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For 11 years, Social Venture Partners in Waterloo Region has contributed to supporting local charities by partnering them with passionate experts interested in supporting them with resources and strengthening the community.
In tech, the dream isn’t winning the lottery – it’s the exit. Whether it’s through an acquisition or IPO, growing a business to the point that investors, shareholders, and employees hit it big is what drives founders.
But what do you do after you hit it big?
The question of what to do next was on the mind of Paul Brainerd after a successful exit in 1994. If you made a ‘zine in a high school computer lab in the 90s, you have Brainerd to thank. Aldus was the developer of PageMaker – the pioneering desktop publishing application which Brainerd then sold to Adobe. The exit made him a multimillionaire, but it also left him with the question of ‘what’s next’?
For Brainerd, the next move was to find a way to give back – but in a way that kept him active. In 1997, he created Social Venture Partners (SVP). “He was 47 years old. He had sold his company and said, ‘well, shoot, I’m too young to be retired. I want to give back,” said Taryn Graham, Operations and Communications Manager at SVP Waterloo Region, the local chapter of Social Venture Partners located in the David Johnston Research + Technology Park. “But he wanted to do it differently. He wanted to see the impact of what he’s doing.” SVP chapters go beyond simply raising money for charities. Their partners roll up their sleeves and get involved hands-on to help charities and social organizations scale their support.
SVP Waterloo Region is one of over 40 affiliates of the organization worldwide. The local chapter has been helping in Waterloo Region for 11 years, six of those under Executive Director Rose Greensides. “We bring a network of people who are passionate about the community, who have skills to bring to the table and they bring that with their own money and their own resources,” said Greensides. “They take their time, their money, and their expertise and they invest into local charities that are promising and that are basically ready to take their work to the next level.”
There’s a learning component for SVP partners too. As they mentor and support charities, they’re able to learn about the charity’s impact and issues affecting the community. “They learn about what good grant making means,” Greensides said. “Then you have the charitable sector that gets an influx of all these amazing people who have the skills at their fingertips to help them with things like HR or board governance or marketing communications or legal issues. SVP is the bridge that allows that magic to happen.”
Like the way Brainerd started SVP in 1997, the start of SVP Waterloo Region has its roots in two local tech leaders looking to make a difference – Tim Jackson and Jacqui Murphy. “They didn’t want to just write a check. They saw that the needs of the community were huge, and just money alone was not going to fix them,” said Greensides.
With the guidance of Rosemary Smith, the CEO of Kitchener Waterloo Community Foundation in the early 2000s, Jackson and Murphy researched models across the world on how people were putting not just money – but skills and experience – to work supporting charities.
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They visited a SVP affiliate in the United States to learn about Social Venture Partners and came back with a mission to open the chapter in Waterloo Region. “They understood the value for the community, that a bridge needed to be created between those people who have the skills and expertise and the energy to do more good, and charities who need that support,” added Greensides.
Greensides brings a deep understanding of the importance of charitable organizations to her role as Executive Director. Before joining SVP Waterloo Region, Greensides was the Executive Director of Bereaved Families of Ontario Midwestern Region for eight years. “Before that, I was in the corporate world, so I had no real affiliation with the nonprofit world,” said Greensides. “But tragedy struck my family and I became very involved in Bereaved Families. I sort of wrapped myself around that organization and helped it to grow for eight years. I learned a lot about the charitable sector that I never would have learned as a volunteer or even perhaps as a board member.”
Greensides learned about SVP Waterloo Region from a phone call from a local charitable legend – Cathy Brothers. “She asked me if I had heard of Social Venture Partners and said they’re looking for a new Executive Director and that my name was on the top of her list,” said Greensides. “We do what we all do when Cathy Brothers tells us, we just do it.” While she was hesitant at first, the interview with Jackon and Murphy convinced her. “I walked in thinking I wasn’t sure if I wanted this job. And I would say within seven minutes, I was completely hooked.”
SVP Waterloo Region functions like an accelerator for charities, similar to how their R+T Park neighbour, The Accelerator Centre, helps startups scale. There is a combination of funding through grant-making along with opportunities for SVP partners to mentor the charities. Greensides added that another advantage for partners and their companies is in talent development.
Opportunities through SVP participation have been a great way to give up-and-coming leaders experience managing projects and teams. The opportunities can also help with keeping talent. “You don’t want them to go to San Francisco or anywhere else,” said Greensides. “But how do we keep the talent here? Well, if we get them involved with SVP Waterloo Region, working on some of these projects, they’re going to learn about the community, get invested and they’re ultimately going to want to stay.”
Recently, skills from an SVP partner helped local charity Sexual Assault Support Centre of Waterloo Region (SASC) manage a rent increase challenge. SASC is one of SVP Waterloo Region’s newest investees. At their first meeting, Greensides asked their Executive Director, Sara Casselman, what was keeping them up at night. “She said their lease was up for renewal and they had to renegotiate their rent. Sara was worried about what the increased cost was going to be.”
Greensides reached out to an SVP partner with legal experience who helped negotiate the organization’s rent. “From that negotiation, I think we saved them $140,000 over five years,” said Greensides.
SVP Waterloo Region Operations and Communications Manager Graham finds inspiration in seeing partners find causes that matter to them. “We’re starting our investment committee next month, which is where we choose the investee charity (the organization we work with over multiple years.) Watching the partners who sit on that committee learn about things that they never knew existed, whether it’s a service or a community challenge, their eyes just light up. We’ve seen partners go on to shift their careers to work in the charitable sector, sit on boards, and bring other people to the table. It acts as the spark for change.”
Greensides said that helping make that spark happen never gets old. “From a personal level, nothing gets me more fired up than igniting the philanthropic fire within the Region. It makes me so happy.”
University of Waterloo student Saajan Kartalks about his recent co-op experience with SAP Labs Waterloo.