Mitchell from JustChange.ca: We fund high impact and high risk projects - it's the outcome that really matters
Mitchell Kutney is a co-founder of the Canadian organisation JustChange which was started by a group of individuals who pool their own money and support community projects to solve environmental, social or economic inequality issues.
Since 2013 they have already funded nine initiatives, some of them project-based, such as a prototype or an event, while others are idea-based or in the early startup phase.
Besides JustChange Mitchell is also a member of the leadership team for the Citizen Academy (which caught my attention too and definitely is 'idea worth spreading') and he writes about philantrophy and impact investing to the well-known media platforms like The Huffington Post or Blue & Green Tomorrow’s Magazine, “The Guide to Philanthropy and Giving.”
You can connect with Mitchell and JustChange via Twitter at @MKutney and @JustChangeOtt
P.S. I recommend you to learn more about JustChange decision-making process which is a unique combination of democratic vote and consensus, described by another member of JustChange board, Albert in this blog post.
1) Could we start with yourself – when and how have you became interested in philanthropy and social causes?
I became interested in philanthropy and social causes during my second year of university when I began coordinating a project called Youth Futures that was designed to help low-income youth make the transition from high school to post-secondary education.
2) Your focus is impact investing - how do you perceive difference between end result of impact investing and donation in terms of motivation of investors/ donors and beneficiaries?
My focus is on philanthropy, though I am interested in the role it plays in impact investing and vice versa. Impact investing brings attention to the value of long-term outcomes and measurable results, and identifies the role markets can play in some of society's most challenging problems. Philanthropy is also interested in these areas, however, often struggles with balancing immediate needs and evaluation/demonstrating impact.
I think impact investing is attractive to more modern investors who recognize the complexity and breadth of some of societies challenges who are interested in creating value in not only for themselves, but for society, and are willing to trade off some economic value in their wallets for some social and environmental value for everyone. My only caution is that sometimes impact investing is perceived as replacing philanthropy, which is certainly not the case - markets-based solutions are not the panacea for all of society's problems, and that is where philanthropy plays a big role that should never be displaced.
3) From impact investing to the concept of your project JustChange which selects projects and helps them with funding is not that far. But how did the idea came about and why do you offer $1000?
A number of traditional granting agencies have had to pull back funding due to austerity measures, making it especially difficult for newer or higher-risk projects to enter into this space. JustChange was a collective idea to address this issue by pooling together funds to catalyze great ideas in Ottawa that otherwise would not have received funding. We offer the $1,000 because we felt that number was a good balance between risk and impact, as well as, accessible for both members and applicants.
4) How do you help winners beyond the $1000 cheque?
We have a number of partners, such as the HUB Ottawa that offers a collaborative working space to our grant recipients; we hold an event called JustDrinks where we invite our networks to attend the grant giving and the media if they are available; as well as, offer them any help the JustChange board might be able to provide. We also have a social media presence that we promote grant recipient projects on and try to cultivate a community of mutual supports around.
5) Where do you find support and partners? How do you raise awareness of your organisation?
The JustChange board leverages its personal networks to seek out partners and we have been very fortunate with local media in supporting JustChange as well. The University of Ottawa was our first major partner, along with the HUB Ottawa, which has been instrumental in getting the word out and attracting great applications. We have a number of other potential partnerships currently developing and are always interested in working with others.
6) Which project (even if it didn't win) stands out in your memory?
As I mentioned earlier, education is something that is very important to me, especially for youth seeking to transition from high school to post-secondary education. This was something I struggled with personally, so I was very excited when 'Compass Teens,' the Centre for Self-Directed Learning applied and won a grant from JustChange. Compass Teens is a centre that helps teenagers live and learn without "school" by supporting teens to create a customized education based on their interests, abilities, and goals. They offer classes that run throughout the day, tutoring, mentoring, assistance with finding internships and volunteer opportunities, help with university admissions, and is a safe and comfortable place for students to work and socialize.
7) What type of projects would you personally like to see in your grant pipeline and what are your plans – would you like to for example support larger projects or rather work on development of the current projects and help them to grow?
JustChange is interested in all great ideas that support Ottawa, whether through an economic, social or environmental lens. JustChange serves to catalyze high-impact ideas that might otherwise not have ever seen the light of day, so I am interested in seeing projects that are perceived as higher risk with potentially high returns that can really benefit from a $1,000 donation.
8) What is the feedback of your community? Are people more keen to start their own 'greater good' projects?
The feedback from the community has been very supportive and they are the greatest asset to JustChange; it is the buzz and attention the community brings to a great idea that gives people the motivation and reinforcement to pursue it further, the donation just makes it official and helps with some of the costs.
9) What more by your opinion could be done to promote social entrepreneurship on both governmental and public level?
I think the major shift that is occurring right now in what Jed Emerson coined as 'blended value,' where what was traditionally viewed in the silos of "for-profit" and "non-profit" is simply no longer serving its intended purpose. We have charities that are running innovative business models around addressing mental health (especially in autism, for example), and we have for-profit businesses addressing traditionally charitable activities, such as poverty reduction or education through market means. So, I think we, as a society, need to have a long and hard conversation about what the future of "good" looks like and how it is best we support it.
10) Is there anything you would like to add?
If anyone is ever interested in chatting more about philanthropy, social entrepreneurship, charity or impact investing - I'm always up for a cup of coffee or a phone call - you can reach me on Twitter at @MKutney, and if you are interested in learning more about JustChange to please join our mailing list at www.JustChange.ca