23 Jun Raven Indigenous Capital Partners
Interview with Paul Lacerte, Managing Partner for the Raven Indigenous Impact Fund
In 2017, I heard about Raven Indigenous Capital Partners from the McConnell Foundation. Elaine Rassmussen and I met with Stephen Nairne and Paul LaCerte in 2018 in Vancouver and learned about their emerging fund centered on Indigenous business and their unique investment thesis focusing on Indigenous ownership, Indigenous customers, Indigenous employment, and Indigenous community well-being. With careful consideration, Swift Foundation (where I was Executive Director from 2011-19) made an early investment in Raven. Since then, I have tracked their exciting momentum, growing portfolio and inventive approach to growing the field of Indigenous entrepreneurs.
Jen: How was Raven Indigenous Capital Partners created?
Paul: Stephen Nairne (CIO), Jeff Cyr (Managing Partner) and I (Managing Partner) recognized the impediments to economic inclusion, growth, and wealth in the Indigenous economy in Canada. Because of these barriers, Indigenous entrepreneurs don’t have access to the same resources as their non-Indigenous counterparts. Raven Indigenous Capital Partners was founded as a solution to this oft-seen problem. We use existing structures – impact investing and strong relationships in the Indigenous community – to breathe life into a re-emerging Indigenous economy.
Jen: How are your investment funds catalytic in a way that is different from other funds?
Paul: Our fund operates through a lens of decolonization and reculturalization, that celebrates the strength of Indigenous world-views. We also endeavor to use the element of transformation in our work, creating an equitable and prosperous future for Indigenous peoples in Canada, by reinvigorating the Indigenous economy in the image of Indigenous cultures. We also seek to rematriate our approach to the way that money behaves so it honors Indigenous women.
Jen: How do you describe the kind of non-financial returns the fund offers?
Paul: We are contributing to the healing of Indigenous people from 5 generations of residential schools, and we are shifting the balance of perspective on returns to a quadruple bottom line – fiscal, environmental, social and reconciliation. There is an inherent reciprocity that we invite in our investors and portfolio businesses and we are undoing hierarchy and replacing it with reciprocity, which is a type of return.
There are returns being realized in the economic resilience for Indigenous families. All of the good things that happen for Indigenous people when money is provided in a loving way and there are emotional returns on investments (ROI), help facilitate the learning and growth journey for both the institutions and collectives.
Jen: Can you describe how you use integrated capital to do your work?
Paul: We are Indigenous-owned, -led and -centered intermediaries that understand that in order to deploy capital into the Indigenous economy, we need time, human resources, and money. We center storytelling and relationships as our approach and understand that training and education is necessary to empower Indigenous entrepreneurs with the capital and expertise they need to succeed. Our organization flourished out of an extensive relationship capital, which led us to create our first fund and laid the groundwork to launch the first national accelerator program for Indigenous entrepreneurship, Fireweed Fellowship, in what is currently known as Canada.The first cohort is made up of a group of all Indigenous women entrepreneurs, which connects back to our idea of rematriation.
Jen: What is transformational about the businesses that you invest in?
Paul: Our entrepreneurs have a shared priority to uplift and contribute to the well being of Indigenous people. The spirit of indigenous resurgence is indicative of the time that we are in, as the Indigenous social economy is coming to fruition. The entrepreneurs in our portfolio are the pivot to Indigenous ingenuity and innovation, which is being driven intergenerationally. It is the last bastion or sector of Indigenous resurgence that already includes language revitalization, housing, and education.
Jen: How do you address racial justice, income inequality, and/or gender justice through your products and services?
Paul: Through our impact measurement, at a headline level and enterprise level, we have measures to ensure that we identify and close inequitable gaps at the governance level. We also operate our investment practices through a lens of gender. For example, the Fireweed Fellowship was only for women and gender nonconforming people. There was learning and growth that was required in order to build Indigenous course content that was safe for women and non-binary folks.
We are also committed to decolonizing our investor agreements. We are currently constructing an increase in language where lawyers will allow us to add equitable language and put in parallel language that reflects our commitment to decolonization, reculturalization, and rematriation.
Jen: What does a foundation or investor need to understand in order to invest in transformational businesses?
Paul: Transformational business requires tough honesty. People wanting to invest in these types of businesses need to be willing to ask themselves some difficult introspective questions and be willing to challenge themselves, like asking themselves “Am I ok with the status quo?” or “How am I benefiting from the status quo?” If investors are no longer wanting to be a part of the status quo, then they need to ask themselves what they are willing to give up, or unlearn, or be uncomfortable with, in order to stop being part of the problem.
Jen: What do you tell people who think your fund is risky?
Paul: Increasingly not investing in this fund or other transformational funds like it, is what is in fact risky, because people will get left behind. Generational struggles led to this moment of Indigenous economy re-emergence, and our portfolio shows evidence of these assumptions. Our Raven Indigenous Impact Fund for example jumped from a 4-6% to 6-8% return. We believe our fund will have non-market correlated returns to our investors and that we will be insulated from market instability. In this moment there is a momentum by this generation coming out of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, that is privileging the Indigenous space. The Emerging payoff from education strategies and huge wealth transfer due to supreme court decisions are all helping the Indigenous economy, and not being a part of this movement is risky.
Investment Thesis/What is your rationale for your approach to investing? We provide patient, flexible capital to Indigenous entrepreneurs in a culturally grounded way while also generating competitive returns to our investors. Our decolonized investment approach and relationships are transforming the social finance ecosystem.
Geography: Turtle Island with a focus in Canada
Year Founded: 2019
# of Investments: 6
Funds Raised: $25 M