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SVI 2014 Profile | Derek Gent, Vancity Community Foundation

SVI 2014 Profile | Derek Gent, Vancity Community Foundation

After a long break, Derek Gent is heading back to SVI once again… and is looking forward to the magic of the mix.

Vancity at SVI

As it has been for over a dozen years, Vancity, Canada’s largest credit union, will once again be the lead sponsorship partner of the Social Venture Institute, taking place September 10-14, 2014 at Hollyhock on Cortes Island, British Columbia. Vancity is a leader in the financial service sector for its work with social entrepreneurs, offering a mixture of conventional financing, venture capital, high risk financing, and grants to mission-based businesses and non-profits.

And again this year, as it has done in the past, Vancity is sending a team of five staff members representing different aspects of the organization to participate in SVI. “The Vancity team brings an interconnected toolkit that’s available to support social enterprise,” explains Derek Gent, Executive Director of the Vancity Community Foundation and one of the senior members of this year’s Vancity cohort. “Each person brings a different lens and set of tools that can be used, and each will be able to contribute and gain different things from this experience.”

In his current role since 2008, and as part of Vancity’s venture capital arm prior to that, Gent has seen an increasing amount of investment flow and endowment assets directed by donors looking for more than a financial return. “As a financial intermediary, we match up investors and foundation donors with the types of projects you see at SVI,” he says, adding with his trademark grin that, “the fun is in putting the deals together.”

Relationships and connections add to the deal

Gent then pauses thoughtfully, and continues. “It’s not just the technical aspects of the deals,” he says, “but also the ‘social capital’ that’s generated– that’s what ultimately makes the deals work, and that’s what’s so great about SVI. As financial investors, we’re looking for that – we know projects are more likely to be successful if you have these things in place.”

Gent is referring to the emphasis placed at the conference design level on developing relationships and connections at SVI. He recalls that what makes the social capital at SVI so rich is the diversity of experiences and perspectives on which the conference draws. “It’s a fascinating mix of practitioners and folks who think about things in different ways,” says Gent, noting that SVI brings together “more than just entrepreneurs or just consultants. Some folks come from an advocacy perspective; others are communicators, fundraisers, finance people, connecters and community animators… It’s really interesting to recognize how all of these players and pieces fit together.”

Gent believes “the mix is part of the magic,” but even with the diversity of perspectives, he notes, “there’s a very interesting level of ‘values resonance’ shared among the participants, a shared sense of making the world a better place.”

Recharging and Inspiring

What better location to hold such a conference than Hollyhock, a learning centre whose mission is “to inspire, nourish and support people who are making the world better.”

Though it has been a number of years since he last attended the Social Venture Institute at Hollyhock, Derek is a seasoned veteran of the conference, having attended for the first time in 2002 and several times since. After this latest break, he is looking forward to getting back to SVI on a number of levels.

“What I’ve missed about it is the extent that it’s a recharge and an inspiration,” adding that the recharge is different from a typical vacation. “It’s an opportunity to remind us why we do this work, and a chance to see it in action.”

Gent is also looking forward to experiencing SVI as a learning and professional development opportunity. Twelve years ago, Gent and former Vancity CEO Dave Mowat were the only Vancity representatives in attendance. “When the decision was made to lean into this relationship, we put some effort in to deciding who would be attending this event,” he recalls. “Especially for the more ‘bred in the bone’ bankers,” Gent explains, “this experience opens their eyes to what we’re trying to do… when you see that in action and when you come back home, there’s a lot more bandwidth to get things done.”

Gent also looks forward to being exposed to the different perspectives and perceptions from the next generation of socially minded businesspeople. “I’m quite fascinated by what’s going on with them – where is young energy these days? That’s of interest to us,” he adds, speaking on behalf of his Vancity counterparts.

Gent will participate this year as a case study panelist, and will make one of several short presentations on the closing night. He is also one of three dozen handpicked experts with whom attendees can book one-on-one advisory sessions. “I hope to add some value in whatever feedback I can provide,” he says modestly.

As for Vancity’s goals in being there, Gent says, “In an ideal world, we’ll generate some deal flow for the credit union, and this will lead to deeper relationships – we are interested in building out the [social enterprise] sector and positioning ourselves as a group that can make this happen.”

“Ultimately,” says Gent,” we want to be driving impact through the groups that we support.”

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