Amy Nelson

The solution, she said, it to provide mandated maternity and paternity leave, lean into the new way of work (providing employees with flexibility), and unbundle jobs to capture the skills and expertise of those who crave autonomy. Because, she noted, the wage gap is “not just a women’s issue, it’s an everyone issue.” 

“We know that 43 per cent of mothers with college degrees still leave the workforce after they have kids. If you could solve that problem, you would change the American GDP. And I think that’s something worth solving for.” – Amy Nelson 


Amy encouraged us all to tap into the superpower that is motherhood in the workplace. “There are some things that technology can’t fix for us, and won’t be able to,” she said. “No algorithm can fix bias in the American workplace, it’s rooted too deeply. So it’s truly up to you and up to me to do this work, do it together and do it for everyone.”

AI Can be Used for Good

Leila Toplic, Lead for Emerging Technologies at NetHope

Top Takeaways from the 2019 SingularityU Global Summit

3. AI Can be Used for Good

Amir Banifatemi, General Manager at XPRIZE, Cameron Birge, Senior Program Manager at Microsoft and Tess Posner, CEO of AI4ALL, joined moderator Leila Toplic, Lead for Emerging Technologies at NetHope for a panel discussion on day two.

Kicking off their discussion of ways we can use Artificial Intelligence (AI) for good, Toplic began with some examples. AI can help us make decisions faster, in the event of an emergency. It can help us to reach more people with information and services, such as refugees, and can help us predict and prevent outbreaks, such as ebola.

“Young people are hungry to make a difference, and AI is a rocketfuel for that.” – Tess Posner


“AI for good is about using AI to solve some of society’s toughest problems,” Toplic said. “It can help us move the needle on all of these different challenges.” In fact, it applies to all 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDG’s).

Tess Posner explained that AI4ALL is focused on increasing the diversity and inclusion in AI. “Young people are hungry to make a difference, and AI is a rocketfuel for that.” Working with high school students, she sees them using the technology to solve problems they care deeply about, such as addressing water quality issues.

While AI may be tempting to use, it is important to consider the implications of the technology, and whether it is actually needed. “AI has become such a shiny buzzword, that it’s often touted as the solution to anything. In reality, it’s a great tool, but you have to make sure it’s actually needed.”

Microsoft’s Cameron Birge agreed, adding that “in this space, if you go wrong, you can really harm a lot of people.”

Birge pointed to AI’s opportunity to free up resources. “It’s not necessarily that AI tools are going to replace a person, it’s about coming in and supporting and freeing up those resources,” he noted. “Nonprofits don’t have a lot of resources.”

All panelists agreed that is is crucial to include key stakeholders in the development of the project, and ensure diversity of expertise in the room. “It’s not only important to build diverse teams, but also consider diversity in the product development process,” said Posner. “Are you including the voices and stakeholders who are going to be impacted by the solutions?”

Spatial Computing will Transform Smart Cities

Jasmin Rohman, Research Lead and Systems Designer at MagicLeap Imagination Propulsion Lab

Top Takeaways from the 2019 SingularityU Global Summit

2. Spatial Computing will Transform Smart Cities

What will the smart cities of the future look like, and how can they be designed to best serve the needs of their residents? 

Jasmin Rohman, Research Lead and Systems Designer at MagicLeap Imagination Propulsion Lab, described the evolution of smart cities, explaining that this journey has been fraught with unsuccessful pilot projects – the first round was technology driven, the next was technology-enabled and city-driven. Now, we are seeing cities take a more collaborative and holistic approach, one that is technology-enabled as well as stakeholder-driven. 

Spatial computing refers to having content live in a 3D environment – it is the use of space as a medium to interact with technology. Rohman explained how a digital twin is created, which includes both the physical infrastructure, but also other data, such as mapping, IOT sensors and drone information. 

“I think that having a digital layer and allowing for dynamic interactivity with a city can make cities more human-centric and showcase our shared humanity,” she said. “Having the digital and physical blend more seamlessly allows people to have cities that are tailored to them, it will democratize space and locations and be able to tap into the distributed collective intelligence of a city’s residents.” 

Using storyboards, Naomi Yee, Innovation R & D Lead at Magic Leap, demonstrated some of the applications of spatial computing, and how it could integrate with autonomous vehicles, ambulance pathways, city traffic sensors and emergency response systems. 

Using storyboards, Naomi Yee demonstrated spatial computing’s applications in the real world

“One of the most powerful advantages of spatial computing for cities is its ability to provide 3D visualization tools that give you full control of scale and time,” said Yee. 

The “ultimate rapid prototyping tool,” it allows one to conceive, design, plan and run simulations from inside a room, scale it, take it outside and iterate. 

Human Work is Changing, and is Exponential

Top Takeaways from the 2019 SingularityU Global Summit

3. Human Work is Changing, and is Exponential

There are three potential futures of work, explained Gary Bolles, Chair for the Future of Work at Singularity University. 

There is the one most often depicted in today’s headlines: of technology overtaking our jobs, resulting in a shrinking circle of jobs for today’s workers. 

There is Singularity University Co-Founder & Chancellor Ray Kurzweil’s view, which is the idea of taking exponential/disruptive technologies, and turning them on ourselves to “help us all develop superpowers.” 

The third future is not completely dystopian or utopian, but one in which the two exist simultaneously. 

“It’s a process,” said Bolles. “We need to discuss the ways in which we continually adapt, the strategies that we need to use today that allow us to build a more positive future tomorrow.” 

Kelley Steven-Waiss, EVP & Chief HR Officer of HERE

For a panel discussion, Gary was joined by Stephane Kasriel, CEO of Upwork and Kelley Steven-Waiss, EVP & Chief HR Officer of HERE. The trio examined how, today, work is shifting away from the traditional 9 to 5. 

“What I’m most excited about is that we really have an opportunity to create the future, and live in this abundant mindset,” said Steven-Waiss. “We can point human beings towards work that is more meaningful by leveraging the technology we have today for some of the insights about their skills and aspirations.” 

She stressed the importance of “getting leaders out of a mindset that command, control and hierarchy is the way forward.” The way forward, rather, is teams, and working together towards one mission. 

“If we’re really going to make exponential change in the future of work, we’re going to have to adopt this way of working, and this mindset.” 

A freelancing website, Upwork connects businesses with independent professionals. Stephane Kasriel explained Upwork’s business model, one in which the company makes more money when freelancers make more money. The strategy that works best is one that is bottom-up, he said, where there is a clear strategy at the top, but humans are left to figure out what they need in order to be successful.

Kasriel hopes that we will put the human at the centre – allowing people to do the things in which they excel, outsourcing the dangerous, dirty and demeaning jobs to the machines. 

“What’s driving the change in the workforce today, at least in the freelancer movement, is not big companies, it’s small startups that see a need to operate very differently, and it’s individuals themselves,” he said. 

Individuals today are realizing they want more flexibility, he said, pointing out that Americans spend more time in their cars driving to the office than on vacation.  

“The companies that embrace that will get the best talent, and companies that resist the change and don’t want to experiment are ultimately going to be at a competitive disadvantage,” said Kasriel. 

Business on Purpose with Social Impact Faculty Allyson Hewitt


Faculty Q + A

Business on Purpose with Social Impact Faculty Allyson Hewitt

Allyson Hewitt SingularityU Canada’s Social Impact Faculty, is the Senior Fellow, Social Innovation at the MaRS Discovery District – North America’s largest urban innovation hub. A global leader in social innovation and impact, Allyson works with social ventures, corporate innovators, and ecosystem partners to drive economic, social, and environmental sustainability.  Beyond her work at MaRS, Allyson is also a McConnell Foundation, Senior Fellow; the University of Waterloo Social Entrepreneur in Residence, and the Thinker in Residence for Australia’s Don Dunstan Foundation. A change leader at heart, Allyson has helped develop and led the national initiative Social Innovation Generation (SiG); the social finance programs of the Centre for Impact Investing; the MaRS Solutions Lab, a change lab designed to tackle complex challenges; and Studio Y, an initiative designed to support youth in thriving in the new economy.

In the latest SingularityU Canada Meet the Faculty webinar, Allyson discussed how purpose is the future of business, a topic that generated so many questions that we did not have time to respond to all of them on the webinar. So, as promised, Allyson has responded to the outstanding questions and provided additional insight into how you can (and must) combine profit and purpose to create organizations that will thrive in an exponential world.

What roles, skills or people are needed or are being recruited by businesses to transition to a more impactful economy? How do people outside of the business sector influence or contribute?

There are certainly people making transitions between sectors. In fact, we are encouraging the development of tri-sector leaders, but more often than not, we see the not-for-profit sector hiring those with business skills, especially at the senior levels instead of the other way around.  

We need to create a “business case” for why corporates could benefit by hiring those from outside the business sector. 

There are lots of ways people outside the business sector can influence or contribute to any sector. In the webinar, we discussed the opportunity to influence decisions as both consumers and shareholders. Other ways include linking corporates to meaningful pro bono opportunities in the social impact sector (going beyond “painting a wall”); to helping change the perspective of other sectors which are currently defined by what they are instead of the impact they make. Finally, we need to create opportunities for cross-sector collaboration to solve our tough challenges and create spaces for the various perspectives each sector brings to bear.

How has the move towards purpose changed or influenced traditional philanthropy (i.e. corporate giving, founding foundations)? 

Philanthropy (like most sectors) is experiencing significant change,  including the desire of high-net-worth donors to become more engaged – beyond (but always including) cheque writing.

Philanthropy used to be the primary way certain groups of people “did good” alongside volunteering. Today, there are more ways to leverage your funds, through efforts like impact investing, which will help you achieve both financial and social impact. 

The philanthropic sector is best advised to be aware of these trends, to determine how efforts such as layered financing (starting with a grant and then moving to a loan for programs that have the capacity to generate income) can get us to new levels of impact. 

Can you share any suggestions on resources for the impact of purpose-driven business on traditional philanthropy? 

A book recommendation is Winners Take All by Anand Giridharadas. This book is getting a lot of attention and is worth reading as a challenge to some of the dominant trends exercised by high net worth philanthropists in particular. For more on that topic, see how they are setting up companies to invest (instead of foundations) to approach the issues they choose differently. Here is one such article on that topic.

“We are in a war for talent, but you can win by putting purpose first.”- Allyson Hewitt

In your opinion, where would purpose sit within a company’s business model? Should it be coupled with the value proposition (proposition to be seen through the lens of purpose)? 

Purpose should be at the core of a business model. Since 2011, Michael Porter and Mark Kramer have been working on a “Creating Shared Value” approach that addresses this concept (in a way that resonates with many), and in a recent speaking event I attended in Sydney, the dominant narrative was that if “purpose is the why – creating shared value is the how.” You are advised to decide for yourself how best to position purpose in your organization based on the state of readiness for adoption.

Are you aware of any organizations or investment firms doing ROP (Return of Purpose) evaluation? Business case for the purpose and social impact movement? 

I have not been doing work in this area using this language, but it all seems related. The dominant theme still seems to be “Social Return on Investment” analysis.  But it appears the Centre for Executive Excellence has been exploring this concept, and Ketchum and Carol Cone have completed this work. All are very interesting contributions to the field.

It’s clear that CSR (corporate social responsibility) and 3BL (triple bottom line) need to evolve, and purpose seems to be the way forward. In your opinion, where did the 3BL model fall short in addressing sustainable development issues? 

I’m not sure if the model fell short in as much as I think it evolved, as all these movements do. 

It is, however, a great question worth exploring more fully and I’d be keen to hear the input of others. If I had to guess, it would be that it did not hold these activities at the core of the business but as adjuncts, or ‘nice to do’s,’ instead of the social and business imperatives that they are. 

Allyson, you were instrumental in bringing BCorps to Canada. How do you see this fitting into the “Business on Purpose” space?

B Corps are a growing global movement and they are certainly worth exploring, if only to take their free online assessment to determine areas for improvement. There is real leadership coming from this movement and I’d suggest people read their response to the Business Roundtable latest doctrine on the purpose of a corporation

You were on the Steering Group that developed the Social Innovation and Social Finance strategy for Canada with the federal government – are corporates playing a role at this level?

Yes, but it is marginal. Interestingly, I’m hearing more about the Task Force on Sustainable Finance, and our goals should be to integrate the work on this group and that of the SISF Strategy. We definitely have room for more engagement here. 

Watch the full recording of Allyson’s webinar – Business on Purpose!