Rise Asset Development is a microfinance organization that provides funding and mentorship to entrepreneurs who have experienced mental illness and addiction (MI&A). But after two years, only a handful of people had taken advantage of the program.


We worked with Rise to understand the mindset of those they served, rethink their service offering, and re-market their program.


As a result, the value of financing provided by Rise has grown by more than 400% and the program has expanded to two new markets.

Engaging a community in co-creation

Research with potential clients revealed the truth of Rise’s reputation in the mental health community — and the barriers that were keeping prospects from applying. Entrepreneurs from the MI&A community felt looked down on, and they didn’t like the idea of being “mentored” by “finance-types” with much less practical experience than they had. Co-creation sessions were used to engage the community in reimagining the program. Along the way, skeptical prospects became loyal advocates.

Removing hurdles

The Rise team was considering new rules, such as requiring applicants to give proof that they had been mentally ill, potentially stigmatizing applicants. We worked with Rise to revamp their governance structure with input from members of the MI&A community. New systems were designed that balanced fiscal responsibility with respect for each applicant’s abilities and experience.

Shifting the dynamic

With input from the MI&A community, Rise moved to a peer mentorship model, and away from a focus on MBA-trained mentors. Now, business owners who had struggled with mental health and addiction could share insights, experience and advice with each other. Rise still gave support in the area of financial management — but its clients didn’t feel belittled any more. They felt supported.

Speaking their language

All new marketing materials focused strategically on two channels: the Centre for Addiction & Mental Health (CAMH) and banks within target areas. Rise communications shifted from speaking the language of the “corporate” world to speaking the language of their clients, with respect and sensitivity. The complex world of microfinance became simple.

Deborah Matthews, Minister of Health for Ontario, speaks at the Rise London Community launch.
Joe Rotman, a sponsor of Rise, welcomes a key stakeholder.
A range of businesses started by Rise entrepreneurs.

Redesigning a financing program grows the value of loans applied for and given by 400%.