Tag Archives: SROI

Art+Business – I want that love child.

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This is what I was really working on during my  island escape from the city:  an artist business plan.

For artists  ‘business’ is a bad dirty word -it’s quite a taboo subject for some.  So let’s talk dirty – let’s do something naughty, let’s  just do it –  we’re going to create the the love child of Art + Business.  Oh yeah.

Everyone is a business, whether you like it or not. You earn money you have expenses money comes in and goes out and hopefully at the end of the day there’s a little bit left over for savings and rrsps and ice cream.

I’ve been busy reading the usual creative + entrepreneurial blogs: The 99%, GigaOm, TechCruch, FastCompany, and  following up on Toronto + non-Toronto  based entertainment + tech entrepreneurs (Kunal Gupta, Gurbhaskh Chahal*, Zark Fatah*,  , Uniq Lifestyle’s Nitsa Tsoumaris* – one of the few female entertainment leaders I’ve come across).  Amazing people working on very different ideas that all intersect in parallel industries.  I’ve been mulling over their accomplishments, and comparing and contrasting their businesses with the smaller non-profits that I have worked for.

For-profit or non-profit organizations start the same way:  someone has a great idea and starts gathering people and resources to execute their vision.  However the trajectory for the for-profit start-up is very different compared to the non-profit  start-up which seems to have a much more difficult time finding partners for growth even if the ideas are sound.  Whereas for-profit start-ups seem to be able to gather capital even if the idea is inherently risky.

With a VERY broad brush – here are my thoughts:

The non-profit organization model is somewhat like an older woman with maternal tendencies:  steadfast, dependable, self-assured, resourceful and willing to make whatever sacrifices it takes to her own material wealth to ensure the health of the family unit. But this model has inherently been neglected by investors because of the lack of financial return (obviously).  Growth becomes difficult without capital.

Whereas the for-profit model is much more like a young man in his prime with an adolescent swagger: well connected, brand-conscious, self interested, status driven, willing to risk whatever it takes to be recognized by his peers as number 1.  Investors have always loved these kinds of organizations – venture capitalists salivate at the thought of the financial potential gain – but I wonder if they recognize how many for-profits are inherently neglectful of the very communities that are supporting them.

I want to be both a mom and an alpha male.

The non-profit world does so much amazing work – the people are incredibly knowledgeable, experienced and educated, but  overworked and underpaid. In many instances the non-profit worker is without health benefits – which makes them vulnerable.  You shouldn’t have to take a vow of poverty to help your community.    On the other hand, the corporate world has the incredible ability to raise huge amounts of capital in short periods of time; but does so at the expense of common or community goods and values.

Hence my business plan – where I’m trying to manage, or rather mix, both cultures into a third more holistic business culture – the Social Enterprise.  Cultural Careers Council Ontario has been a huge help.  Many people, including MaRS in Toronto,  are working on these ideas and  my own works are a small part of this experiment.

If you were going to create a business plan for your own life – which model would you be? For Profit? Non-Profit?  Social Enterprise? What kinds of ways would you be comfortable making money?  What material assets could you not do without?

Try to build your own basic business plan for your own lively hood – it’s daunting, daring and a surprisingly fun.  Here’s a great PDF primer for artists (but it’s useful info for everyone)  from the Cultural Human Resources Council: AMYC-Chapter1-en

*I have a TON of respect for these guys – they are all self-made, they’ve worked like crazy to get where they are, they run successful businesses which are all highly recognized – but what’s the deal with the dark backgrounds and shiny pics?  Have you noticed how similar the aesthetic is between all of these brands- even Mr. Chahal’s brand  even though he  is actually a tech entrepreneur?   Intriguing – needs a thesis I think – something along the lines of male dominated industry + night time pursuits with inherently dark imagery to evoke the mysterious exotic aspect of their brands…..I struggle with this idea with my own branding – I think this is another post in the making.  Meggy Wang and I have had great conversations about this topic – I think it’s going to be my next post.   Any thoughts?
PS: My interview with Manu Sharma from The Natural Capital Project will happen in the next week! Keep an eye out!

The Natural Capital Project – What is that Forest Really Worth?

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In my own work and art I have been very interested in trying to bring value to things that have been helping us along in life but never really get the recognition they deserve.

Our communities have had to endure environmental degradation and exploitation for commercial purposes. Let’s not be too smug – we need businesses to employ our communities and provide us with goods and services. But over the past little while we have finally collectively recognized that the ways in which we do business currently are not sustainable.

Lake Louise, Alberta Canada ~ We undervalue our natural resources and the commercial market is not the only place where these resources derive value.

THE NATURAL CAPITAL PROJECT is moving forward with research to develop tools that will allow business leaders to make more informed decisions about the environmental resources they use and how they use them.

“Ecosystem Services” is a phrase you are going to start hearing a lot more often.  It’s a concept that proposes that nature is doing a lot of work that is simply not being recognized; if we can provide a way for the work nature does  (that we rely on) to be recognized,  we can consider the implications of our actions.  It’s an interesting idea which is much along the same lines of SROI (Social Return on Investment) – where the value being created by non-profits and other social ventures is not wholly represented by a monetary return. For the true value of the work to be undrestood the monetary and non-monetary values (i.e. social good or ecosystem service) needs to be recognized together in a holistic manner.  For a more “official” definition of Ecosystem Services click here.

From my understanding the good people at The National Capital Project have been creating “demonstration projects” at sites where changes to the environment can have drastic consequences.  These sites are where models are being created for leaders from other organizations to SEE  how the models and tools work and more importantly how to integrate these new ideas into their own decision making processes (all links are from The Natural Capital Project):

This is a joint project between Stanford University, the World Wildlife Fund and The Nature Conservancy.

I’m pretty interested in this concept as it does relate to my own readings in SROI.  I’m going to try to do an interview with Manu Sharma  – an engineer who is currently working on the project who is based at Stanford. (He also happens to be one of my dearest friends ever in life – when I learned about his work I was pretty awe-struck).

Until my interview with Manu – If you have 60 seconds (which I know you do)  take a listen to this podcast from Scientific American about ecosystem services (I found the link to this via The Natural Capital Project website)

PS: Keep up the good work in your life!  I know sometimes it may seem like you’re not making a recognizable contribution – so tell us what you are up to! We can’t recognize you and your awesomeness if we don’t know what you’re about! Monetary value is only one point on the value spectrum – you are awesome – your work is bringing value into the world – share your passion!  Take comfort in the stories of others and know that you are not alone.  Work hard and fight the good fight my friends.

The Fear of Learning

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One of the aspects of being an artist is being open to time where nothing structured is going on.  Artists need time and space to think (and not think),  and to explore their surroundings and to be inspired.

So I’ve taken the month of May to live on the Toronto Islands – specifically at the Artscape Gibraltor Point Artist Retreat. It’s an amazing space – it’s a 100 year old school house!  There are several long term tenants, and then spaces for short term rental.  There’s also a cat whom I’ve yet to meet.

I’ve been taking a business planning for the arts course through the CCCO (Cultural Careers Council Ontario) and yesterday we had an awesome session about marketing.  Jyotika Malhotra (Social Media Week Toronto + exshoesme.com ) and Catherine Hernandez (Sulong Theatre Collective) gave us some awesome ideas for putting ourselves ‘out there.’

So in that vain – I decided to do a vlog – you can see the space I’m working in:

It’s soooooo hard to spend good chunks of your time without visible or seemingly tangible goals everyday (going to work, cooking, running to meetings).

BUT the GLORY of unstructured time and living is you run into opportunities you wouldn’t even have been able to imagine.  My meeting this amazing doctor, and THE STORIES SHE CARRIES WITH HER would not have happened unless I was taking that ferry back to the island. (More on that story later!)

Let me know what you’ve been up to this month! And more importantly – go out and try to give yourself even just 15 minutes of nothingness time.  It’s so important.