Displays of kindness were quietly taking place throughout the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic. Some people gathered food for those in need. Local businesses started producing masks and sanitizers for frontline workers. Groups worked tirelessly to find housing for the homeless. And much more.
In the midst of it all, Saskatchewan’s largest credit union – Conexus Credit Union – chose to share and reward these acts of kindness. The result was an ingenious initiative called the Kindness Capital Fund.
“COVID-19 has disrupted our lives in a number of ways, and in a time when so many felt uncertainty, Saskatchewan residents’ first instinct was to help others in any way they knew how,” said Eric Dillon, Chief Executive Officer at Conexus. “Throughout the province, we have seen individuals and organizations lift each other up with kindness. We see how they’re making a difference and improving the well-being of our communities and people.”
Reinvesting in generosity
Conexus used administration revenue from the Canada Emergency Business Account (CEBA) to create the fund and re-invest in these generous people and reward their kindness. The initiative asked Saskatchewan residents to nominate people within their communities doing extraordinary things for others during the pandemic. In return, Conexus would reward the 40 nominees with $5,000. The response was overwhelming and heartwarming.
According to a statement from Conexus, in a province of just over a million, the collective display of generosity “accounted for 39,000 meals served, $381,000 fundraised to support 33 non-profit and charity organizations, and 29,000 personal protective equipment items produced and delivered to healthcare and frontline workers as well as medically vulnerable populations.”
Whether it was a job loss, closing a business, illness or the loss of a loved one, or the genuine challenge of managing the stress and anxiety of uncertainty, fear, and social isolation, the pandemic has impacted everyone.
But the pandemic has not impacted everyone in the same way, and this reality inspired many of the incredible stories of kindness and generosity the initiative highlights.
“These are dark days for people,” said Dillon. “The Kindness Capital Fund was a way to encourage positive behaviour and brighten someone’s day. Whether helping those in need, pivoting a business to produce life-saving materials, or simply sending a friendly note to a senior living alone, an act of kindness offers light in challenging times.”
“We heard so many of the recipients say, ‘I just wanted to help people,’” said Mary Weimar, Chief Member Experience Officer at Conexus.
Spreading stories that inspire
Beyond the financial investment of $5,000 to 42 recipients (they added two ‘People’s Choice’ awards to the original 40), Conexus also went out of their way to profile dozens of stories of people doing good things for their neighbours and communities.
“All these cool stories … about Saskatchewan people doing … unbelievable, remarkable things,” said Dillon. “These stories make a difference as much as the money.”
Stories of personally delivered library books, initiatives to support local, small businesses, and efforts to ensure kids who rely on school food programs didn’t go hungry when schools shut down. The stories are truly remarkable and uplifting.
But it wasn’t just the management and staff that valued the initiative and considered it the right thing to do.
“We got very positive feedback from our members about that program and about the inspiration it provided to them,” said Dillon.
Investing in community: always the right thing to do
And the Kindness Capital Fund is just one example of Conexus’s commitment to investing in the community.
The financial co-operative, with 120,000+ members and nearly 1,000 employees, regularly invests in the communities they operate in and beyond.
Besides more traditional philanthropic initiatives — like donations to food banks across the province — the credit union has invested in Canada’s first credit union-led business incubator, Cultivator. They’ve partnered with the University of Regina to help restore historic buildings as part of their new head office, run a financial literacy program, and maintain an annual community investment fund.
A minimum of 5% of their revenue goes to community investment, which is significantly more than the 1% many corporate entities, including banks, contribute to community-focused initiatives.
“We see ourselves as kind of like a catalyst for … economies and communities to grow,” said Dillon.
And what this means when a pandemic hits, and remarkable displays of generosity and kindness are popping up here and there, if you’re Conexus, you join in and amplify the efforts.
“Do the right thing. That’s what it boiled down to for us.”