The promise of finding purpose through work is drawing techs biggest and brightest to Canada.
By Craig and Marc Kielburger
New Orleans is probably upset with Canada.
This May, one of the largest international tech conferences will move to Toronto from its founding home in the City of Jazz. Sometimes called “the Olympics for geeks,” Collision attracts the biggest names in the industry, including the CEOs of Microsoft, Lyft, Tinder and Oracle. More than 90,000 early adopters will roll into Toronto with their smart luggage for the event.
Collision’s immigration is just the latest evidence that Canada is a growing destination for the tech industry. In Toronto alone, 401,000 people are employed in 18,000 tech companies. The city is expected to surpass Silicon Valley in its number of innovation jobs within the next two years.
So what’s the draw?
Exponential growth in the industry has created a tug-of-war for top people. Canada’s hubs and accelerators are appealing to prospects by infusing social impact into the nation’s start-ups.
“Toronto isn’t just bros and IPOs. Our companies are focused on value and profit, but also impact,” says Chris Rickett, Manager of Special Projects for the City of Toronto. (He played the purpose card to draw Collision to the city).
Since purpose is a big draw, Canada’s talent pool is deep. Surveys continue to find that, for the next generation of employees, making a difference through their work is more important than the size of their paycheque.
“Youth have a very different perspective of the world. They want to drive impact and returns. That comes as second nature to the Canadian personality,” says Yung Wu, CEO of MaRS Discovery District, a Toronto-based incubation hub.
Canadian entrepreneurs are ahead of the purpose curve, according to Tariq Fancy, a leading Silicon Valley investment consultant and founder of the education non-profit, The Rumie Initiative.
Incubators like MaRs and Ryerson University’s Digital Media Zone (DMZ) are churning out enterprises with social impact, such as Ulula. Launched out of the DMZ, Ulula is a digital platform that helps global businesses increase transparency, identifying and tracking issues like human rights abuses in supply chains.
Wu says Canada’s social innovation environment is turning a onetime national brain drain into a brain gain. That talent pool is valuable for future-minded CEOs. Social entrepreneurs aren’t just good businesspeople, they’re invested in communities, and in shared social outcomes that also boost economies.
“[Companies] find people here who have passion, and who can spread that passion to others,” says Abdullah Snobar, executive director of the DMZ.
Why wouldn’t savvy firms want to snap that up?
Canada must move quickly to lock in our advantage. That means creating investment opportunities such as social impact bonds, which allow investors to support ventures with a social mission, and get returns based on impact. Snobar adds that we could do a better job marketing our social advantages to the rest of the world. And Fancy believes that Canada could be less risk-averse when it comes to investing in social enterprise.
In the race to attract the industries of the future, Canada should play to its strength. We are a nation that cares. In business, that means social innovation, and Canada has an edge.