In Canada and worldwide, challenges such as climate change, rising income inequality, growing fundamentalism and radicalization, reconciliation between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples, water scarcity and food insecurity are testing the capacity of our institutions to respond.

In order to transition to a more just and sustainable future, we must adapt and in some cases reinvent our social infrastructure — the organizational norms and relationships that underlie society’s systems and institutions. We’ve talked about the problems of “silos” and “reinventing the wheel” long enough. To adapt and lead in today’s complex, networked world, we need relationships and structures that enable society to experiment, learn and evolve to higher levels of resilience, inclusivity, social equity and sustainability.

Social infrastructure can mean repositioning universities and their relationships with cities, through such things as social procurement policies; or promoting student wellbeing through activities like mindfulness training and community engagement.

Working with partners in all sectors, the McConnell Foundation strives to unlock and redirect institutional assets to achieve better outcomes for people and our planet.

Work on social infrastructure is guided by the need to reach the ambitious targets for planetary sustainability set out in the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. It creates a consequent need to adjust evaluation methods and metrics.

Innovation around social infrastructure can take many forms:

  • universities purchasing local food for their cafeterias, thus contributing to regional economies of farmers and processors
  • cities opening vacant buildings and undeveloped land for activities that expand the civic commons, through such things as pop-up parks and markets
  • governments using outcomes-based budgeting, data analytics and collaboration platforms to incentivize innovation while ensuring accountability for results
  • challenge platforms to accelerate innovation through crowdsourcing ideas and building development pipelines that can take innovations to scale