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Meet hot rod hobbyist Norm Francis—he’s been here since the beginning

Posted by SVP Vancouver
Norm's hot rod

One of SVP’s Founding Partners Norm Francis has just been awarded the Fraser Institute Founders’ Award (today, on October 10th!). We caught up with Norm to talk about the award, the founding of SVP, hot rods and more.

The Fraser Institute Founders’ Award is the Institute’s highest honour given for “exceptional entrepreneurial achievements, generous philanthropic endeavours and dedication to competitive markets.” How does it feel to be recognized for your efforts?
I’m honoured that my accomplishments are being acknowledged; however, at the same time I view this award as also honouring the accomplishments of the technology industry in BC and its presence in the BC economy. I have told friends that I think the Fraser Institute looked around for one of the oldest people still involved in the industry!

Well you’re not only a founder in the tech industry. You’re also one of the founding partners of SVP. Tell us a bit about the origins of SVP. Specifically, what was your inspiration and why did you get involved?
The idea originated from a speech I gave at a meeting of the BC Technology Industry Association. After discussing it, a group of approximately 15 people from the technology industry decided to form the charitable foundation BC Technology Foundation (BCT), which later became SVP. We each made a cash commitment and convinced David Sutcliffe to be the first chair of the board. I also served on the board for I think the first 14 or 15 years.

Were you heavily involved in philanthropy prior to SVP?
No. My philanthropic career really commenced with the founding of SVP. Up until then I had been fully engaged building a career, raising a family, and being the very busy CEO of a public company travelling around the world. Since the founding of SVP, I have also been involved in philanthropic projects in medicine and the arts.

Nowadays you’re something of a serial co-funder! What projects have you co-funded in the past and what projects are you co-funding right now?
Our family foundation originally funded SVP’s involvement with Take a Hike. We have co-funded projects at ONE TO ONE Literacy, KidSafe, Yo Bro, plus SVP’s Shared Services initiatives and recent Social Impact Retreat. In addition, we co-funded the three separate Social Enterprise funds that were run by SVP Vancouver in conjunction with the Vancouver Foundation and VanCity in the early 2000s. We also participated in co-funding the Dr. Donald Rix Endowment, which I put together with Dr. Rix before he passed away.

Looking back, what are some of the highlights of your work with SVP? The things you’re most proud of.
One of main highlights has certainly been how we have pioneered “engaged philanthropy” in BC, and implemented the time and expertise plus money model. Along the way we took risks on small non-profits with innovative ideas which have blossomed with our support. We have indirectly helped a lot of people in our community along the way. I am also proud of having contributed to the original granting process, which I chaired in the early years, and later to the redesign of our current Opportunities Committee process.

What are you most looking forward to in your next 20 years with SVP?
Hoping that I will be attending an SVP meeting in 20 years! But seriously, I’m looking forward to SVP Vancouver continuing to innovate and help non-profits help many more children and youth meet their full potential.

What are three things people may not know about you?
I like (and own) muscle cars and hot rods. I collect historic Canadian art and published a book about Laura Muntz, one of Canada’s early women artists. Oh, and maybe that I was in the software business so early that I have lived through the invention of: the personal computer, the internet, email, word processing, electronic spreadsheets, client/server computing, wireless data, cloud computing, and smart phones!

What are three things you think Partners may not know about SVP?

  1. The “social venture partner” model wasn’t part of the original formation of the foundation. We learned about the model and adopted it after connecting with Seattle where SVP had been founded by Paul Brainerd (the creator of the desktop publishing category and the product PageMaker).
  2. For several years in the early days, we funded non-profits focused on women’s issues and the Downtown East Side in addition to non-profits focused on disadvantaged children and youth-at-risk.
  3. SVP pioneered funding “social enterprises” in Greater Vancouver and formed three separate funds in conjunction with the Vancouver Foundation and VanCity (mentioned earlier), totalling approximately $750,000. Most of the SVP contributions to those funds were from co-funding partners. Some of the organizations we funded were Potluck Cafe, Atira Women’s Resource Center, The Cleaning Solution, Neil Squire Society, and EMBERS, all of which are very successful today.