New UNB centre digs at roots of poverty

March 11, 2012 | by: Heather Boyd-Kinnie



11 Mar 2012 05:20AM
In 2008, as a co-chair of New Brunswick’s Poverty Reduction Initiative, Gerry Pond was tasked with examining the roots of poverty in his home province.

He was changed by what he discovered.

“I always felt I was a community-minded person … But I didn’t fully understand the extent and the scope of poverty – how it works, what the issues are and why the social safety net is not really working well,” he recalled in a recent interview. “It prevents people from dying from hunger, but that’s about it.”

Through his study of the issue, Pond met directly with those immersed in poverty.

“The vast majority of those people have had a tough time at some point in their life and have never recovered from it,” he said. “That got me thinking about how the business community just donates money but doesn’t donate its resources – its human resources, its ideas,” he continued.

“That’s what social entrepreneurship is really about.”

Social entrepreneurship – or the building of “social enterprises” – is one of the main focuses of the Pond-Deshpande Centre for Innovation and Entrepreneurship.

Housed within the University of New Brunswick, the Pond-Deshpande Centre is being created through a joint $5-million donation from Pond and U.S. tech titan Gururaj (Desh) Deshpande.

Pond, the former CEO of NBTel, now serves as chairman of Mariner, a Saint John-based IT company. He has also invested in numerous Maritime tech startups, including Radian6, which last year was gobbled up in a deal worth nearly $350 million in cash and stock.

The Pond-Deshpande Centre, Pond says, aims to help launch more innovative companies like Radian6. But the centre will also concentrate on promoting the spread of socially minded businesses: companies that are profitable and self- sustaining but also focused on furthering social causes.

“The whole idea here, at its core, is to generate more innovation. And then turn that innovation into a business model for social gain or economic gain,” Pond said.

On March 26, Pond and Deshpande will host their centre’s first annual Entrepreneurship Conference. To be held at the Saint John Trade and Convention Centre, the event will allow the two tech executives to present their vision for the newly formed centre as well as seek ideas and guidance.

The centre, Pond says, won’t be comprised of a fancy campus building. “It’s the exact opposite of that. It’s not a bricks-and-mortar thing,” he explained.

Instead, certain aspects of the centre will resemble – and will likely pair with – Propel ICT, an organization that supports New Brunswick’s technology sector by linking entrepreneurs with mentors and angel investors.

Similar to how Propel incubates budding tech companies, the Pond-Deshpande Centre will work to establish a “social incubator”.

“Some people will say, ‘We can’t mix capitalism and socialism,’ ” Pond said. “A social enterprise is a hybrid between those two. You can make a profit as long as you plow it back into the social good that the organization is built around.”

That social good can vary greatly – from the hiring of workers with mental disabilities to boosting environmental sustainability.

“I don’t want to sound too left-wing here,” says Pond, who co-chairs the Crown corporation that stemmed from the province’s poverty reduction campaign.

“I’m still very much a capitalist. Every day I get up and try to figure out how to run a business … But I’m trying to understand how to build a stronger community at the same time.”

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