A look back at SVP Vancouver’s beginnings
Before the dot-com crash in 2000, online and tech companies were exploding, both in numbers and big buyouts. Young business and hi-tech entrepreneurs across North America were becoming multi-millionaires, including the Lower Mainland, referred to by some as the “Silicon Valley of the North”.
However, with all the success, the local media portrayed Vancouver’s hi-tech community as having “deep pockets and short arms,” recalls George Hunter, former president of the BC Technology Industry Association (BCTIA). Meaning, the sector was being chastised for their lack of community give-back.
At the same time, BCTIA board members James Topham and Sharka Stuyt, a long time hi-tech industry colleague and MBA student writing her thesis “Case and Strategy for increasing social responsibility in the BC High Tech Industry”, were designated leaders of the committee.
While BCTIA was researching philanthropic options, Rich Osborn, a successful venture capitalist in the city, was on a similar personal quest. He soon came across a unique philanthropic organization originating just across the border in Seattle, Washington called Social Venture Partners (SVP), a privately funded foundation investing in the community with a venture philanthropy model.
Conceived by Paul Brainerd , founder of Aldus Corporation, SVP was aiming to target and connect individuals in the hi-tech sector who were willing to invest in the community with both financial and human capital. A concept that was inspired by a 1997 article in Harvard Business Review titled “ Virtuous Capital: What Foundations Can Learn From Venture Capitalists ”.
A conference was hosted in Dallas, Texas to share the SVP model with like-minded and successful business people from across North America. With its “time + money” approach, venture philanthropy was a concept familiar to the tech sector through venture capitalism – invest in a company, help it grow and sell it for more. However, the objective with venture philanthropy is of course to generate social value, not financial return.
Rich came home to Vancouver and began to assemble a group of local like-minded individuals around the SVP concept. He connected with Dave Mowat, Vancity CEO and Richard Mulcaster, President and CEO of the Vancouver Foundation, who became early supporters of the model. The mutual interests and serendipitous timing eventually connected Rich to Sharka and James. The three merged ideas and promoted the SVP concept to BCTIA members. A group of BCTIA members, including individuals such as Norm Francis, co-founder of Pivotal Software, helped invest the initial capital for the organization and in turn recruited other founding partners to invest in BC Technology Social Ventures Partners Foundation, becoming the third SVP chapter to be established in the world, after Seattle and Arizona.
Each founding Partner invested seed funding of $5,000 and many made a multi-year commitment. A Board of Directors was established with David Sutcliffe becoming the founding Chair of the Foundation. The first priority was to find an Executive Director who could establish SVP in Vancouver and bring the entrepreneurial model to local nonprofits needing capacity building assistance.
Kathleen Speakman was hired and led the organization for its first six years of operation. She managed the partnerships with the Vancouver Foundation and Vancity who provided significant grant funding, built community connections to enlist new Partners, and originated Investees such as Covenant House, Odd Squad, KidSafe and Take-a-Hike Foundation.
In the process, the SVP model was gradually refined and customized to align with the greatest needs of the local community, with a particular emphasis on organizations serving disadvantaged children, youth and their families.
Since its inception in 2001, SVP Vancouver (renamed in June 2013 to align with the Foundation’s geographic reach and SVP’s new international brand) has invested more than $6 million dollars along with thousands of hours of volunteer time, professional expertise, and other resources, to 60+ nonprofits serving Vancouver and surrounding communities.
One of SVP Vancouver’s greatest strengths are the founding Partners and early contributors, many of whom remain strong supporters of SVP today. It was because of their vision, dedication, and incredible generosity that SVP Vancouver has been able to charter its philanthropic journey and create a meaningful legacy and sustainable impact in our community.