Social Finance Design Lab: Newcomer Perspective

This post was written by Akil Mesiwala, who attended this event on September 18th, 2018. This event was part of the Ottawa Energy Collective Impact process which aims to reduce building-related GHG emissions in Ottawa by 80% below 2012 levels by 2050, and focused on opportunities and challenges around social finance options to make that happen! More info about this BIG project available here. Akil also wrote a piece for the PEN on a passive house he visited during GEDO 2018.

18 Sept 2018: Social finance design lab – Penny for my thoughts!

As a newcomer to Ottawa, I’m unfortunately unfamiliar with the Ottawa Energy Collective Impact, an initiative spearheaded by Sustainable Eastern Ontario. It’s a shame because as I learn more about the mission and workings of the group, I wished I were a part of it since inception. It is a fantastic grassroots movement that wants to push this city towards an energized future.

To be more precise, the collective impact is creating a road map for a low carbon grid by bringing relevant stakeholders together and encouraging collaboration to work towards a common goal – to rapidly transform the energy and building systems across the Ottawa community.

One way to do so is by creating more financial opportunities for clean energy and retrofit projects. This is where the social finance design lab comes into play. I found out about it through my LinkedIn network and thought it would be a good opportunity for me to get involved as well as learn something new. The event was held at Carleton University and moderated by Tessa Hebb, a social finance expert and a senior research fellow at the Carleton Centre for Community Innovation. The room was packed with people who were working in the financial space as well as sustainability professionals like myself who were eager to learn about social finance.

There were three panel discussions, and each enlightened us on one aspect of the retrofit landscape (as can be seen by the beautiful illustration by Kara Stonehouse of AHa! Graphic Facilitation). All three put together gave us a holistic view of the investors, the investments and the bridge connecting the two. The first panel discussion was on different financial models that were being used to fund clean tech enterprises and how each of the panelists were effectively using them in their organizations. The second was on scaling-up building retrofits and some of the challenges and benefits of doing so. The last panel consisted of institutional investors who spoke about what attracts them to invest in a clean project (I think the most complete notes by the audience were taken during this panel!).

Large sheet of paper with drawings and text summarizing a discussion on green buildings and renewable energy.
Kara produced this graphic recording of the days events live during the event. Photo: Akil Mesiwala.

It was branded as a “design lab” because there were two collaborative sessions where us attendees could discuss real opportunities in the city and come up with some

Woman in business clothing gesturing over table with sticky notes and papers.
Laura Scrimgeour-Carter is a behavioural scientist with Soar Behaviour Consulting who participated in the event.

constructive pathways to solve them. The goal of these exercises was to broaden horizons by listening to different perspectives, and to also to get participants out of their comfort zones to get everyone thinking about the topics outside their domain of expertise.

Overall my experience with the event was positive, and I left the room with a better understanding of the clean tech financial space than I had when I entered. What can be done better for future sessions? I’d like to see more structure in the “design labs” – where participants are brainstorming solutions about specific issues, which the Collective Impact can then determine feasibility and create work streams out of some.

All in all, I’ll look forward to attending the next event, that’s for certain.

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