What I Learned from the ABSI Connect Fellows

SiG Note: This article was originally published on ABSI Connect on April 22, 2016. It has been cross-posted with permission from the author.

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It is time to pull back the current, briefly. For the past 8-months, I have had the privilege of being the administrator and an advisor for the ABSI Connect Fellows.

My ‘usual hat’ is Senior Associate at Social Innovation Generation (SiG) National, based in Toronto. It seemed curious to many that myself and my colleagues would be the backbone administration for the Fellows. The simple truth is that SiG, with our national scope, was a nimble and willing platform of support when the idea of ABSI Connect was first conceived. An experimental initiative launched at a time of immense disruption focusing on a concept with a vexed reputation in the province, the focus of ABSI Connect on emergence, deep listening and relationship-building resonated strongly with the type of approach that we’ve learned can significantly support transformational change. It was our pleasure to help.

Despite the Toronto location of the Fellows’ administrator, ABSI Connect was from Alberta, about Alberta, for Alberta, and led by Albertans. The Fellows tenaciously spearheaded the initiative with patience, determination, humility, deep reflection, passion and critical thought, embracing their role as systems thinkers, bridges, resources, relationship brokers and capacity builders.

Their collaborative effort produced the story of Albertan social innovation, as they heard it, patterns of cultural elements accelerating or holding back the community, and a common agenda to move forward together in a uniquely Albertan way. The full richness of their findings can be read in their paper, “The Future of Social Innovation 2016” or you can read the summary paper here.

Here is what I learned from the ABSI Connect Fellows…

Alberta is rad(ical).

Alberta has a rich tradition of social innovation. It is the province of the Famous Five, who secured women legal recognition as ‘persons’ in Canada, leading to a radical shift in our social relationships and in Canadian jurisprudence. It is the only province where the Métis have a legislated land base, with the goals “to secure a Métis land base for future generations, local autonomy, and economic self-sufficiency” (Source: Alberta Indigenous Relations). And it was the first province to develop a formal interface for non-profit sector leaders to address high level, sector-wide issues directly with government officials – the Alberta Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Initiative.

Alberta has consistently been the home of key justice and equality movements, from the United Farmers of Alberta to the Pembina Institute.

What is common to all of these milestones? Each transforms a critical relationship, introducing a new status quo that advances, in some way, inclusion, openness and deeper collaboration.

Author Thomas King (and a former professor of Native Studies at University of Lethbridge) writes, “the truth about stories is that that’s all we are” (The Truth About Stories, 2003). The stories we tell about ourselves matter; they inform how we see, show up and act in our daily lives. The Fellows amplified Alberta’s story as a leader in doing what it takes for community well being and equality, shedding light on an inspiring legacy of operating at the radical edge of innovation.

It is time to raise a barn together.

While there is this rich history of social innovation in Alberta, one contemporary pattern the Fellows surfaced was in the opposite direction. Today, the social impact ecosystem celebrates and rewards individualism over collective action. There has been a shift toward communities of heroes, rather than heroic communities. Short time horizons for results and a focus on individual agency undercuts an otherwise deep interest in collaborative action and isolates successful initiatives embodying this approach.

Listen to speak.

When the Fellows began their journey last summer, social innovation was a vexed concept in Alberta, specifically in Calgary and Edmonton, where their efforts were concentrated. Some folks considered it a critical new process to advance long sought social change, others considered it an empty fad, others still saw evidence of neoliberalism in the approach, and yet others felt it was either a useful or obnoxious term to describe the kind of breakthrough work they had already been dedicated to for years.

The Fellows started from a place of deep listening, inviting each person they spoke with to share what they thought the value, definition, and possibility of social innovation is. In doing so, the Fellows killed two birds with one stone: they discovered that there is a common direction that people want to walk together  (toward solving root causes) and, by listening and resourcing, they empowered the work of a diverse array of actors in both their current work and towards that common direction.

The Fellows learned that it absolutely matters to have a shared story, but that story must be accessible, inclusive, inspiring and democratic. Here is how I heard it: our common ground is in our deep dedication to aligning our social change efforts with our fundamental intent. If the goal is to solve something, then we focus on solving it. If the goal is to change the status quo, then we reimagine it. There is a growing movement of processes, models, approaches and shared learning that will help us align intent with action, whether we must invent, innovate, adapt, adopt or collaborate to get there.

Social innovation is the stuff of culture.

With little or no preconceptions of what they would be sharing back with community at the end of their term, the patterns and opportunities the Fellows identified through emergent learning all relate to the cultural elements shaping how and why we seek to forge solutions to our most complex challenges.

What they heard and learned strikes at the heart of how we think about, enact and vision impactful social change. What we call it matters less than identifying the systemic patterns shaping how we go about it and working to break the patterns holding us from our core intent.

Like any journey without a map – and solving complex social and ecological problems is as far from having a map as possible – we must constantly check-in on our direction and our path, referencing the changing landscape, the local know-how, resonant examples, our experiences, the experiences and stories of others, and our own courage to try a path untested. With an appreciation that we alone do not have the answers, but the answers are out there, we can make a concerted effort to contribute to their collective creation.

Thank you to the Fellows for leading and inspiring a unique inquiry, learning journey and community. Thank you all – especially the funding partnershostsadvisors and contributors – for your time, contribution, support, insights and partnership. The journey continues with the Fellows’ insights offering pathways forward and a true shock of the possible.

Provoking innovation through stories of social entrepreneurship

“The truth about stories is that that’s all we are…”

―  Thomas King, The Truth About Stories (2003)

Case study created for JUMP-Math. Photo via Trico Foundation

Case study created for JUMP-Math. Photo via Trico Foundation

In 2015, the Trico Charitable Foundation published four extensive case studies on the 2013 Social EnterPrize winners. Each case study was developed in partnership with the winning social enterprise and a post-secondary institution, converging the rigor of frontline experiential learning with the rigor of a critical academic lens.

The result? “A series of social entrepreneurship case studies that, in terms of the breadth of the organizations studied and the depth of the analysis, is the first of its kind in Canada” (Trico Charitable Foundation, April 2015). Together, each social enterprise and academic team revealed and codified key insights, challenges and lessons from these four thriving social enterprises.

“Storytelling is one of the most powerful forces in humanity. As a private foundation, we have learned that our work is better when we tell stories and when we listen to them.”

― Trico Charitable Foundation, April 2015

It is clear that an appreciation of the power of stories spurred Trico’s interest in developing the case studies. Why are stories so powerful? An audacious question, but one that provokes serious consideration of the role of stories in our lives.

In the context of social innovation, the defining stories we tell each day reveal our core beliefs and the conditioning beliefs of our broader social system.They tell us something about what we value, who we value, and what purpose we believe our systems (and selves) exist to serve.

Photo via Trico Foundation

TurnAround Couriers. Photo via Trico Foundation

In sharing – in depth – the story of the four Social EnterPrize winners, Trico Charitable Foundation contributed to a narrative that values business as more than a vehicle for profit maximization. ‘Social entrepreneurship’ is a story of sustainable social processes leveraging market solutions to serve social purpose. It advances another, broader story about our economic system, one where the economy thrives as products, services, and experiences put the best of our capital (financial, human, knowledge) sustainably to work producing (and reproducing) positive social and ecological outcomes.

The story of a new economy

Each case study offers a window into how this new story is taking root and reshaping economic life. Each case exemplifies business models succeeding not in spite of their social process and purpose, but because of it. And, to explain this success, each case brings to light that the triple bottom line of social enterprise (or social purpose business) is more than people, planet and profit – it is also process, purpose and outcome.

Cover of Citizen-Led Innovation for a New Economy. Photo via Fernwood Publishing

Cover of Citizen-Led Innovation for a New Economy. Photo via Fernwood Publishing

This is the triumvirate of a new economy where, similar to the case studies in the recently released book Citizen-led Innovation for a New Economy, “organized citizens are forging innovation, prying open cracks in the prevailing economic system and seizing opportunities to redirect economic life” (From the book blurb – Purchase the book here or the PDF summaries of the cases).

Stories describe where we come from and why we exist. They define ‘the good life,’ our expected roles in the society or how we should relate to each other. Stories tell us what our essence is: good or evil or somewhere in between; independent or interdependent; fundamentally threatened or enriched by difference. Above all, stories reflect and influence our perception of the world and, in doing so, our actions.

“A fundamental sociological premise is Thomas theorem: what is perceived as real is real in its consequences. We would add: how we think about and understand the world frames our actions. Indeed, we can be even more basic: whether we think about things matter.”

Frances Westley, Brenda Zimmerman, Michael Patton, Getting to Maybe: How the World Is Changed (2006)

embers-300x123

Each Social EnterPrize winner understood that “whether we think about things matters.” Whether we think about the potential of low-income folks living in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside (EMBERS); the common need for safety and comfort by travellers, students, women in crisis, families in transition or with medical issues, seniors and refugees (YWCA Hotel/Residence); the untapped work ethic of job-ready, at-risk youth (TurnAround Couriers); or the pedagogical opportunity to empower every student to be a math prodigy (JUMP), it is actually noticing and thinking about these things that shapes our understanding of the world, frames our actions and, through our actions, reimagines our communities.

How do we follow in these footsteps? Thankfully, the case studies not only exemplify how these social entrepreneurs advanced a different perception of the world – and in doing so, ignited cascading opportunities – each also reveals how that acute perception translated into tangible insights, challenges, solutions and outcomes. They lend evidence and advice to others seeking to leverage a new worldview and market opportunity to achieve sustainable, measurable social and ecological outcomes.

The inside lobby of the YWCA-Hotel in Vancouver. Photo via Trico Foundation.

The inside lobby of the YWCA-Hotel in Vancouver. Photo via Trico Foundation.

Final takeaway

The ability to unlock market solutions that successfully redeploy capital to achieve transformational social and ecological impact often demands challenging the prevailing beliefs of our day. It butts up against the way so many people currently see or understand the world. The Social EnterPrize case studies remind us to know intimately the story we are telling through our actions and through our words…by whom, about whom, for whom, to what end. This story is our compass. As are these case studies which, with practical and inspirational insight, reveal how process and purpose can converge to power a new economy for social and ecological impact.

The world changes according to the way people see it, and if you can alter, even by a millimeter, the way people look at reality, then you can change the world

—     James Baldwin

Two tales of a city: converging realities of culture in Toronto

Before the real city could be seen it had to be imagined, the way rumours and tall tales were a kind of charting – Michael Ondaatje, In the Skin of the Lion

How do we imagine this city?
What are the rumours and tall tales charting…?

 

Tale One: The Soho Effect

Artists bring vibrancy, cohesion and activity into our neighborhoods – Yorkville (1960s); West Queen West (1990s); Regent Park (2000s). Real estate prices go up. Artists – often renters – get priced out, along with other low-income residents. Artists drive the yuppification of our communities, inspiring demonic growth and displacement, the hapless victims of their own success. We are more shallow, disconnected, and cold for the loss.

 Here’s where the wrecking crew tore out the heart of the ward
No street signs remind you that a neighborhood died here before 
But things are working out well
Don’t believe what you see on the streets
No threadbare armies of men broken and dead on their feet 
No more bending your back to the weight of the world
No more sorrows, no setbacks, and no more diving for pearls in the ditches and drains
All our history’s remade and no memory remains of us now
– “History Remade” by The FemBots (2005)

“Evolution of Graffiti and Revolt” by EGR

“Evolution of Graffiti and Revolt” by EGR

Tale Two: Artistic Antidote

Artists are the antidotes to the homogenization of place. We have the knowledge and practice to leverage the power of the arts to both help artists and inclusively build the city. We can leverage ‘growth’ – the dynamism of a growing city – to counteract the displacement of artists and low-income Torontonians. We can not only creatively ‘make place,’ we can creatively keep what artists and neighbours have already made, through a combination of tenacity, collaboration and strange bedfellows, charting a real city imagined over time through deep connection and relationships.

Talking about a new way
Talking about changes and names
Talking about building the land of our dreams
His tightrope’s gotta learn how to bend
We’re makin’ new plans
We’re gonna start it again

(Rise up rise up) Oh rise and show your power

(Rise up)
Everybody
Time for you and me
– “Rise Up” by The Parachute Club (1983)

ᐱᓕᕆᖃᑎᒋᓐᓂᖅ - Piliriqatigiingniq Mural Project (Follow on Instagram @thepasystem)

ᐱᓕᕆᖃᑎᒋᓐᓂᖅ – Piliriqatigiingniq Mural Project (Follow on Instagram @thepasystem)

On November 26th, Tim Jones, CEO of Artscape, shared both of these tales of Toronto during his MaRS Global Leadership and SiG Inspiring Action for Social Impact talk.

The first tale is a story that happens to us. The power to shape the city lies with amorphous forces of real estate, gentrification, homogeneity and private profit. The city grows itself mysteriously around us, burying the sincerity of neighourhoods with ever-rising towers of glass and concrete, enriched by the cultural roots that others – now displaced – nurtured.

The second is a story that we co-author, where the tools of the arts empower us to be savvy, thoughtful brokers of the value that rich artistic communities create; we know, appreciate and foresee the value of deep, cohesive place-based culture and leverage it to creatively, deliberately and inclusively ‘keep place’ as the dynamism of city-building introduces new energy, offers, interests and investments into neighborhoods.

Both tales are true. Because these stories not only reflect what is happening, they actively generate and construct reality by shaping what we believe to be true and therefore, how we act in response.

Through the experiences of Artscape, a broker in the manner of the second tale, we learn about practical, actionable approaches and prototypes to inch away from lamenting the Soho Effect to embracing and reclaiming the artistic antidote.

While there is nothing simple about the Artscape model, in its simplest form it honours artists’ natural tendencies – to cluster, to collaborate, to invest locally and in each other, and to engage as changemakers – as a critical city-building asset and community development force.

It stands to reason that when a critical mass of people come together in a neighbourhood, everyone is drawn to this, creating a strong, powerful push for residential development – Tim Jones (in presentation)

This powerful push for residential development that follows where artists thrive is the carrot for development deals to accommodate artists, make space for low-income residents and accommodate urban growth at the same time.

In other words, it is an opportunity to innovate urban growth that Artscape first began playing with in the 1990s. Their innovation: work with the city, community members, and developers together to manifest prototypes of creative place-keeping into public-private development deals. How? By taking advantage of a little extra density, inclusive zoning and a new tale about the imperative role of cultural value-creators –artists – to ensure they and other low-income community members remain in community.

You can build all kinds of social capital and social infrastructure, because in part together we are creating a multibillion-dollar market for residential development – Tim Jones (in presentation)

If we understand how culture creates value for urban development (and if we know that the value is predictable, as it has been throughout Toronto), we can shift from advocating for creative place-making as an endangered need to deliberately and effectively appreciating culture as a critical lever for creative place-keeping – a fundamental case for more community and artistic ownership in public-private development deals.

Tim calls this engaging in culture as a form of “urban acupuncture” – engaging in small- scale, neighbourhood-level innovation to have a city-wide (city-building) impact.

There can be healing in cities by stimulating ‘nerves’ (creative, original expression) and ‘releasing pressure’ (through unusual partnership or collaboration) to create transformation…charting a new reality where self-interest compels policymakers, developers, community activists and artists to put culture at the heart of city building.

Let the beat of the drums harmonize with the beat of your soul
And let it travel miles.
Even if you are spiritually drained as you dance, as you dance, just smile.
Smile until you forget sadness and laugh at anger.
Until you can look into the eyes of anyone as a future brother
And not a stranger.
To invest in relationships you don’t need to be a banker.
– “Spectrum of Hope” by Mustafa Ahmed

Art – music, poetry, installations, painting, craft, writing – is “the quickest and easiest way to get back to something that makes you feel tied to where you are, and who’s around you, and who came before you, what they were doing” (Philip Churchill, The Once). It is how we imagine the city, how we engage in it, understand it and connect to a through-line of histories woven into this place.

Converge the realities.
Ice, wind, pain
Love, sun and rain.
Converge the realities.
Past, present and future.
– “Converge the Realities” by Charmie Deller

Watch Tim’s Talk: Culture as Urban Acupuncture (Full Video)

MaRS Global Leadership: Culture as Urban Acupuncture from MaRS Discovery District on Vimeo.

Now Open: Social Innovation Fellowships (The J.W. McConnell Family Foundation)

Young entrepreneurs having a creative business meeting in a cafe

sfsCircle

The J.W. McConnell Family Foundation is pleased to announce the creation of two Social Innovation Fellowships open to professionals in the early stage of their careers.

These one year, full time positions are designed to support the program and administrative activities of the Foundation, in particular their Sustainable Food Systems and RECODE initiatives, while providing opportunities for fellows to participate in training, exchange, and knowledge generation activities of the Foundation and with the broader social innovation community. They are meant to be a trampoline for people who are interested in future employment within the community, philanthropic or government sectors or in starting their own social enterprise.

Closing Date for Applications: March 2, 2015

Location: Montreal, with travel within Canada

Remuneration: $3,000 per month plus benefits

Please send your CV and covering letter to hr@mcconnellfoundation.ca

Starting Dateearly April, 2015

LinkedIn Posting

Complete position descriptions
Social Innovation Fellow – RECODE 
Social Innovation Fellow – Sustainable Food Systems

 

Greater impact through youth collaboration

Today marks the launch of a new program to foster youth collective impact initiatives in local communities throughout the province.

Youth CI will support Collective Impact approaches designed to improve outcomes for youth in communities across Ontario. This new program is delivered by the J.W. McConnell Family Foundation’s Innoweave initiative in partnership with the Laidlaw Foundation and supported by the Government of Ontario, as part of its Ontario Youth Action Plan commitments. 

Ontario Ministry of Children and Youth Services (2013) "Stepping Up: A Strategic Framework to Help Ontario's Youth Succeed."

Ontario Ministry of Children and Youth Services (2013) “Stepping Up: A Strategic Framework to Help Ontario’s Youth Succeed.”

Through Youth CI, organizations in local communities across Ontario can learn about Collective Impact and develop, launch and implement collaborations that address major challenges and directly improve outcomes for youth in their community.

 

“The Laidlaw Foundation is thrilled to be delivering this program with our partners. Youth in Ontario are a source of great innovation and passion, and we believe we can help harness these traits through collective impact approaches that will create positive outcomes in communities throughout the province.”
— Jehad Y. Aliweiwi, Executive Director, Laidlaw Foundation

What is Collective Impact?

John Kania defines collective impact as “the commitment of a group of important actors from different sectors to a common agenda for solving a specific social problem…Unlike most collaborations, collective impact initiatives involve a centralized infrastructure, a dedicated staff, and a structured process that leads to a common agenda, shared measurement, continuous communication, and mutually reinforcing activities among all participants” (John Kania & Mark Kramker, “Collective Impact,” Standford Social Innovation Review, Winter 2011).

Through information and engagement sessions, workshops, coaching and grants to current and potential collaboratives in Ontario, Youth CI will:

  • enable youth-led and youth-serving organizations to partner with stakeholders in their community to achieve tangible positive outcomes for youth.
  • connect organizations and collaboratives with expert coaches to help them improve their strategy and execute their plans.
  • provide a range of grants that will enable groups of organizations to explore how they might use collective impact to improve specific outcomes for youth, start up a collaborative, and move ahead with implementing their collective impact plan.
  • provide a flexible continuum of services, including: information sessions, networking and collaboration opportunities, workshops, customized coaching services, and grants.
C/O innoweave.ca

C/O Innoweave (innoweave.ca)

“The J.W. McConnell Family Foundation created Innoweave to get practical tools for social innovation into the hands of those who can use them to create transformational change in their communities – and the Youth CI program does just that. As a national funder, we look forward to working with multi-sectoral community groups to create real, positive outcomes for youth in Ontario and exploring how this model could be applied in other provinces.”
— Stephen Huddart, President and CEO, J.W. McConnell Family Foundation

Youth CI complements other initiatives funded by the Government of Ontario including the Youth Research and Evaluation Exchange: a new research and evaluation platform that will be delivered by York University.

York University is pleased to lead the Youth Research and Evaluation Exchange program, turning research into action to support the learning, health and employment outcomes of Ontario’s youth. The program builds on York Professor Uzo Anucha’s extensive experience working with youth-serving agencies and is supported by the University’s award-winning Knowledge Mobilization Unit,” said Robert Haché, York’s Vice-President Research & Innovation.

“Today’s launch of Youth Collective Impact is an example of how our government and its partners are working to build strong collaborations and make a real difference to provide opportunities to Ontario’s youth. Along with other actions we are taking, such as the Youth Research and Evaluation Exchange, which helps grassroots organizations deliver services more effectively, Youth Collective Impact is part of our government’s Youth Action Plan, outlined in our strategy Stepping Up: A Framework to Help Ontario’s Youth Succeed.”
— The Honourable Tracy MacCharles, Minister of Children and Youth Services

Learn more!

In December, organizations or collaboratives that are interested in learning more can register to attend information, launch, and partner engagement sessions across Ontario. These sessions will be followed by workshops, coaching and grants starting in early 2015. Click here to explore the full program and register for an information session below.

Register for an online information session

  • Click here for December 3rd from 12pm – 1pm
  • Click here for December 11th from 10am – 11am

Register for a local community session here:

  • Ottawa Youth CI Launch Event – Dec. 5th, 10:00am – 12:00pm Register here
  • Kingston Youth CI Launch Event – Dec. 8th, 3:00pm – 5:00pm Register here
  • Hamilton Youth CI Launch Event – Dec. 10th, 5:00pm – 7:00pm Register here
  • London Youth CI Launch Event – Dec. 11th, 4:00pm – 6:00pm Register here

Innoweave Collective Impact Webinar, led by Liz Weaver of Tamarack

From J.W. McConnell Family Foundation on Vimeo.

 

For more on Collective Impact, check out our Collective Impact Series, a celebration, exploration and discussion of Collective Impact leading up to the Tamarack Institute Collective Impact Summit 2014. 

What is the power of community knowledge? Reflections from #CKX

℅ @ammcelrone

℅ @ammcelrone

Starting Wednesday, November 19, 400+ community activists, leaders, partners, statisticians and artists descended on two iconic Toronto cultural spaces dedicated to storytelling for the inaugural Community Knowledge Exchange (#CKX) Summit – the CBC and TIFF Bell Lightbox:

….Whether it’s connecting them to this country, to their communities, or to each other as individuals with their own realities and interests, CBC/Radio-Canada will be there —for everyone, every way  
CBC 2015: Everyone, Every way
TIFF is a charitable cultural organization with a mission to transform the way people see the world, through film
TIFF Donate

As the Summit kicked-off, we were being held in spaces with a long legacy of engaging in the premise that had brought us together: What is the power of community knowledge?

Community Knowledge Exchange

Prior to the Summit, I thought this question was an epistemological one: what is the nature and power of community knowledge? Are we investigating a grand theory of community knowledge? (You can take the academic out of academia…)

I arrived thinking that the Summit would be about negotiating the tension between quantitative (the #s) and qualitative (stories & experiences) data and exploring different forms of ‘community knowledge’ that we could exchange, learn from and collectively act on.

While these topics did surface in sessions, it became increasingly clear as the Summit progressed that this gathering was actually born of an even stronger impetus to ‘leverage and unlock community knowledge to create social change.’

The real premise inspiring the Summit — co-created by Community Foundations Canada and the Ontario Trillium Foundation — was that we already cumulatively have the resources we need to tackle our most pressing issues. If we can develop new tools and norms to embolden knowledge exchange and coordinated/collaborative action, we can unleash our collective strength.

We’re building CKX to exchange ideas and knowledge to improve our communities
Lee Rose, CKX Sherpa

This was not about a grand theory then, but a grand narrative: collectively curating a common story around community knowledge to empower collaboration and impact at scale.

With a deepening understanding and appreciation of the Summit’s direction, the answer to “What is the power of community knowledge?” came into focus: the power of community knowledge is that collectively there is knowledge — as stories, data, experiences, failures, success — enough to collaboratively improve our communities.

The Summit was an exercise in civic intelligence.

Get your LEGO ready: CKX Summit from Community Knowledge Exchange on Vimeo.

Community | Knowledge | Exchange

CKX was not just about an exchange of ‘community knowledge,’ but about community + knowledge + exchange and the relationship between them. With an eye toward building a community of exchange around knowledge (and know-how) that is valuable for driving social change together, the Summit was a starting point for collaborative action by serving not only as a networking hub, but also as impetus to share and improve actionable practices emerging from new knowledge frameworks, such as: open data, collective impact, and shared measurement.

My enthusiasm about the discussions we were having around shared action and measurement was overshadowed only by an apprehension that the open data and data platform discourses would dominate the list of what and how the community sector should move forward together.

This apprehension was born only of an awareness of how easy it is to slip from data as information that facilitates evaluation or shapes knowledge to data as knowledge or a causal force of social change. It was an uneasiness that was largely unnecessary given the depth of thought and critical reflection the Summit curators had put into the schedule, including sessions on the dark side of data and responsible data (H/T to the curators).

Yet we did slip and in a rather compelling and powerful way — via the moving, tributary keynote by Don Tapscott, whose stirring presentation introduced several inspiring stories of open data accelerating broader social change. Although each story offered significant additional learning to the broader knowledge exchange at the Summit, the evangelizing wave of such a strong presentation carried the argument too far, equating open data to engaged citizens.

While the availability of the resource (data) is important, it is social capital, networks of action, and cultures of engagement, inclusion, passion and rage that foster citizen engagement. The potential of open data is that it can empower engaged citizens to further empower themselves and others.

It was a brief slip, as this latter approach to data — the utility of data as a key tool, rather than a silver bullet — was truly the undercurrent energy of the Summit, but it raised to the forefront an important bit of know-how best summarized to me by a fellow participant: data is not knowledge and knowledge is not wisdom.

To leverage our collective knowledge is social

The ‘nature of community knowledge’ was not the focus of the Summit (the actual premise was much more potent and inclusive), but to indulge in that subject for a moment, what was so powerful about the lived experience of the Summit was that it embodied how community knowledge is developed: “It results from a far more complex process that is social, goal-driven, contextual, and culturally-bound.

The Summit was social, certainly goal-driven for each participant, and culturally-bound by the curation of the schedule and experience: we were co-creating a community knowledge of collective action in the process of analyzing how we can act together around our collective knowledge.

The stories that we tell
Wise Crowd 1 ℅ @CKXdotorg

℅ @CKXdotorg

Nowhere was this most evident than in session with three leading funders. The focus of the session, “Wise Crowd: Unpacking the opportunities and challenges of collectively measuring our impact” — featuring Toronto Foundation CEO, Rahul K. Bhardwaj, Ontario Trillium Foundation CEO, Andrea Cohen Barrack,  J.W. McConnell Family Foundation President & CEO, Stephen Huddart, and SiG@MaRS Director/MaRS Senior Fellow in Social Innovation, Allyson Hewitt (moderator) — was on how we demonstrate and show that we have done good: What do outcomes look like? How do we know? How do we communicate them? How do we know we have done good together?

Data was deservedly championed during this session as a form of information that plays an important role in helping to deepen our understanding of the nature of problems, as well as inspiring new frameworks to evaluate and measure our impact, but the funders spoke most eloquently about the need to shift our knowing process toward collaborative knowledge and evaluation — or as Allyson Hewitt later summarized: to focus on “exercising our collective muscle.”

Each funder celebrated how new data platforms — such as Vital Signs and the Canadian Index of Wellbeing — have powerfully reimagined how we can identify key issues facing Canadians and coordinate to address them. But to get to vibrant communities, what Rahul, Andrea and Stephen cumulatively knew was:

  • It’s important to have a narrative that speaks to collaborative outcomes and impact

  • Change happens when a new set of people are invited to participate and lead

  • Measurement may have to be innovative/creative to honour emergent process, community vision, new voices, and/or self-determined outcomes, i.e. Development Evaluation

  • It isn’t what gets measured that gets done, it is what gets funded that gets done

  • We cannot abandon important things just because they are hard to measure

  • Collaboration is key to achieve the impact needed

In the other words, the complex work of nurturing vibrant communities goes beyond sharing our knowledge to knowing each other, knowing how to collaborate, knowing our common values, knowing a common language (or discourse), knowing how to include people and cast the net farther, knowing how to live with vulnerability, knowing how to see and hold what is hard to measure, knowing that we won’t always get it right, and knowing that our collective impact will be greater than our individual efforts and that it is worth it to try, even when uncertainty clouds the way.

This is the power of community knowledge: our lived experience of learning, listening, trying, succeeding, failing and opening up emboldens us to work together. This is the story that the three funders wove together. This is what CKX was all about.

SIX VANCOUVER 2014 REPORT LAUNCHED


Shifting Cultures

Changing Systems

Preparing for Surprise

SIX VANCOUVER 2014 REPORT

Come with your curiosity.
Share your current thinking.
Discover where social innovation is headed.

It’s very exciting to have been part of this; to see how much is emerging, to see leadership, to see younger people, the next generation of social innovators coming forward. It’s been a truly transformative experience for this movement in Canada.
– Stephen Huddart, President and CEO of The J.W. McConnell Family Foundation

SIX Summer Schools are an annual global gathering and a seven-year old tradition. Pioneered by Social Innovation Exchange (SIX), the Summer Schools bring together leading social innovation thinkers, practitioners, grassroots activists and policy makers from around the world to explore key issues facing the social innovation field.

SIX Vancouver 2014 (#SIXvan14) marked the first time a Summer School was held in North America. Vancouver welcomed nearly 160 local, national and international practitioners to connect over new ideas, critical insights, practical solutions, common experiences and stories. SIX Vancouver was a collaboration between Social Innovation Exchange (SIX), Social Innovation Generation (SiG) and BC Partners for Social Impact (#BCPSI), representing the global, Canadian, and British Columbian social innovation communities respectively.

Credit: Komal Minhas for KoMedia

Credit: Komal Minhas for KoMedia

Then, when he had flown a while longer,
Something brightened toward the north;
It caught his eye they say.
And then, he flew right up against it.
He pushed his mind through,
And pulled his body after.
— Skaay, Haida Storyteller
Excerpt From: SIX Participant Pack — Welcome Letter

The welcome letter in the SIX Vancouver program invited all participants to “Go ahead. If something catches your eye over the next few days, fly right up to it. Push your possibilities and imagination through!”

What participants were collectively flying up to was the 2014 theme: How can we increase our impact? Shifting cultures, changing systems and preparing for surprise.

Change is hard and shifting culture even harder. Perhaps the joy experienced at SIX Vancouver 2014 can in part be explained by a sense of shared struggle – struggle within one’s organization, struggle within communities, struggle within oneself. The stories and exchanges surfaced the ‘creative tensions’ that exist in social innovation and the wonderful diversity of radical thinkers and doers in the space.

This report covers several days and multiple discussions about change processes, ideas that are working and some that are not. During SIX Vancouver, we were able to peel back the many layers of ongoing exploration and experimentation with social innovation processes.

Away from this gathering, we can’t wait to have all the recommended approaches in place to get started. In social innovation and public sector innovation work, we must prepare the conditions as best we can and begin the journey. We will learn together along the way, adapting the work with feedback from the system.

The Game Has Changed: The Empathy Keystone

For the past six weeks, our team and our SIX Summer School Vancouver 2014 partners – Social Innovation Exchange and BC Partners for Social Impact – have been sifting through, sorting and curating the wealth of content captured during the summit. The breadth and richness of the knowledge exchange at SIX is undoubtedly enough to write a book on the State of Social Innovation in 2014. Amidst this richness, however, is exquisite simplicity; for a field dedicated to working in complexity, two ‘simple’ (even primordial) practices surfaced again and again as essential for leveraging that complexity: collaboration and empathy.

Of course, engaging in collaboration or practicing empathy is neither simple nor easy; they have been the purview of faith and philosophical teachings for 1,000s of years and the centrepiece of kindergarten teachings, workshops, trainings, retreats, literature, and research in the past century. Moreover, they are interlinked actions: collaboration is a process enabled by empathy. Given this precondition of empathy for collaboration, the collective wisdom of the SIX Summer School pointed to empathy as a keystone of social innovation.

As this became increasingly clear in curating the learnings from SIX, further connections began to unfold, linking these emergent insights from an international network of social innovators more broadly to the global community of social change practice. Close on the heels of SIX, the SiG June IASI event — in partnership with Ashoka Canada and MaRS Discovery District — was In Conversation with Bill Drayton, the founder and CEO of Ashoka; the dialogue was moderated by MaRS CEO Ilse Treurnicht. A champion and pioneer of social entrepreneurship, Drayton’s current message and mission is that the movement of the 21st century must be to nurture, teach and train empathy — especially in children.

Between the SIX Summer School, In Conversation with Bill Drayton, the ongoing work of both the SIX and Ashoka networks, and many more initiatives, it is clear that a mix of cross-pollination, simultaneous discovery, and knowledge exchange is nourishing a common valuation of empathy as the bedrock of the 21st century. A powerful mindset shift is underway.

In Conversation with Bill Drayton

For Drayton, the shift will be towards empathy-based ethics, replacing the current ethics ‘rulebook’ with a constellation of principles rooted in empathy (such as compassion, hospitality, initiative, intuition, contribution, and empowerment). Why? Because the rigidity of our current rulebook — and the rules themselves — apply less and less in an exponentially changing world. We are dragging the values, mindsets, and legal/financial structures of a Fordist, pre-digital, pre-networked system into the global, interconnected, interdependent and omnidirectional relationships of the present. The game has changed. Empathy is essential to understanding this new world and our humanity in it.

“Every child must master empathy-based ethics because the rules are changing; the less they apply the less learning them has positive impact” — Bill Drayton 

Arguably, empathy and collaboration have always mattered to the integrity of a society, but the argument now is that empathy is the essential skill to thrive socially, ecologically and economically in the present day. In a world defined by exponential rates of change across all systems, Drayton’s position is that everyone can and must be a changemaker, because change is the new game; it is not a question of whether we should nurture an ‘everyone is a changemaker world,’ it is imperative that we do so. Enabling and empowering this new norm of empathic agency is what Drayton calls a ‘teams of teams’ model; a model of collaborative co-leadership by and within teams.

A teams of teams model was similarly championed at the SIX Summer School as participants discussed the power and possibility of Public and Social Innovation Labs (PSI Labs), community-led development, co-production, co-working spaces, nested innovation hubs, cross-sector networks, and ecosystem building. The common call is that the operational norms of our relationships — working, personal, institutional, civic, and community — are shifting, and must shift, toward the principles of collaboration; a practical and mindset shift that is not only an essential driver of positive systems change, but is a form of transformative systems change itself.

“If everyone is a changemaker, there’s no way a problem can outrun a solution” — Bill Drayton

There is a convergence happening as both social entrepreneurs — which Drayton describes as entrepreneurs with big pattern-change ideas for the good of all — and communities establish a new precedent: the wellbeing of all supports the sustainable wealth of all. At the same time, system pressures are driving commerce, institutions and innovation in the same direction.  “All the evidence shows companies committed to values internally, do better financially,” says Drayton. An ethical and ecological imperative for empathy is now also an economic imperative.

“This is the most thrilling moment in human history, we are leaving an unequal, unfair world” — Bill Drayton
Practicing Empathy: Active Listening Exercise

This simple sounding exercise can be deeply challenging.  It takes one step:

(1) When listening to another person, turn off your inner monologue; silence the inner voice in your head that is reflecting, judging, observing, cataloguing, analyzing and preparing what to say next. Quiet that voice. Listen completely to the other person.

Try this with one person. Then another. Then another. Do you recall his or her name? Are you hearing more, and remembering more, about what that person is saying? Feeling?

          

In conversation with Bill Drayton from Social Innovation Generation on Vimeo

Further Resources:

Start empathy

Ashoka

Bill Drayton sees a world where ‘everyone is a changemaker’ — Christian Science Monitor

Leading With Authenticity — 2014 Skoll World Forum

Witnessing Care: Innovating for Caregivers at SIX 2014

Last week, the annual SIX Summer School was held in North America for the first time, bringing together leading social innovation thinkerspractitioners, grassroots activists, and policy makers from over 20 countries to explore: How can we increase our impact? Shifting cultures, changing systems and preparing for surprise

SIX Vancouver 2014 was a three-day journey into culture shift and the spirit and humanity of social innovationDay 1 and 2  were curated to dive deep into our spirit and our sector experiences, while Day 3 prepared us to surface with fresh perspectives and consider: how can we ‘grow change’ in society and nurture the conditions for social innovation?

To capture the depth and collective wisdom of this journey, six Witnesses were chosen to reflect on and give testimony to the powerful undercurrents of SIX Vancouver: power & love, empathy, generations, courage, beauty, and empowerment. Honouring the oral tradition of the Musqueam People, our hosts on Day 2, each Witness — or Listener — was responsible for listening for and witnessing the truth of his or her theme. 

In two poignant blog posts this week, a seventh witness surfaced: Donna Thomson — an author, activist, and mother — witnessed and listened for care during the Summer School and testifies to care in her writings on SIX:

June 1: Innovating for Caregivers at The SIX Vancouver Summer School

Innovating for Caregivers at The SIX Vancouver Summer School

Innovating for Caregivers at The SIX Vancouver Summer School

The place of care in social change was a theme that ran through every discussion and workshop and we were nudged to think about care through the cultural lens of Canada’s First Nations…” In her first post, Donna reflects on the paradox of ‘real life’ versus ‘real work’ that emerged on Day 2: care is often seen as part of ‘real life,’ but not ‘real work’ — and as a result, can be edged out of our ‘real lives.’ Driven by the fear of our own vulnerability, we might dismiss the vulnerability of others, devalue care, and forget that love and care are both the impetus and guides for social innovation. Read on.

They cannot scare me with their empty spaces
Between stars – on stars where no human race is.
I have it in me so much nearer home
To scare myself with my own desert places.

— Robert Frost

(cited by Frances Westley, Opening Address, May 28, SIX Vancouver)

June 4: Powerful Lessons Learned

Innovating for Caregivers at the SIX Summer School - Powerful Lessons Learned

Innovating for Caregivers at the SIX Summer School – Powerful Lessons Learned

I learned that we must forge a movement to place power in the language of caregiving…” In her second post, Donna draws on the experiences of leading change lab and solutions lab practitioners, who led a session on “Experimenting with Enemies and Strangers.” The session leaders focused on the immeasurable potential and value of collectively co-creating new social realities and solutions — a process that requires balancing love with power, or as Donna shares, empowering the language of care with strength against silence or dismissal.  In her reflection, Donna calls on caregivers to use the fire of love to light a powerful torch for collective creation, nurtured through care. Read on

Preparing for Surprise: Social Innovation Week Vancouver

THE WEAVE: LOCAL, NATIONAL and INTERNATIONAL 

“It’s a coming together of local and global social innovators, and an invitation to Vancouverites and visitors to join in exploring solutions for a better world. It’s a series of gatherings and conversations that aim to inspire the changemaker in all of us” — The Tyee Presents

Social Innovation Week is a coming together — a weaving together of the momentum and energies around social innovation and social enterprise in British Columbia, across Canada, and globally.

SIW-Partners-Vertical-140507-300dpiIt is the cornerstone of Social Innovation Canada, a national movement of events, collaboration and connection across five cities during May and June.

Hosted by BC Partners for Social Impact, in collaboration with over 20 organizations from across sectors and continents, Social Innovation Week Vancouver (#SIweekVan) is curated to inspire and explore the humanity of social innovation: culture, community, care, creativity.

The week (May 26-30) is a celebration of both place and space — a convergence around British Columbia’s social change and innovation drive and a convergence of global innovators and activists in Vancouver.

B.C. has always prided ourselves on our ability to tackle challenges. The whole rise of social enterprise over the last 20 years had a really serious impetus here on the West Coast, particularly in Vancouver” — Al Etmanski, BC Partners for Social Impact [The Tyee Presents: Social Innovation Week]

THE WEFT

“We are responsible, of course, for ourselves. But, as Emmanuel Levinas insists, if we are to claim a full and proper humanity, we must claim responsibility for the other” — Roger Silverstone, Media and Morality: On the Rise of the Mediapolis

The common thread bringing Social Innovation Week together – the soul of the week – is reflection and introspection on culture, culture shift, and narratives of care. As a curated series, the Week will be an immersive, reflexive, and learning experience, inviting each of us to consider the human spirit of social innovation — and our own roles as changemakers, community members, supporters, allies…people.

These themes are at the heart of the international conference, taking place in North America for the first time, in the middle of #SIweekVanSIX Summer School 2014. An annual event, SIX (#SIXvan14) brings together leading social innovation thinkers and practitioners, grassroots activists, and policy makers from around the world to explore some of the key issues facing the social innovation field. This year, SIX will explore: How can we increase our impact? Shifting cultures, changing systems and preparing for surprise

THE WARF

I hope the average British Columbian would appreciate the ingenuity and creativity that has existed in this province for thousands of years — that has never gone away” — Al Etmanski [The Tyee Presents: Social Innovation Week]

The ideas that will enliven the experience and thinking of Social Innovation Week touch on our connectedness — to each other, to our communities, to ourselves, to the present and to the past — such as…

humility & generosity • vulnerability & resilience  assumptions & beliefs • power of narrative • collaboration • cross-generational dialogue   love & power • hospitality • inspiration & engagement • belonging & tradition  creativity  performance • community

…and the tensions, resonance and dynamics between them.

The Spirit of Haida Gwaii by Bill Reid

The Spirit of Haida Gwaii: The Jade Canoe by Bill Reid.   Collection of the Vancouver Airport Authority (YVR), Vancouver, Canada. Photo: Tony Hisgett

“Here we are at last, a long way from Haida Gwaii, not too sure where we are or where we’re going, still squabbling and vying for position in the boat, but somehow managing to appear to be heading in some direction; at least the paddles are together, and the man in the middle seems to have some vision of what is to come…”

– The Spirit of Haida Gwaii: The Jade Canoe by Bill Reid. Collection of the Vancouver Airport Authority (YVR), Vancouver, Canada. Photo: Tony Hisgett

SI-Week-Banner-140423 (1)

THE FABRIC:

SOCIAL CONNECTEDNESS

The Week culminates on Friday May 30th with Connect Vancouver, a day of free, family-friendly fun featuring an Ideas Jam and Urban Outdoor Festival. The Ideas Jam will be a space for Vancouverites and visitors to work through tough questions in order to re-imagine:

  • business
  • sustainability
  • schools
  • belonging
  • sharing
  • arts
  • policy
  • generational equality

The capstone of the week will be the Urban Outdoor Festival, presented by Gen Why Media and CityStudio — an evening celebrating the integration of culture, creativity, ingenuity and social innovation, where we reimagine social connectedness in an outdoor evening of conversation, celebration, public art, an urban fire and music in Vanier Park.

Check out the full event listing for #SIweekVan + The Tyee Presents Feature.
May 26-30, 2014
Join the learning and celebration. Come together!