Stephen Huddart is the President and CEO of the McConnell Foundation. As vice-president at McConnell during the early days of the McConnell-Social Innovation Generation partnership, he has seen SiG grow and change since it began. These are his reflections, excerpted from the SiG book.

 

On June 8, 2017 the federal government established a 17-person steering committee to co-create a social innovation and social finance strategy for Canada — yet another indication that social innovation and social finance are coming of age.

A social innovation movement, with its associated tools and mindsets, has been spreading across civil society, business and finance, academia and the public sector for more than a decade. It is “social” because it addresses society in general, specific challenges, and each of us in particular. It is bringing about new cross-sector partnerships and improving outcomes for vulnerable individuals and communities. It is contributing to Indigenous reconciliation, enlivening our cities, creating jobs in the social economy, and accelerating social R&D. It is building a marketplace of ideas and outcomes from social systems change. It is connecting Canada to innovation leadership around the world.

We created a Social Innovation Fund to support different stages of innovation. We began going on more learning journeys with grantees, partners and board members.

To a considerable degree, Social Innovation Generation (SiG) and those whose work is described in Social Innovation Generation: Fostering a Canadian Ecosystem for Systems Change are responsible for these developments. However, they are the first to point out that it is more accurate to speak about shared contribution and changing contexts than to claim credit. It might be more appropriate to say that SiG has helped to create the conditions in which social innovation is flourishing. From this perspective, SiG’s work is largely done and the story it has to share here is both a useful record and a prelude to what must follow.

For the McConnell Foundation, SiG has served as a “secondary operating system” — a way to develop and apply tools such as social innovation labs and solutions finance in our work and to share them with others. We created a Social Innovation Fund to support different stages of innovation. We began going on more learning journeys with grantees, partners and board members. New initiatives such as Cities for People, Winnipeg Boldness and WellAhead introduced the subsidiarity principle: decentralizing decision-making to the smallest or most local competent authority. As the Nisga’a told us after introducing a new, culturally appropriate child wellness program: “Thank you for letting us take the time to do this well”.

Whether it’s climate change mitigation, Indigenous reconciliation, or improved outcomes from social services, our urgent opportunity is to integrate social innovation with technological, scientific and economic innovation.

Today, social innovation and social finance enable McConnell to align its resources with an exponentially growing number of philanthropic peers and diverse partners —in effect, creating human ecosystems working on systemic change.

It is now open to all sectors of society to apply social innovation at scale and turn wicked problems into opportunities for inclusive growth. Whether it’s climate change mitigation, Indigenous reconciliation, or improved outcomes from social services, our urgent opportunity is to integrate social innovation with technological, scientific and economic innovation. Aligning efforts this way increases the likelihood that we will meet the UN Sustainable Development Goals, which cannot be achieved by any one sector on its own. In doing so, we can co-create better outcomes for Canadians and, hopefully, an example for the world.