Building Innovators for Social Impact

By Vanessa Faloye, Social Impact Education Consultant

NOTE: This article was originally published on Whatamission and has been cross-posted with permission of the author.

There is much debate as to how social impact education can up the ante in building social innovators. (For an expert and very insightful cross-examination of this ongoing debate, check out The Stanford Social Innovation Review: The Future of Social Impact Education in Business Schools and Beyond). But for the sake of bringing something new to this discussion, first let’s reverse engineer this question of how to build innovators for social impact? What exactly does it actually mean to be an innovator? What does an innovator look like, think like, and feel like? Perhaps you instantly imagine the typically young, white founding fathers of some trendy startup named Airbnb, Uber, or Bla Bla Car? In fact, you probably don’t think of Dr Martin Luther King Jr and the civil rights movement who created one of the earliest carpooling systems during the Montgomery Bus Boycott (where black people refused to ride on segregated buses and therefore had to find other forms of transport).

Innovation always seems so shiny and new but to be an innovator is to be a rule breaker; someone who seeks new opportunities to push the boundaries and has the guts to not take no for an answer. An innovator is a risk-taker who disrupts the status quo despite a wall of resistance or a lack of readiness to think outside that box we are so often reminded of. Not everyone is an innovator but for those who are, it can be a long lonely road full of doubt, frustration, and rejection.

So how can we help these forward-thinkers, anti-bandwagoners, and anomalies to threaten our old and comfortable habits with weird and wonderfully new ideas in the spirit of social innovation?

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The future of SiG: Social Innovation at an Inflection Point

As Social Innovation Generation (SiG) transitions from its current status as a largely McConnell-funded initiative, social innovation’s future trajectory is promising, but uncertain. What are your thoughts?

A decade ago, Social Innovation Generation (SiG) was launched as a partnership among McConnell, the PLAN Institute, the University of Waterloo and MaRS Discovery District, with the objective of stimulating continuous innovation in Canada’s social sector.

SiG’s logo — an image of seeds being scattered from a flowerhead — aptly describes its role as an ecosystem builder. Today, while refraining from taking any direct credit, SiG’s impact is observable in the growth of impact investing, the spread of social innovation programs in universities, the emergence of Indigenous innovation, in the mandate letters of several federal ministers, and in the evolution of Canadian philanthropy.

In short, mission accomplished. But is this the end of the story? As SiG Executive Director Tim Draimin’s blog makes clear, social innovation is a crowded field, with people and organizations in multiple sectors of society applying its principles and practices to a wide range of issues. And so, we ask, what is still to be done? Who will lead in ensuring that social innovation continues to flourish, and that Canada continues to contribute and connect to the emerging global network of policy makers and practitioners working on systemic change using social innovation approaches?

To help us answer these questions, we are mapping the social innovation landscape in Canada — both to set an agenda for SiG’s work until the end of the year, and to inform what may follow. We invite you to take part, by reading Tim’s reflections, and taking fifteen minutes to fill out the accompanying survey.

Thank you. We look forward to sharing the results, and to the discussions that will ensue.

– Stephen Huddart


 

SiG was only a twinkle in instigator Tim Brodhead’s eye in the mid-noughties. By 2007, SiG was born as a partnership composed of a charitable foundation (The J.W. McConnell Family Foundation), a business-sector-spawned urban innovation hub and convergence centre (MaRS), a university (Waterloo), and a serially innovative non-profit (PLAN Institute). SiG National emerged in 2008 in response to a recognized need for a backbone office, which was documented after the fact in the Center for Evaluation Innovation’s 2014 Evaluation Roundtable report.

What was the Challenge Prompting SiG’s Birth?

The catalyst for SiG was leadership in the McConnell Foundation sharing the frustration of the broader community that proven social impact innovations they and others funded were having a challenging time scaling. Too many entrenched systems didn’t like accommodating change. And Canada lacked enabling programs and services to add booster rockets to each social innovation’s liftoff.

The original SiG idea was that a diverse group of partners could directly create the conditions for scale by fostering or encouraging institutions and governments to develop the missing or nascent elements of a robust social innovation ecosystem: the mindset, resources, partnerships, curricula, platforms and strategies needed for social innovations to scale, endure, and have impact.

These partners integrate funders, innovators, academic researcher/teachers, MaRS’ civic-minded business leaders and governments. Each SiG institutional node made individual contributions, while concurrently collaborating as a team to be more-than-the-sum-of-their-parts and produce impact that would not be possible as individual actors. SiG National was created to be the vital backbone to enable collaborative impact for activities as diverse as the Canadian Task Force on Social Finance, communications and narrative building, policy support and connecting the dots on national and global network building.

In order to encourage new players to enter the field, the SiG partnership was conceived as an unincorporated initiative with a sunset clause. Originally funded for 5 years, SiG has been extended twice, with a broad range of partners (foundations, governments and corporates) joining McConnell in investing in activities it spawned. Legacy assets catalyzed with many partners over the decade range from:

  • field building for social finance (e.g. MaRS Centre for Impact Investing)
  • post-secondary courses and certificates in social innovation
  • research contributions on decoding the genome of social innovation and its definition
  • support for integrated social entrepreneurship education (e.g. RECODE, Studio Y, etc)
  • enhancing policy receptivity and cross-sector regional networks
  • broadening Canada’s participation in a growing and dynamic global social innovation community of practice
  • contributing to new grant-maker approaches, competencies and traits helping shape new narratives for how civil society can impactfully initiate and co-create large scale social change.

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Collaborative Practice: From Evolution to Revolution

By Paul McArthur

Picture yourself in a large hotel conference room, wearing your best ‘dress casual’ attire and sporting a lanyard proudly displaying your name and organization to the hundred or so fellow conference attendees. Like most people here, you travelled far and took time away from work in the hopes of developing new knowledge, insights, and connections to advance your work to make the world a better place. In the afternoon workshop, an important theme emerges: the key actors in the system are operating in ‘silos’ and missing opportunities for synergistic, collective impacts. Inspired by this insight, your workshop team frantically scribbles notes on a flipchart and report back to the larger group: “Working in silos is leading us to approach this challenge inefficiently, ineffectively, and is leaving large gaps for those most in need!” Your report back is received with energetic applause and is affirmed by other participants. After some closing remarks, the conference comes to and end, and you begin your journey back home.

As you return to work the next week, you begin to tackle the mountain of tasks you’ve been putting off while at the conference. You wonder “what will happen to all those great insights we wrote on that flipchart? No time to follow up now, off to the next meeting”. Two weeks later, you have the same reflection and come to this realization: you, a self-described champion of collaboration, have returned to YOUR silo, as have many other champions of change that attended the conference.

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Why a Study Tour in Boston?

Boston is home to cutting-edge initiatives in social entrepreneurship (EforAll, the MassChallenge); neighbourhood revitalization and civic innovation (The Mayor’s Office of New Urban Mechanics, Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative, Roxbury Innovation Center); and youth engagement and social innovation (YouthBuild, DesignX-MIT and Mission Hill School). The city also inspires practitioners who have done extensive research in sustainability, smart cities and inclusion. Boston is not only an innovation hub, it is also one of the most cosmopolitan cities in the United States. From the historic streets of nearby Cambridge to the artistic Victorian town houses of Black Bay, the city suits a variety of lifestyles.

From November 14 to 16, 2016, a group of 28 Canadian innovators met with representatives from 13 Boston changemaking organizations and professors from Harvard University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Tufts University to share expertise and feedback on how to build more inclusive, resilient and innovative cities. Believing that agents of city change come from all sectors and walks of life, the itinerary catered to a diverse group of stakeholders involved in city-making: entrepreneurs, researchers, community leaders and members of the private sector. Having a multidisciplinary group allowed us to learn different approaches to tackle similar issues.

Download the report to learn more.

From Non-Profit to a For-Charity Business: An Innovative Funding Model for a Good Cause

By Justin Scaini, Capitalize for Kids

Every non-profit or charity has its own unique challenges it must overcome to provide great services, and keep the doors open. The one challenge almost all organizations can relate to is finding funding. Each institution has its own “secret sauce” for how to attract dollars. Whether it’s government funding, individual donations, corporate partnerships, a social enterprise, or other models of funding, each organization looks for funds that will work in its unique context.

Capitalize for Kids was founded in 2013, and was built around a unique funding method that has helped us become financially sustainable. We built the organization as a business first. We are a non-profit, but we think of ourselves as a for charity business.

We designed the organization with a specific attention to what product or service people will pay for that will specifically benefit and add value to them or their businesses. Rather than rewarding a specific group of shareholders, we allocate funds to children’s brain and mental health research, and run a capacity-building consulting program for evidence-based mental health service providers.

Every year we host Canada’s top Investors Conference.

We welcome over 20 money managers to speak about their best investment ideas in front of over 400 senior executives at the top banks, pensions, and family offices. This event raises about $1.5 million annually, and to date we have raised over $4 million for the cause. Everyone is at the conference because it benefits their business. We only use about 15 minutes of this two-day event to talk about children’s brain and mental health.

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Cities Reducing Poverty | Bringing All Voices To The Table

By: Megan Wanless, Senior Community Animator

Poverty is a complex issue. It’s an issue that cannot be approached in isolation or solved by a select few – it effects everyone, is experienced by people in different ways, and involves a significant number of interrelated elements and stakeholders. We know this. We know that when working on complex problems, such as poverty, finding comprehensive solutions requires communities to come together to leverage and better understand their assets – knowledge, experience, skills and resources – to truly see and act on the issue from all angles.

Momentum around the importance of bringing everyone to the table to combat complex issues has been growing over the years, particularly with the introduction of collective impact in 2011 (See: Kania and Kramer, 2011). Over the last 15 years Vibrant Communities Canada (a division of the Tamarack Institute) has been building a network of cities committed to working collaboratively to reduce poverty. Cities Reducing Poverty is a collective impact movement of 57 member cities or regions who together aim to reduce poverty through local interventions at the individual and household levels and through policy and systems changes. These local, multi-sector initiatives are bolstered by provincial and territorial poverty reduction strategies and by the federal government’s recent mandate to develop a Canadian poverty reduction strategy. Together, we are in the midst of a country-wide movement to overcome poverty.

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Ancient stories, new technology: Indigenous media treads new ground

by Cara McKenna

Ryan McMahon is finding power in voices with Makoons Media Group 

Now is the time for Indigenous people to break new ground in media, says Janet Rogers, who has worked in radio for a decade. Rogers hosts a show called Native Waves Radio on CFUV in Victoria. “We’re picking up these tools on our own and without the colonized filter, we’re kind of fumbling our way towards creating and maintaining a voice through the medium of podcasting.”

It’s not a simple task, says Ryan McMahon, founder of Makoons Media Group, whose best known success to date is the Indian & Cowboy podcast network. “White people have always controlled the gaze … and that gaze has always exploited us and our weaknesses,” he says. McMahon wants to change this and is scaling up his vision of an Indigenous podcast network, with support from the Indigenous Innovation Demonstration Fund (IIDF).    

The Indigenous Innovation Demonstration Fund provides support to organizations seeking to develop or expand their Indigenous social innovation and social enterprise. The Fund was created through a partnership of the National Association of Friendship Centres, Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada (INAC) and the J.W. McConnell Family Foundation.

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Montreal subway cars get new life and revitalize public space

By Elvira Truglia 

Montreal’s South West is in the midst of transformation. Some residents have had roots in the borough for generations, while others have flocked to the area attracted by new housing as well as business opportunities.

Two young entrepreneurs want to create a unique space in the borough that will pay homage to Montreal’s history while opening up space for locals to mix and enjoy the arts. Brothers Frédéric and Etiénne Morin-Bordeleau are going to integrate eight Montreal métro cars, called the MR-63, into a three-storey sculpture that will house a community space, café-bar and art gallery. Montreal’s transport agency (STM) approved Project MR-63 along with six other submissions to repurpose the retiring metro cars after putting out a call for submissions in the spring.

With the brothers’ goal to make art accessible, MR-63 will be a place for emerging and established artists to exhibit their work. It’s one of the reasons South West borough Mayor, Benoit Dorais enthusiastically endorsed the project.

A new public space for a borough in transition 

Art is seen as the equalizer for the borough with mixed social backgrounds. “I think we need to be able to provide locations where there will be opportunities for all people to rub shoulders,” says Dorais. He sees MR-63 as a way “to promote the arts while respecting the history of the neighbourhood, the history of the South West, and the history of Montreal”.

Locating the MR-63 building in the Quartier de l’innovation (QI), a district in the southwest of the city that straddles Montreal’s cultural, artistic, economic, technological and multimedia boundaries, seems like a logical fit.

He thinks the innovative sculptural form of the building will act as the calling card but that people will stay and return because of its functionality.

Exhibits will give visibility to local artists who will also be given opportunities to build their capacity to market their art and run their own businesses.

The café-bar will introduce people to locally produced food and eco-friendly vendors. The community space will also host public events, and will be available to rent for private events.

“In short, what we want to do is to use MR-63 to animate public space,” says Dorais.

 

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A Nation Healing Through Stories

By Pam Chookomoolin. 

pam-and-duncan

Photo credit: Brandon MacLeod

I’ve read that no great work can be done without knowledge. They say knowledge is power. My own path towards enlightenment and empowerment has led to both personal and communal healing through two of the most powerful tools we know: storytelling and sharing.

My first few steps down this particular path started in the spring of 2015, as the thick ice of the Winisk River began to break up and flow past my hometown of Peawanuck, ON. It was then I signed on with the Indigenous Reporters Program. Peawanuck, located 32 kilometres upriver from Hudson Bay, is one of 13 remote First Nation communities in northern Ontario where the program, developed by Journalists for Human Rights (JHR), has operated to date.

Journalism has, for me, become a very empowering tool, through which I create and share my own stories with my neighbours, community and across Canada. Journalism offered new knowledge, an opportunity to build on my own skills, and be a part of the changing landscape of Canadian media — a landscape that is slowly beginning to reflect the true history and demographics of Canada and contribute to the healing of a nation.

I did not always see the bigger picture or the critical role Indigenous journalists can play in supporting reconciliation by sharing their stories from their perspectives. Signing up, I thought it was just journalism theory, but within a few weeks, with hands-on training, we were already sharing stories and discussing the potential positive impact journalism can have.

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Is our playbook out of date?

by Vinod Rajasekaran

shooting-star

 

Canada spends over $300 billion annually on social outcomes, according to the OECD. Our fast-evolving societal challenges — ranging from mental health, Indigenous communities’ access to quality education, and a lack of affordable housing — demand equally fast-paced and nimble research, learning, experimental and replicating approaches so people can access the best possible services, supports and solutions, no matter where they live in Canada.

 

This is where R&D comes in.

 

Canada’s not-for-profit, charitable, B Corp, and social enterprise organizations have built strong capabilities in volunteer management, donor stewardship, and program delivery, among other things. Along with an appreciation and celebration of these competencies, there is increasing consensus that social change in the 21st century requires an additional strong capacity and capability in research and development, or R&D.

Just as R&D in the business world drives new and improved products and services, R&D can also help social mission organizations generate significant and rapid advancements in services and solutions that change lives. However, currently only a small proportion of social mission organizations repeatedly incorporate a wide range of new knowledge (like insights into how the brain works and how positive behaviours can be encouraged) or new technologies (like machine learning) or new processes (like human centred design).   Read the rest of this entry »