By Jeffrey Cyr
Raven Indigenous Capital Partners
Decolonizing Impact Investing
My Path to this topic...
I was involved in the Indigenous space since the early days of my career, both inside governments, with for-profit and not-for profit industries and it became apparent that the pace of change was too slow and we needed different approaches and tools. I worked at a large national Indigenous service organization, and I was shocked that we expected change in outcomes by flowing funding in paternalistic patterns that hadn’t worked for 150 years. As much money as governments were throwing at issues the approach and method was having little noticeable change on outcomes for our people. In 2015, I hosted the Indigenous Innovation Summit in Winnipeg and this was the turning point for me. I saw indigenous entrepreneurs and problem solvers who were struggling to find flexible capital, and they had the solutions and the ideas for great change. This was the inflection point for me, the financial system was not filling a large gap, or it wasn’t obvious to others and there were no Indigenous-led equity intermediaries. Creating Raven Indigenous Capital was our collective response.
The application of social finance tools to the pressing human social and economic challenges of our time is the great promise of impact investing. Nowhere is the need for flexible and focussed capital more necessary than in Indigenous communities and with Indigenous enterprises. The history of colonization has created a situation where capital, especially the traditional means of intergenerational wealth or “friends and family” and personal home-based equity, has not been available to new Indigenous business / entrepreneurs. As indigenous people shift from surviving to thriving out of colonisation, there is a great opportunity space for impact investing and more critically for equity.
While debt-based lending is another tool used to support Indigenous enterprises, it is well covered in the eco-system by banks and Aboriginal Financial institutions. Debt based lending also has limitations (cap size and collateralization) and is not necessarily the best way to grow early stage enterprises who most often need equity infusions. Patient equity through impact investing allows for better business development and the ability to take advantage of growth cycles and market opportunities.
It is my experience that there is a lot of capital looking for a home that has strong impact story, newer and younger investors are looking to do good with their capital. This is reflective of the rise systemic level issues that challenge state actors to solve including most notably the climate crisis, income inequality, decent work, food access and security, clean energy. In the emergent Indigenous economy impact investing could play the most catalytic role of any financial tool in many decades as it empowers and builds wealth and resiliency in local economies. It is the missing ingredient for broad spectrum social and economic change.
Jeff's Reading List
Joanna Levitt Cea & Jess Rimington
Indigenous knowledge has as much, if not more, to bring to the field of impact investing than the latter has to Indigenous communities.
First Nations have indeed developed vast Amounts of knowledge characterized by A profound relationship with land, community, And spirit. In fact, collaborative leadership models, true co-creation, and mindfulness as tools for social innovation and transformation Are inherent in Indigenous ways of knowing. This Article is an excellent illustration of those tools and values.
I consider this a ground-breaking work on the historical impacts of colonization and how it pervades the system. While focused on wealth and not impact investing the analytical insights on the financial system and where impediments lie are critical for understanding how to undertake investing in the Indigenous space.
Dennis O’Leary’s Impact Investing podcast
A really insightful set of podcasts on impact investing in Canada and internationally from those who are doing the investing, to wealth managers and family foundations. It is very topical and current and really surveys the landscape.
Doughnut Economics: Seven Ways to Think Like a 21st Century Economist
I was really impressed with the insights in this book. More importantly it most closely aligns with what I consider Indigenous Values and epistemology. It is my belief for some time that we need to do economics differently and build different economies, scrapping ideas such as growth and seeking balance with Mother Earth. It is economics for the 21st century and those who are struggling with finding a way forward. Check out the youtube video Kate Raworth on Growth.
About the Author
Jeff Cyr is currently Managing Partner and co-founder of Raven Indigenous Capital Partners, Canada’s only Indigenous social finance intermediary. In 2019, Raven created the Raven Indigenous Impact Fund an Indigenous focused equity fund, as well as pioneering a new social finance tool, the Community Driven Outcomes Contract which is being used to solve large social / economic problems at the community level. Raven was recently chosen by the Government of Canada under the Social Finance Fund as an expert service provider and is currently developing a year-long intensive Indigenous accelerator for growth stage entrepreneurs.
For nearly 20 years, Jeffrey Cyr has provided strategic leadership for Indigenous, not-for-profit and government organizations. He is Metis and from the traditional territory of the Metis Homeland in the Red River Valley in Manitoba, Canada and a proud husband and father of five. Mr. Cyr has been active in supporting Indigenous social innovation and building Indigenous social finance mechanisms in Canada. He is the former Chair of the Institute Advisory Board for Indigenous Peoples Health at the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, Vice-Chair of the Ontario Trillium Foundation and a visiting professor at Oxford and Carleton University.
Recently, Jeff helped create the Indigenous Innovation Initiative at Grand Challenges Canada, which is an innovation platform that funds pre-seed and seed stage Indigenous entrepreneurs under the theory that those who are facing the problems are those best placed to create the solutions. Jeff is currently the Chair of the Indigenous Innovation Council helping to guide the implementation of the I3.