Phoebe Stephens

Study program:
PhD Environment and Resource Studies
Current affiliation:
University of Waterloo

Phoebe Stephens (environment and resource studies, University of Waterloo) explores the role of social finance in supporting more regenerative food systems.


Harnessing Social Finance for Sustainable Food Systems

There is significant interest in advancing sustainable alternatives to the conventional food system. However, progress is faltering. The current lack of scalable alternatives may be linked to the ways in which finance interfaces with the food system.

Evidence shows that dominant financial investment patterns (i.e. increased financialization) are leading to further industrialization in the food system, which is exacerbating unsustainability. However, social financiers believe that finance can play a transformative role in stimulating and supporting innovations necessary for a more sustainable world. Phoebe argues that for food systems to meet the changing needs of current and future generations, we will need to apply and theorize finance in a new way.

The existing scholarship on alternative food systems tends to overlook how market dynamics affect transitions towards greater food system sustainability. Therefore, Phoebe’s research seeks to bring a new perspective, that of a ‘finance lens’, to the literature on alternative food systems.

Phoebe Stephens is a PhD candidate in social and ecological sustainability at the University of Waterloo. With the support of the Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation and the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC), Phoebe investigates sustainable food systems in Canada, with a specific focus on their growth through innovative financing mechanisms. Her Master’s thesis explored how the financialization of agriculture encourages land grabs.

Phoebe’s work has been published in several interdisciplinary peer-reviewed journals and she continues to collaborate with scholars in her field to produce cutting edge research. She has conducted research for Sustain Ontario’s Food Enterprise Network and the SSHRC funded Food: Locally Embedded, Globally Engaged (FLEDGE) partnership. Phoebe is the co-founder of Natural Interest, a consultancy geared towards supporting the growth of social finance in Ontario’s food sector. 

Previously, Phoebe held a number of positions at the intersection of food, sustainability and finance. As the Global Campaign and Alliances Lead at Oxfam International, Phoebe developed public engagement strategies to demonstrate the extreme inequalities of the current financial system. While at Oxfam Canada, she developed communications strategies for the food security campaign GROW. She also worked on sustainability reporting for companies including Loblaws and Maple Leaf Foods. Outside of work, Phoebe volunteers for Slow Food Canada.

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