The Investment Readiness Program was created by the Government of Canada. As the Government of Canada explains: “The Investment Readiness Program (IRP) is a multi-year $50 million pilot program designed to help advance Social Innovation and Social Finance (SI/SF) in Canada by building on existing supports to help catalyze community-led solutions to persistent social and environmental challenges. The pilot will provide a learning opportunity to inform future direction on how best to support and mobilize the social finance sector.” Learn more here.
This blog series by the Trico Charitable Foundation showcases updates by successful IRP grant recipients who reside in Alberta. The goal of this series is to help inspire, inform, and nurture the ability of social entrepreneurship to close the gaps in Canadian society.
Newo Global Energy is a non-profit social enterprise exploring ways to share abundance (wêyôtan) through harmonious relationships (wahkohtowin) and build an economy based on their collective gifts, rather than scarcity and competition. Newo received the gift of its name from Elder Roy Louis, who drew the first iteration of their logo at his kitchen table in Samson Cree First Nation. Newo signifies “four” in Plains Cree, and is sacred to that culture, encompassing the four:
- elements: earth, air, wind, and fire
- directions: north, south, east, and west
- aspects of being human: mind, body, spirit, and emotion.
Newo began installing solar on roofs in 2016, and quickly added training programs for Indigenous youth and others experiencing barriers to employment. Since then, Newo has expanded to include food sovereignty and energy management initiatives.
Rajan Rathnavalu, co-founder and CEO at Newo, explains that they set out to use their IRP funding for three main purposes: improving branding, boosting internal capacity, and exploring opportunities for investment and social procurement.
“To become investment ready, and to present more professionally to foundations, governments or other organizations evaluating us as a partner, we employed Second Revolution Communications to update our logo, website and overall branding,” he says. “We also worked to improve our ability to efficiently quote and deliver projects in anticipation of needing to scale up.
“The scaling opportunities afforded by investment capital became important to us to provide steady, long-term work for our trainees.”
Social procurement, according to Buy Social Canada, is defined as using existing purchasing “to achieve overarching…goals that help shape inclusive, vibrant and healthy communities.” By providing employment to people who otherwise would not be working, Newo creates benefits not included in the price of a solar project. Such cost savings are considerable, and governments are increasingly willing to include these kinds of benefits in contracts.
To explore opportunities for social procurement, Newo partnered with one of Canada’s leading social entrepreneurs, Shaun Loney of Encompass Coop.
“We were able to develop a strong business case for the added benefits of our work,” says Rajan, “but were initially unable to make the right connections to make social ROI a reality in our context.”
Newo did find success on the investment side. Through a partnership with the Solar Power Investment Cooperative of Edmonton (SPICE), Newo financed and completed a 30-kW pilot project on the roof of the Bissell Centre Thrift Shop, while employing Bissell Centre clients, in September 2023. Newo continues to work with SPICE on what they call the Wêyôtan Project to finance new projects that offer non-profits and community organizations the chance to save on their energy bills, while creating paths to employment in the green-energy industry for barriered workers.
Another aim of the Wêyôtan Project is to encourage community members to share their abundance by investing in projects that have social benefits that extend through their communities, rather than solely for a financial return on investment. The model is meant to demonstrate that a next-generation economy of sharing and interdependence is possible.
“It has taken a while for the pieces to come together, and there were many roadblocks along the way,” says Rajan. “With the foundation set through IRP funding, we are now also working with Raven Indigenous Capital Partners to pilot social investment on an energy retrofit project of 200 Indigenous- and Métis-Nation-owned homes. Multiple levels of government and non-profits are coming together to see if we can successfully launch a social ROI model for Alberta in 2024.”