Gena Rotstein's blog

What Impact Will You Make in Your Lifetime?

“In order to make good decisions, you need to understand the geography of our time.” Commander Chris Hadfield

Understanding the geography of our time is as much about being able to see the world as if through a window at the International Space Station, as it is about knowing who and what is operating in our immediate field of vision. 

I recently attended the Community Foundations of Canada conference in Calgary.  There were so many take-aways from this experience, but the one thing that resonated the most was the presentation by Commander Chris Hadfield when he asked, “What is the one thing that will have the longest lasting impact?”  He went on to share what he felt was his greatest impact… Here’s a man who has lived in space, commanded a space station, took over 45,000 pictures of our planet and the universe that surrounds it and do you know what he said was his GREATEST LIFE’S IMPACT?  Singing and playing guitar from the International Space Station as part of Music Monday – the Coalition for Music Education.    

Why is this so important? For two reasons:

1.       Because it is through art that we express ourselves across language barriers.

2.      The ability to have an event that spans across the universe shows people that having Big Hairy Audacious Goals (BHAG) is what drives the imagination and creates opportunity

So what is your legacy?  What is the most impactful thing you have done?

Nepal Earthquake and Charities to Support

Just as when the flood waters rose in Southern Alberta in 2013, we have pulled together a group of individuals who have experience working with organizations in Nepal to help direct funds to organizations operating on the ground addressing the earthquake disaster.  You can donate to this fund through P2G Nepal Relief Fund.

These organizations have a proven track record during a time of crisis and when going about their day-to-day operations.  I have identified the organizations and how the funds will be used over what period of time so that you know what to expect as a result of your donation.

As always, there is the Red Cross, however experience has shown that the funds raised by this organization tend to get pushed into the machine of the Red Cross so, while it is a steady organization, if you are wanting to see impact and have an emotional connection to how your funds were spent, there are other choices.

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Crisis Funding Questions

Questions to ask when considering donating to crisis relief:

  • How are funds being managed?
  • How is distribution being managed?
  • What is the time commitment?
  • How is the agency working on the ground?
  • Who is the agency working with (other organizations, volunteers, etc)?
  • Who is the organization supporting?
  • What is the reporting process?
  • Can I designate my donation? If so, is there an additional fee for this service?

Rotary 4-Way Test and My Business Model

I have been a member of the Calgary South Rotary Club for almost five years and it was at a recent meeting that I started reflecting on what being a member of this service organization has meant to me.

The Rotary Four-Way Test has been a cornerstone for how I operate in the world and how I envision my company operating.  In large part it is this test that helps articulate my corporate values internally and externally and also that which provides my team as a guiding framework for decision making – as a way to self-authorize decision making.

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Creating a Trust Exchange: Is your investing strategy undermining your philanthropic efforts?

Guest Blogger - Bob McInnis, Remarkable People: Bob is a provocateur and storyteller making meaning through the snippets, posts, presentations, and short stories he creates. Living in Calgary and California, he watches remarkable sunrises and amazing sunsets and tries to raise a bit of a ruckus between them.

On Saturday April 18 and Sunday April 19, I was please to attend a Dexterity Ventures event exploring the question “Is your investing strategy undermining your philanthropic efforts?”

The Saturday night panel challenge the participants at Hotel Arts  to consider where we have our financial investments including RESPs and RRSPs and if these specific funds or companies were positively or negatively impacting our philanthropic efforts and the causes we are passionate about. The choice to invest in the environment versus opting to divest from energy companies was handled without the rancour and contempt that often arises. All the panelists understand that a measured transition is needed and a careful analysis of any unexpected or unintended side effects implemented.  Jenna Nicholas from Phoenix Global Impact shared with the group that they are undertaking a measured Divest/Invest approach that tests the thesis along the way rather than making a once and for all sell/buy decision.

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Charitable Giving and Family Business

Philanthropy in the family enterprise model is distinct from other family based charitable giving programs.  What makes philanthropy planning for family-owned businesses and their successors is the relationships that the enterprise has with the family.  Over the next three weeks I will be sharing a series of posts about philanthropy in the family enterprise model, leading up to the Michael Shuman, Social Impact Investing summit that is being held in Calgary on April 18 and 19 as part of the REAP Calgary Down to Earth Week.

80% of Canada’s economy is built on small and medium sized businesses.  It is estimated that 90% of those are family owned.  What comes to mind when I say family business might be some of the larger names like McCain, Ford Automotive, Loblaws (Weston Family), Sobey’s, Wal-Mart, Cargill, and Shaw; but there are a number, lesser known or more localized family businesses that cover every possible industry in our country from automotive to agriculture, from retail to construction, from IT to the energy sector.  With such large market-share in our economy it’s a wonder that we don’t hear about the strength and values that family businesses bring to our economy, especially when things are turning downwards.

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Quarterly Notes from the Tech Team

Some major developments have happened with the technology at Dexterity Ventures Inc. (DVI) over the first few months of 2015. Here is the overview of what has been going on:

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Fiscal Unequals and Household Philanthropy: A New White Paper from Dexterity Ventures

The demographics of wealth creation and wealth management are changing. Not only are women amassing greater wealth on their own, but they are also controlling more of the household's finances. The new Dexterity Ventures white paper, "Fiscal Unequals and Household Philanthropy," explores this shift and explains why it is important to financial advisors and nonprofits. This white paper was inspired by the panel I moderated last December discussing the TD Waterhouse Report Time, Treasure, Talent: Canadian Women and Philanthropy.

Click here to read the full white paper on the Dexterity Ventures website.

Divest-Invest: Divesting from the past and Investing in the Future

Over the last three years, a global climate movement has called on all institutional investors to divest from fossil fuels and has focused on exposing the problem of ‘unburnable carbon’, alerting investors to the risks of stranded assets, and calling for urgent action on financial and ethical grounds. For the philanthropic sector, the social, human, and ecological impacts of climate change significantly impacts our missions and programmatic activities. Climate change also introduces serious ethical and financial risks to our investment portfolios.

In January 2014, a coalition of 17 foundations with $1.7 billion in assets launched Divest-Invest Philanthropy to address the challenges of climate change and to catalyze the philanthropic community to action. Divest-Invest Philanthropy believes that foundations should move quickly, as the science compels us to act with urgency and at scale. Our primary objective is to grow the number of foundations committed to divesting away from carbon intensive fossil fuels and reinvesting a portion of their portfolio in climate solutions such as renewable energy, energy efficiency, clean tech, and energy access for the world’s poor over a five-year time period.

A secondary objective is to build a community of practice where we share information about investment mechanics, products, trends, and partnership opportunities. By working together, we can identify and remove barriers to divestment and direct our resources to the most promising investment opportunities. We also operate in partnership with members from the broader divest-invest movement that encompasses universities, faith groups, hospitals, pension funds, cities, and individuals.

Signatories to Divest-Invest Philanthropy share a set of common values; foremost is the principle that philanthropic organizations have an ethical imperative to divest from harmful industries that damage the environment, impact vulnerable populations, and put our planet and children’s future at risk. In the broadest sense it means using all of our assets to advance our goals, values, and beliefs. At a minimum, it means ensuring our investments do not drive the very problems we ask our grantees to solve. Investments cannot undercut our philanthropic mission – serving the public good. Our investment portfolios are being used to catalyze financial and technological innovation, develop sustainable investment models, and push for mainstream financial institutions to develop new investment instruments that incorporate financial, social, and environmental factors. We can do well, while doing good.

The mission and values of Divest-Invest Philanthropy has resonated throughout the philanthropic community. Over the last 13 months we have grown to 73 foundations worldwide – a four-fold increase – with $4.4 billion in pledged assets. Our members include leading foundations such as the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, Goldman Environmental Foundation, Sierra Club Foundation, Ben and Jerry’s Foundation, Wallace Global Fund, Trust Africa, and the Russell Family Foundation.

We announced our last round of signatories at the UN Climate Summit in September 2014 alongside Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Mark Ruffalo. We also shared our goal of tripling the number of signatories by the COP 21 in December 2015 where a binding and universal global agreement will be negotiated in what may be the last opportunity to do so to avert the worst impacts of climate change. This year is perhaps the most significant for demonstrating both the will and capacity to orchestrate an energy transition. We very much hope that institutions and individuals will join from Canada and around the world.

If you are interested in learning more or have any questions please contact Jenna Nicholas at

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