Fighting poverty through saving – Vancity’s new TV ad.

Jumpstart High Interest Savings AccountLast week, when I spoke at the Partnership Symposium, I talked a little bit about Vancity’s Jumpstart High Interest Savings account.

It’s a high interest savings account (as of this writing it is paying out a very competitive 3% interest rate) that works like any other. Except for one big difference:

Vancity donates a portion of the proceeds to a not-for-profit partner who runs a program called Future Foundations, which gives a 300% savings rate to eligible people who need help paying for:

  • training or education
  • paying for a child’s education
  • starting or expanding a business
  • purchasing housing

Truly amazing stuff.

This week, we launched a slightly edgy TV ad to promote this product. Take a look and let me know what you think…

What does Vancity do in the community anyway?

A major project I’ve been working on for the past few months is spearheading the re-architecting and rewriting of all the content in the community area of vancity.com. It’s been a massive project because, well, frankly we never expained the myriad ways we do good things in our community everyday. A little gap I think.

In other words, the very reason I wanted to work at Vancity, and the main thing that keeps me excited to come to work everyday was almost entirely absent from our website. It’s a long story.

So, I’m so extraordinarily pleased to share with you our new MyCommunity area.

vancity.com/MyCommunity

Inside you’ll find out about our four pillars of community leadership (Acting on Climate Change, Facing Poverty, Growing the Social Economy and Being Accountable), what we do in our communities, why we do what we do, what financial products we have that help create positive change, how we help the not-for-profit sector in our local economy, what grants we give out and whole lot more. This project has been absolutely amazing, and I’m really excited about sharing it with you.

I’d love to hear what you all think, especially other CU folks.

Muhammad Yunus and the concept of social finance.

Muhammad YunusAt Vancity, where I work, we recently created a division called Social Finance. This is where our Business Banking department now resides, as well as Commercial Mortgages and our amazing Community Business Banking team, where many of our most innovative and socially relevant products and services are generated.

Creating and naming this new division was an interesting risk, and as soon as I heard the name Social Finance, I thought to myself: Holy crap I can’t believe I get to work here.

What’s even more amazing is that our executives created this new name and division based on an understanding of what Social Finance could be, but without a nailed-down definition of what it means for us. That’s the work of whoever gets the gig of SVP Social Finance.

Last night we at Vancity brought Nobel Peace Prize winner Muhammad Yunus to town. He received an Honorary Doctor of Laws degree from the University of British Columbia for his amazing work as Banker to the Poor at Grameen Bank, which he founded in his native Bangladesh specifically to help the poor. He spoke about the power of small amounts of money to transform people’s lives, and the role private businesses can play in creating change in the lives of our poorest citizens. In the past he has endorsed Vancity’s Microcredit Toolkit, and we recently announced that our own microfinance-driven term deposit would now be funding local initiatives.

He calls it Social Business, and it’s the subject of his new book, Creating a World Without Poverty: Social Business and the Future of Capitalism. We call it Social Finance. It’s something that has to be framed for many people, because we have it ingrained in us that there are two options in life: charity and profit.

But there is room for a strong middle ground. Businesses can have as their focus socially responsible goals as their main driver and still sell their products and services in a business-savvy way, repay their investors, pay their employees well and thrive in the business context, and drive their profits back into the work they do. Their work can be of tremendous social value and significance, and yet be no less business-like.

As we deal with issues of climate change and social equity, these kinds of business are cropping up. They could be used to solve the health care crisis in America. To clean up the Downtown Eastside in Vancouver, reduce our carbon emissions, provide inexpensive and nourishing food for poor families to feed their children, vaccinate the third world.

The money invested could be reinvested and continue to solve our most pressing problems, rather than giving money away which has no lifespan beyond the initial donation.

Last night was an amazing time. I was so fortunate to be invited to a small private reception to meet Professor Yunus, and then go to hear him speak to several hundred people about his work serving the poorest people on the planet. His work is actually reducing poverty in Bangladesh by significant amounts. He has opened specialized services focused on beggars, and creating Social Finance opportunities such as Grameen Danone and Grameenphone, Bangladesh’s largest mobile phone company owned in part by the 7.5 million co-operative owners of Grameen Bank.

A Vancity board member asked me at the reception why I had come down to hear Muhammad Yunus speak, and I replied that this kind of activity is the very reason I initially chose to do my banking at Vancity, and why I later decided to work there. Banking is really only marginally interesting to me, but using the platform of banking to solve social problems that we face in our communities is a powerful draw for me. Exploring that intersection where money and community come together is extremely powerful and much needed.

Last night Muhammad Yunus proved how true that is.

CommunityLend brings social lending one step closer in Canada.

CommunityLendColin Henderson, who as The Bankwatch is one of my very favourite bloggers, is one step closer to making CommunityLend a reality.

CommunityLend is:

An online community where people can lend money directly to other people in a safe and secure way. It is an exciting and unique lending service for Canadians that will revolutionize the way lending works in Canada.

I asked Colin about his new venture and here’s what he told me:

I look at the Canadian Banks’ involvement in the US Sub Prime mortgage market, and the fact that over $2Bn has been lost there by Canadian Banks. That’s an enormous loss. There is a need for greater transparency for people seeking a return on their money, and what they are investing in. Social lending not only eliminates those issues, but provides a better return for borrowers, and lenders.

Colin deserves a lot of credit for his outstanding blogging on the Sub Prime and ABCP situation, while many others have skirted around the issue or moved on. I have learned a lot from reading Colin’s editorials on this situation, and have a lot of faith in his opinions and his ability to create alternatives to the lending and borrowing options Canadians have today.

According to Colin’s blog “2007 was a long year, as we raised our funding, and organised the management team (of which he is Chief Technology Officer and Co-Founder).” They’re aiming for a Beta launch in early 2008, which means those of us north of the border can finally kick the tires on the services that several companies around the world have started, including Zopa, Prosper and Lending Club.

CommunityLend’s website, very recently updated with information (for months now it’s been a teaser with no real information) says that:

The unsecured consumer loan marketplace in Canada exceeds $100 Billion in volume every year and generates interest payments on those loans exceeding $15 Billion annually… Today in Canada, this very profitable industry is also a very closed industry, with only a handful of major companies involved… CommunityLend intends to democratize lending in Canada by opening up this billion dollar industry to other Lenders interested in participating. Share the wealth, we like to say!

They’re also obviously going to have a big community component around people’s borrowing goals. Knowing Colin, they’re going to tackle all of this very, very smartly. I can’t wait to try it out and see how it works.

Stay tuned…

Give One Get One – the $200 laptop.

I’ve been loosely following the $100 dollar laptop for a while now. And now there’s a campaign where you buy one for yourself and one for a child in need in the developing world.

During Give One Get One, you can donate the revolutionary XO laptop to a child in a developing nation, and also receive one for the child in your life in recognition of your contribution.

In reality, the $100 laptop is actually $200, but it delivers on most of what was envisioned. The NYTimes has a great review of the laptop.

Here’s where you can find out more about the Give One Get One program, and sign up for your own laptop.