Social Innovation Generation (SiG) (2007-2017) was a partnership jointly developed by the J.W. McConnell Family Foundation, the Waterloo Institute for Social Innovation and Resilience (WISIR), the MaRS Discovery District, and the PLAN Institute.

Our ultimate goal was to be a catalyst for supporting whole system change by contributing to changing the broader economic, cultural and policy context in Canada to allow social innovations to flourish. SiG intentionally engages partners across all sectors to create a culture of continuous social innovation.

Our Approach

Social Research and Development (R&D) champions and supports organizations working for social change to achieve new or improved outcomes in long-term quality of life for Canadians.

Canada’s social impact sector has built a high level of capacities, capabilities and standards in areas such as volunteer management, donor stewardship, and program delivery. While this merits recognition, there is also a growing consensus that problem-solving in the 21st century requires us to ramp up capacity and capability building in social R&D.

In the early stages of development, we focus on four main areas of enhancement for social and grantmaking organizations:

  • Demystifying R&D and demonstrating it in action
  • Catalyzing a community of practice
  • Highlighting and sharing practices
  • Influencing policy

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Policy co-creation and new ways of working are key to fostering a culture of continuous social innovation in Canada.While innovation is possible in any part of a society, the government is very often vital to scaling potential social innovations.

To enhance Canada’s innovation system so that it generates inclusive growth and advances Canadian prosperity, a concerted, comprehensive strategy is needed. This involves integrating STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) as well as business and social innovation, using resources that enable the incubation of ideas and products, market access, procurement, talent development, social financing and partnership building.

Deploying an integrative strategy will result in federal funding bodies and policy-makers accelerating:

  • the integration of STEM as well as business and social innovation as the cornerstones of the Canadian Government’s Innovation Agenda, focusing innovation policy on reaching linked economic and social goals (shared value)
  • a targeted plan to leverage social innovation as a mainstream practice and further develop the ecosystem of social innovators in response to core government goals for reconciliation, youth leadership, the next economy, climate change, etc.

Our greatest opportunity for tackling complex problems will be when dynamic, healthy innovation ecosystems produce outcomes that are greater than the sum of their parts.

Ecosystems are an analogy to help us to think about and frame the systems in which we live. They reflect the generative power and complexity of both human and natural systems.

Why Ecosystems for Systems Change?

  • Complex problems are entrenched in systems; it takes a systems view to identify root causes.
  • As a result, the social innovation movement is necessarily enmeshed across sectors and scales.
  • Our greatest opportunity for tackling complex problems will be when dynamic, healthy innovation ecosystems produce outcomes that are greater than the sum of their parts.

We can be intentional about fostering systemic conditions that enable social innovation. In pursuit of our mission, we have learned much about feeding healthy social innovation ecosystems.

Impacts & Lessons

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Inspiring R&D practices in Canada’s social impact sector

Canada spends over $300 billion annually on social outcomes, according to the OECD. Our fast-evolving societal challenges -- ranging from mental health, Indigenous communitiescategory access to quality education, and a [...]

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