What does Canada look like in 2067?

I first heard this question asked by the leadership team at MaRS’ Studio Y in Toronto in early 2015. It was the echo of a similar question posed in a 2015 Possible Canadas workshop convened by The J.W. McConnell Family Foundation and Reos Partners. It’s the kind of question that passionate young people get excited about answering.

Throughout my time with Social Innovation Generation (SiG), we have looked for ways to support the next generation of social change leaders. In hearing the question,“What does 2067 look like?”, and sensing the growing energy to spend time answering it, a cohort of youth leaders, youth-led organizations and SiG began exploring the development of a vision and how we could get there together.

Enter the 4Rs Youth Movement, Apathy is Boring, Studio Y and some graduates from the University of Waterloo Graduate Diploma in Social Innovation, with supportive energy from the McConnell Foundation and ImagiNation150. Together, these groups represented a wide range of experience, knowhow and action, from systems thinking to movement building to civic action to reconciliation and deep partnership.

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Photo: Renaud Philippe

Several of the early participants familiar with systems thinking wanted to put their research into action, so there was a lot of talk about committing to transformational change. Some of the Diploma graduates wanted to build on the work they had just completed for their program, while others were interested in keeping the focus very broad to allow for an emergent pathway forward.

With diverse directions on the table, instead of agreeing on a particular idea to collaborate on, we focused instead on agreeing on a common vision for 2067.

Waterloo graduate and collaborator, Derek Alton, called it finding our north star. It meant finding common language and agreement that could guide us for the next 50 years. No small task. We noodled around with language that would keep us all going when life inevitably throws curve balls. What could bring us back to centre when we travel down divergent roads or down rabbit holes?

This is where we landed:

In 2067, the diversity of Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples who share these lands are in an authentic and inclusive relationship with each other and with the natural environment.

Each word was carefully chosen. We wanted to acknowledge and include everyone. We wanted relationships between people to be authentic – meaningful, respectful, honest – and for equal respect to be shown to the natural environment.

Photo: Cheryl Rose

Photo: Cheryl Rose

Importantly, the words also built off those spoken by Jess Bolduc, who heads up the 4Rs Youth Movement and was part of our cohort from inception. She placed the language of our north star in an Indigenous context with particular attention to our relationship to the land.

Once we had agreed on the north star, we turned our attention to designing a pathway to get there. The subsequent months were pretty murky to say the least. There were many ideas and also several challenges to participation. Despite wanting to engage, some of the recent Diploma graduates felt the pinch to focus on other work. For some of the organizations involved, our joint project felt like a distraction from more pressing initiatives. While wanting to remain agnostic about and open to what the work would become, it was difficult for me to see the early energy dissipate.

And then there was a shift.

2015 was a big year in Canada for several reasons. The final report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission was released, including 94 Calls to Action. The first Indigenous Innovation Summit was held in Winnipeg. The federal election brought in a new government who immediately announced an inquiry into the deaths of murdered and missing Indigenous women and a commitment to answer the TRC calls.

In parallel, and in a much quieter setting, I was fortunate to be present for a convening organized by The J.W. McConnell Family Foundation, Canada Council and The Circle on Indigenous Philanthropy. It was a retreat for artists who had received funding for {Re}conciliation: a groundbreaking initiative to promote artistic collaborations that look to the past & future for new dialogues between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal peoples in Canada.

Following the retreat, and in recognition of the growing momentum of the 4Rs Youth Movement and the national energy around reconciliation, it suddenly made much more sense for our small team to focus our vision on Reconciliation. The 4Rs’ mission is to change the country by changing the relationship between Indigenous and non-Indigenous youth. Over the past year, 4Rs has developed a cross-cultural dialogue framework to articulate what they have learned about what is needed in a shared experience for young people to engage in dialogue that furthers respect, reciprocity, reconciliation, and relevance. This has been a crucial year in building shared capacity as young people to lead dialogue in ways that honour its complexity, and respect the vision of 4Rs to support the change that Indigenous and non-Indigenous youth want to see.

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Photo: www.4rsyouth.ca

By flowing with this energy, we thought we might uncover how we could make a unique and helpful contribution and nurture the rising tide. So we placed the 4Rs approach at the centre of our work. Rather than duplicate efforts, we are now working to amplify their outreach and produce a shared story of 18 months of dialogue and visioning with and by youth across the country. The journey story will be shared at a national gathering in November 2017.

It is an ambitious project and it has already provided many lessons for me.

The Federation for the Humanities and Social Sciences has been an early champion of our exploration and I’ve shared this blog with their community as well. The way forward will be strengthened by partnerships with more and different organizations and networks. I suspect the rest of the way to 2067 will be equally dependent on collaboration. Let’s see what we find out as we journey on.

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Seeking! Post-Doctoral Fellowship in Social Innovation

The University of Waterloo’s Institute for Social Innovation and Resilience (WISIR) is offering a postdoctoral fellowship to start August 1, 2016 for one year. WISIR was founded as part of a national initiative funded by The J.W McConnell Family Foundation and is designed to build capacity for broad system change in Canada.

  • One year fulltime postdoctoral fellowship
  • $50,000 annual salary, office and administrative support provided
  • Supervision by Frances Westley, McConnell Chair in Social Innovation, and Dan McCarthy, Director of the Waterloo Institute for Social Innovation and Resilience (WISIR)

Currently, four specific areas of interest and commitment concerning WISIR are:

  1. The challenges of indigenous innovation and engagement,
  2. Capacity building in the social profit sector– particularly the development of the skills and mindsets required for addressing increasingly complex social-ecological problems,
  3. The integration of art and science in stimulating innovative and breakthrough approaches to linked social-ecological systems
  4. General theory of transformation and social innovation in linked social-ecological systems, with particular emphasis on historical cases.

The postdoctoral fellow will work primarily with Dr. Frances Westley, McConnell Chair in Social Innovation, and Dan McCarthy, Director of WISIR but will also have the opportunity to engage with a team of staff, faculty members  and graduate students attached to the SiG@Waterloo initiative.

The successful candidate can collaborate with researchers across campus in such interdisciplinary centres as the Waterloo Institute on Complexity and Innovation and the Centre for International Governance Innovation.  Qualified candidates must have a PhD (completed within the last five years), be familiar with complexity theory, social innovation theory and social-ecological transformation processes including such approaches as the Multi-Level Transition theories, and resilience theory approaches to adaptation and transformation. A strong research background and sound methodological training is a must. An ideal candidate will be interested in joining problem solving teams in writing proposals for research funding, leading teams researching social innovation, and collaborating on research articles for publication.

Review of applications will begin on July 11, 2016 and will continue until the position is filled. The position will start August 1, 2016

Please send curriculum vitae, one research paper and, two letters of reference with the subject line “Post-Doctoral Fellowship in Social Innovation” to: Nina Ripley, Office Coordinator at nmripley@uwaterloo.ca

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Searching for a passionate social innovator

Addiction, substance misuse and hardship. Resilience, community and hope. These are addressed daily at The Phoenix Drug and Alcohol Recovery and Education Centre (The Phoenix Society) in Surrey, BC. Registered as a not-for-profit society in March of 1992, the life’s work and vision of Michael and Ann Wilson facilitates a substance misuse recovery program that has grown to include multi-phase housing, education assistance, an employment program and home ownership opportunities. Original and fresh in approach, The Phoenix Society is not your average recovery centre.

Phoenix Society

“The Phoenix Society is dedicated to social innovation. We encourage community initiatives that help participants exit the cycle of addiction and homelessness.” 

With Michael moving towards retirement, the centre has enlisted MNP Executive Search & Professional Recruitment (MNP) to spearhead the nationwide search for their next Executive Director. “The right candidate will have the leadership skills to honour and continue Michael’s vision, as well as the social innovation to keep The Phoenix Society on the cutting edge of addictions recovery.”

Like all provinces across Canada, British Columbia is experiencing compounding societal challenges that result in addictive behaviours like illicit drug use. As was reported by the CBC on June 18, fentanyl use is so prevalent, that addicts are becoming their own life-savers, taking training to administer naloxone (trade name Narcan), a drug that can reverse opioid overdoses. ”An investigation by B.C.’s chief coroner found that fentanyl was detected in the blood of 148 people who died of a drug overdose in the first four months of 2016 — more than three times the number in the same period last year. In Vancouver, it has meant about one death every five days.”

While solving social challenges like systemic poverty, family violence and isolation will hopefully stem the uptake of addictive substances in the long term, providing care and recovery programs to encourage and assist people in achieving personal, family and community health, free from substance misuse, is still hugely necessary.

Working collaboratively with The Phoenix Society, MNP has built a leadership profile of success and expects to have a new Executive Director in place by September of 2016.

If you know someone that’s right for the job and needs more information, visit the MNP website, contact Linda Beaudry at 778-432-3056 or email Linda.Beaudry@mnp.ca

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INNOVATING INNOVATION: Connecting technological, business and social innovation

SiG Note: This article was originally published on the J.W. McConnell Family Foundation blog and Tamarack CCI.  Earlier Spanish and Basque versions of this blog were published in Spain by Innobasque.

We have reached a watershed moment.

After a century of robust development of technological and business innovation, plus several decades of cracking the code of social innovation, the time has come to create an integrated innovation system.

Nasa_grid Innovation has long been recognized as necessary for a nation’s economic and business success. But citizens have relied on a trickle down approach for the benefits from technological and business innovation to trigger broad societal well-being. Unfortunately today’s social, ecological and economic problems – ranging from preventable chronic disease to social exclusion to youth unemployment to climate change – are escalating in scale, severity and urgency. They won’t wait for laissez-faire innovation.

Society’s needs and innovation’s benefits can be more directly connected and aligned. The opportunity of the 21st century is to harness the combined power of social innovation and mainstream (technological and business) innovation.

Mainstream innovation is an advanced ecosystem of technological, business, financial and human resources wired to produce efficiencies, profit and, increasingly, disruption. Social innovation works primarily at the margins to take on the most pressing social and ecological challenges of the 21st century. Social innovation responds to gaping tears in our social fabric made more visible as aging systems fall behind or fail to use new tools like behavioural economics, human-centred design, collective intelligence, and both open and big data.

The urgent call is to steward a new collaborative mindset and approach. One that integrates today’s tools and technologies with new knowledge emerging from across all sectors on innovation, social behavior, social capital, collaboration and networks.  We need an innovation system driven by a new integrated innovation paradigm and a solutions-oriented economy.

The status quo isn’t working.

The OECD reports that “[i]n 2014, OECD countries devoted more than one-fifth of their economic resources to public social support”.  It is estimated that 17% of Canada’s GDP, or approximately $300 billion, is spent on social outcomes. In the US, that figure is closer to 19.2% of GDP and in Spain, it is higher still, at 26.8% of GDP.

What are we missing by not having a more inclusive, integrated national innovation system, capable of producing greatly improved and robust social outcomes? How can we repurpose the large investments in social programs that are structured mostly to mitigate rather than solve societal challenges? How can we catalyze a purpose-driven innovation ecosystem?

The problem is not that these questions are not being asked. Nor that we are not already deploying social innovation and advancing social outcomes in critical domains. The problem is that these efforts remain marginal to the scale of our challenges.

Something more is needed: we must rewire the innovation system.

We have to be intentional around rewiring the innovation system with a solutions-orientation. This includes its:

  • Purpose: Solving grand challenges in the pursuit of inclusive prosperity and well-being;
  • Processes: Integrated social, business and STEM innovation;
  • Players: Public sector, business, civil society organizations, marginalized communities, media and academia; and,
  • Guiding rules: New paradigms of collaboration and competition, new open and bottom-up principles, new forms of interoperability and sustainability.

This will require a new role for public investment, one that honours the vital role of government in market creation and driving periods of transformative change.

Economist Mariana Mazzucato, in her groundbreaking research on public investment, notes:

“…markets are ‘blind’ and the direction of change they provide often represents suboptimal outcomes from a societal point of view. This is why, in addressing societal challenges, states have had to lead the process and provide the direction towards new ‘technoeconomic paradigms’, which do not emerge spontaneously from market forces.”

14224001703_03a3ba6ee6_zMazzucato identifies the role that government must continue to play as a key, and often more daring, partner of the private sector, derisking critical directions for market development. Recognizing government as a public investor opens up the opportunity to re-deploy vast resources (currently being spent on shoring up frail systems inadequately serving public needs) toward a common mission of integrated innovation for shared and inclusive prosperity.

It won’t be easy. As Mazzucato’s colleague, Essex University’s Andy Stirling, notes:

“The more demanding the challenges for innovation (like poverty, ill health or environmental damage), the greater becomes the importance of effective policy. These challenges of innovation policy go well beyond simplistic notions of governments trying to ‘pick winners’…This is about culturing the most fruitfully cross-fertilizing conditions across society as a whole, for collectively seeding and selecting across many alternative possibilities and together nurturing the most potentially fruitful. This involves collaboratively deliberating, negotiating and constructing what ‘winning’ even means, not just how best to achieve it.”

From adhocracy to transformed systems.

There are exemplary cases of social and mainstream innovation converging to produce transformational social and economic outcomes, such as the Grameen-Danone Partnership, the co-operative movement, and the Toronto Atmospheric Fund. But we need to support a move from  exceptional successes on the margins to a mainstreamed mindset of, and approach to, integrated innovation.

light-bulb-ideaTo succeed, we will rely on new agile innovation hosting platforms where business, STEM and social innovation can actively come together with shared accountabilities and support systems. The opportunity here is to build on local experiences, capacities and knowledge assets, as well as global insight, evidence and models. One groundbreaking Canadian example of this is Grand Challenges Canada, tackling global health challenges affecting the developing world.

In the near term, this requires  a new narrative about the origin and the role of innovation, as a process that facilitates direct, not laissez-faire, public benefits. Aligning our innovation systems more tangibly with inclusive prosperity and social outcomes depends on shifting how we understand, value, practice and apply all streams of innovation

This is the watershed moment: a multi-sector opportunity and imperative to unleash the full potential of our creativity, research capacity, knowledge and resources on our most pressing social, economic and ecological challenges to foster lasting, sustainable well-being and prosperity.

 

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Opening Pandora’s Evaluation Box

“Revolutions in science have often been preceded by revolutions in measurement.” Based on the premise from Sinan Aral of the MIT Sloan School of Management

Jason Saul presented to a full-house as part of the MaRS Global Leaders series in April 2016 on his latest venture – the Impact Genome Project (IGP). A public-private partnership to code and quantify the “genes” of what works in social science. The audio of the presentation can be found below.

If you spend 5 minutes in the social impact sector you are sure to be asked, how do you know you are making a difference?

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Jason Saul and Nolan Gasser present the Impact Genome Project at the Skoll Forum in 2014

Jason and his colleagues at Mission Measurement have been tackling this question by taking us from the current state: we are spending $400 billion to achieve social outcomes without any standard way to accurately measure ROI; the evaluation industry is in disarray; evidence is unstructured and unintelligible; and yet evidence is growing exponentially – it is just not readily accessible. We have no common language; no benchmarks that allows us to compare social programs; and ultimately no predictive data meaning we can’t forecast before we invest. This is what Mission Measurement calls the black box problem.

Yet other sectors have predictive data and use it to increase their impact: think credit scores, the human genome or even Netflix. The music industry has cracked this code with Pandora and their Music Genome Project, the original inspiration for the Impact Genome Project. Jason approached Nolan Gasser, the architect of the Music Genome Project, and together they embarked on a journey of discovery asking one question:  Can we not do for social programs what Pandora did for music?

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You can watch a short documentary on the story of Pandora and Nolan Gasser on FiveThirtyEight

As it stands the Impact Genome Project comprises 11 total genomes: education; economic development; public health; youth development; international development; human services; criminal justice; sustainability & environment; science & technology; arts; and culture & identity. With 132 common outcomes. The goal of IGP is to produce new benchmarks such as efficacy rate; expected outcomes; and cost per outcome. It is an open data project with advanced analytics available via subscription.

The IGP intends to create a more level playing field by:

  • Democratizing evaluation
  • Replacing guessing with data
  • Learning systematically across the sector
  • Unleashing innovation and creating twice the impact with half the cost

It is an audacious goal and yet the future is here. The UK government is already moving to pay for outcomes and have created a What Works Centres, a network of centres to “support more effective and efficient services across the public sector at national and local levels.” Our own governments are not far behind with the Centre of Excellence for Evidence-based Decision Making Support at the Government of Ontario, which was part of Minister Deb Matthews’ mandate letter.

The UK government released a report in 2014 providing an overview of the What Works Centres.

The UK government released a report in 2014 providing an overview of the What Works Centres.

Why Canada? We have supportive genetic infrastructure:

  • Un-entrenched philanthropic institutions
  • Integrated and collaborative philanthropic sector
  • Government prioritizing evidence and value for money
  • Institutions willing to lead
  • Access to top talent/academic institutions
  • Systems-thinking expertise

We are interested in what you think. Does this seem like a way to get ahead of the inevitable move to pay for outcomes? Can we work with funders to make this approach the standard, not the only way forward but one that is “directionally correct”? What are your concerns, if any?

Please let us know and help us determine how we can get to a better place around demonstrating our impact in a world that needs us to use all our talents to tackling our complex challenges.

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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.
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Cracking the Code of Internships

When my mother was just a little younger than me, she got a job by asking the receptionist in the lobby of a company if they were hiring. She didn’t just get the job but she also managed to get some of her friends interviews as well.

My job search after graduation was more complicated, which is the story for many new graduates. Competition is fierce with many entry level positions receiving a hundred+ applications. Social Innovation Generation at the MaRS Discovery District (SiG@MaRS) recently advertised for a summer internship and received 276 formal applications and about dozen more sent in offline. This number is not surprising. More and more young professionals are looking for jobs that more closely align with their values and create impact, so this unique position was expected to attract a wide range of talent. Given the size of the applicant pool, I was asked to assist in the selection process. It wasn’t so long ago that I was one of those applicants, so I was excited by the opportunity to sit on the other side of the table in the hiring process. Reflecting on this experience I’d like to share some tips on what I’ve learned on how to approach a job search.

If you are interested in the topic, a previous Associate at SiG@MaRS, wrote a great paper in partnership with BMeaningful titled “The Impact Economy: The Insider's Guide to Finding Meaningful Work and Attracting Top Talent”

If you are interested in the topic, a previous Associate at SiG@MaRS, wrote a great paper in partnership with BMeaningful titled “The Impact Economy: The Insider’s Guide to Finding Meaningful Work and Attracting Top Talent”

1. The job posting is your best friend, but it is needs to be decoded

A good job post will tell you exactly what the company/organization hiring is looking for, what the role entails, and what you will need in order to be successful. Not every job posting will tell you all of this, particularly what specific projects you’ll be working on (i.e. where you could really have added-value), but the Summer Associate posting for SiG@MaRS had all these elements. A lot of applicants ignored the clues, but those who decoded the job posting and made modifications to their application really stood out. With 276+ applications, many of whom had similar qualifications, this is the way to differentiate yourself. I heard once that the best way to prepare your application was to jot down all the skills that the job posting lists in one column and in a separate column list the skills you have that match those required.  I had originally dismissed this advice, but this exercise could help you clarify the skills you have and those you are lacking.

 2. Think of your application as a road map

Young people are eager to prove themselves to employers so they list everything they have done to show just how capable they are (I may or may not, have followed that school of thought once upon a time). We had very impressive young people apply for the position, but with 276+ applications it becomes a question of highlighting the relevant skills – not all of them. At the start of this process I became overwhelmed by how time consuming looking at an entire application was, but after a quick crash course on recruitment I learned what I have always suspected – most cover letters aren’t read. Your resume is your first impression to show you are qualified. You cover letter is an opportunity to prove your first impression right and should show that all roads lead to hiring you. Now, I understand that you don’t always have all the experience needed but make the best case you can. That is what any job application boils down to.

 3. It’s not personal

Job searching can feel like an inherently intimate and personal activity. You become attached to the possibility of a job you know you could be great in. However, whether it’s because they nailed the interview, but were not the strongest candidate, or because they were very qualified, but were challenged in their interview – everyone has been disappointed at one point or another. If you are not successful, remember two things:

  • There will be other jobs. Wherever you land, remember that every job has something to offer, and the skills you learn will help you land another job in the future.

  • The selection process is full of variables you can’t control. What the team is like, what your boss is like, how much time they have to provide guidance, the skills the previous employee had. Focus on what you can control, remember the skills you lacked and be intentional in future opportunities.

4. Be intentional and value your skills

provides social innovation and entrepreneurship opportunities for College and University students to become drivers of progress and change.

RECODE is a program by the J.W. Family Foundation that provides social innovation and entrepreneurship opportunities for College and University students to become drivers of progress and change.

Looking for a job following graduation is a nerve-wracking experience but every job has something to teach you, and who you work with matters just as much as what you will be doing. You can start as an assistant, but with a true mentor by your side you won’t be an assistant for long. Similarly, you can land a great job but with limited mentorship it may be a negative experience limiting your ability to accomplish your objectives. Don’t just find a position where you would like to invest your time, find a position where they will invest their time and resources in you as well. logo55

If you are trying to break into a new field there are plenty of ways you can learn new skills, make new connections, and stand out. Some good examples of this would be volunteering at conferences to learn about the field and network, but you can pursue other strategies like writing about what interests you. Many places like socialfinance.ca and the RECODE blog accept submissions from students.

5. It’s not personal, but being interpersonal makes a big difference

One of the best investments you can make with your time is building relationships. The world is a small place and the world of social innovation is even smaller. When it comes time to look for an internship, tapping into these relationships will be the best way to find out who is hiring and even possibly getting a recommendation from someone on the inside. If you aren’t chosen for a position allow some time to pass and then reach out to the organization. Don’t necessarily ask for specific feedback, but ask to learn more about the organization. Making a contact will be far more useful in the long term. Your curiosity, engagement, and maturity is worth being remembered for.

Allyson Hewitt, the Senior Fellow in Social Innovation @MaRS, who helped lead the hiring process with me, also offers a few words of advice:

  1. Please send a cover letter with your application and clearly address the requirements outlined in the job posting. You need to make it easy for the screener to match your skills to those needed for the position. Start off by indicating why this position is of interest to you.

  2. Customize your resume based on the job posting and even if you don’t have an extensive employment history, indicate a few things you have learned at school that directly relate to the position. For example, I participated in a social enterprise competition and learned the value of getting market intelligence to back up my idea.

  3. Keep everything short: one-page cover letter, two-page resume. 

  4. Many people have great education, lots of you have great international experience, and it is really amazing to see how you juggle your course work alongside a part time job and extra-curricular activities. Indicate clearly how you prioritize all that you do.

  5. In a job like ours, highlighting your volunteer experience is important. Don’t minimize that experience and ideally indicate what you learned from volunteering.

  6. Finally, take your time when applying. Check for typos, especially the name of the company/ organization you are applying to. Ours is hard – MaRS Discovery District. Very few people got the spelling right with the right upper and lower cases but it makes a difference. It shows your attention to detail and that you really care about the place you are applying to.

Overall, Allyson and I were deeply impressed by the quality of the applications we received and we are very hopeful for the future of social purpose work in this country. If I can leave you with some lasting words, it’s that I interviewed back for a position at SiG National over a year ago, and I wasn’t the chosen candidate. I was gutted because I gave one of my best interviews yet. But I moved on, to get more experience, to look for the next opportunity – hoping I’d be successful next time. When a new position opened up 6 months later, I was invited back there to work.

Here are some resources that can help you find your way:

Careers at MaRS DD

Charity Village

C[ONN]ECT NonProfit Jobs

BMeaningful

Centre for Social Innovation Jobs Board

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Nesting Social Innovation

“What does social innovation mean?”
“Is my work called social innovation?”
“Is that social innovation?”

These types of questions are asked all the time, showing that definitions for promising ideas can be very useful, but also alienating. Too often, they come across as a value judgment, privileging some ideas and actions over others. But what if it’s not really a competition? More than any one individual piece of work, it might be even more important to consider the relationships between them. There is something about the interconnections between intention, involvement, invention and innovation that are central to social innovation.

Intention: it’s sparked by a moment in time when people become more consciously aware of a problem in a way that there’s no turning back from. They are changed and, as individuals, they now genuinely care about something that is broken in the world. They develop a deep intention; they care – and they sincerely want change to happen.

That intention often leads to new levels of engagement; their growing awareness and emotional connection wants to be translated into action and they feel compelled to DO something. Doing can take a lot of forms – learning more, giving money, volunteering, working in the problem domain. Whatever first (and next) steps mean to them, they move into involvement; they are actively helping change to happen.

To some extent, they are now part of the field, part of working for change, and some will get involved enough to develop more knowledge and experience in this realm. This allows them to creatively experiment with new ways of addressing problems. They are excited by invention; they can now imagine and act on radically different ideas for change.

Eventually, a number of these creative, adaptive entrepreneurs, either individuals or organizations, come to realize that even with some success, the fundamental brokenness that caught their attention in the first place, still lingers – the problem has barely changed at all. It becomes clear that their work is critically important, but alone, it is not enough. And, if possible, they turn their attention to whatever bigger picture elements appear to be keeping problems so frustratingly stuck. They, with others, begin to work for innovation; they step into new spaces to engage with strategies for getting at the root causes of these very complex problems.

Babushka Dolls of SI copy

Babushka Dolls of Social Innovation – image graphic provided by Karen Gomez

I’ve come to understand the necessity and the interdependence of each of these four different. but related, uniquely powerful parts of change-making.  I think of them like the Russian babushka dolls; nested pieces, one inside the other. While each individual piece can stand alone, the full impact is really only possible when they are together.  Social innovation nesting looks something like this; real, lasting innovation at a systems level cannot happen without enough creative invention to demonstrate and prepare the new possibilities. This rarely happens without significant involvement to gain deep understanding in the issue area, which itself will never occur without sparking individuals’ intention, their desire to be part of making change happen. When this interconnectedness is present, the energy of a whole field works for impact – and that can make all the difference.

So I’m really drawn to think about the whole – and, therefore, to holistic questions that unite rather than divide our change efforts; ones that point to the relationships between initiatives and to ‘nesting’ one piece of change work within another.  Rather than questions about what is or is not social innovation, let’s explore if and how this kind of initiative and that type of activity fits within, supports, leverages, communicates with, and connects to a whole web-like strategy, every single piece of which has a role to play in achieving real and lasting change.

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Chrysalis – A Social Innovation Incubator

SiG Note: This article was originally published on ABSI Connect on January 28, 2016. It has been cross-posted with permission from the author.

“Creating meaningful solutions starts with gaining a deep understanding of the individual’s need…”
Chrysalis logo via Chrysalis website

Chrysalis logo via Chrysalis website

On November 19th, I had the opportunity to visit Chrysalis. To gain a grasp on Chrysalis, its history is important. In 1968, Chrysalis emerged as a Centennial project guided by the University of Alberta. It was created by community members and parents who envisioned adults with disabilities having equal opportunities to be involved in community. Historically, Chrysalis trained adults with developmental disabilities to produce manufactured goods using automated machinery. It was the first of its kind in the world.

Over time, Chrysalis has evolved and now also provides personalized services to help adults with disabilities receive training, develop life and vocational skills, find employment, discover volunteer opportunities and realize a better quality of life.

A CATALYST FOR INNOVATION

When designing programs for clients, there are always many questions to ask and answer to understand whether or not programming supports a person’s needs. Above all, Chrysalis asks: How do organizations connect more deeply with the individual’s life to understand how programming can support them?

Staff at Chrysalis recognized that the traditional system of setting up highly structured, top-down programming was inherently chaotic. There were deep barriers around scheduling and pressures on staff to have every detail defined to the exact second. When one thing in the system broke down within the original model, everything fell apart. On top of this rigid and vulnerable approach to services, staff were not even sure if clients enjoyed the programming being offered. Chrysalis staff began to explore other models for supporting individuals in the community.

They landed on ‘Leaders as Designers’

LEADERS AS DESIGNERS

Leaders as designers inherently have to see things differently. Meeting with the leaders at Chrysalis, I learned about programs being co-creatively developed through a human-centred design approach and collective impact model. In discovering how this way of working became a reality, I began to notice that the leadership at Chrysalis understands themselves as those with the ability to think critically and use design to create processes for change.

I think this is happening because the leadership fosters a space for innovation through what John Kotter calls a dual or a secondary operating system. One side of the leadership spectrum is management working with reporting, budgets, and strategic planning in the space of caution, along traditional business lines. Simultaneously, the other side is building relationships and planning by design with the permission to be creative. This is supported through an environment that offers training for staff to think, learn and work in ways that add value by reimagining how programming can be designed. In fact, Kotter suggests the duality should not be in competition, but a confluence of the formal and the informal, if successful transformation is to be achieved.

The duality of this operating system enables Chrysalis to lead as an incubator for social innovation that is creating new ways to develop, design and implement services for the individuals they serve.

WHAT IS HUMAN-CENTRED DESIGN?

Human-centered design is a tool for social innovators, and organizations like IDEO and Acumen offer courses on human-centered design for free for more information go to https://novoed.com/design-kit-q1-2016

Organizations like IDEO and Acumen offer courses on human-centered design for free.

Human-centred design (HCD) is a creative approach to problem solving that starts with the person and ends with an innovative solution to meet that person’s specific needs. It supports service delivery by better understanding what the individual and his/her/their family or community want. HCD does not claim to solve the root cause of a problem rather it is a process that gives designers and clients the opportunity to try together!

In learning about and understanding HCD, the Fostering Innovation Group emerged at Chrysalis and is what I call the creative nebulous for innovative programming that starts with the person!

Becoming a baker: a client of Chrysalis wanted to work in a bakery. Having a disability created barriers to access whereby the individual was unable to secure employment in a bakery. Staff turned to HCD. Through the process of listening, observing and being open to the unexpected, a new idea was tested and designed for the individual to have the opportunity to bake. This individual was able to bake her own goods and sell them at community fairs across Edmonton.

Using a creative yet structured problem solving process (HCD) develops trusting relationships and builds a strong sense of resiliency among staff and individuals. This culture is supported by strong leaders who preserve the culture of trust, allowing participants in the design process to try things out and fail at first, because they know it takes time, inquiry and iteration to provide meaningful opportunities for people to engage in designing their own solutions.

WHAT IS COLLECTIVE IMPACT?

Collaboration is nothing new. The social sector is filled with examples of partnerships, networks, and other types of joint efforts. But collective impact initiatives are distinct. John Kania & Mark Kramer describe 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” (SSIR, Winter 2011)

Image from the organization Doing Something Good

Image from the organization Doing Something Good

Chrysalis is in the process of using the Collective Impact model to provide improved services to the individuals they serve. In doing the day to day work at Chrysalis, and by interacting with employers and other service agencies, the Chrysalis staff had realized that everyone was operating in silos, while expecting global or broader outcomes. This acknowledged that the expected overall impact was not being met. Unemployment for persons with disabilities has remained at around 80% for many years. So the idea of collective impact was proposed. Chrysalis has managed to garner buy-in with service agencies, employers, and funders for a generative look at the real systemic issues that people face. The outcomes are unknown, yet the vision is strong. As the process continues to unfold, I will keep you updated on how it unravels.

WHAT IS THE IMPACT?

Creating new ways for developing new things is not easy, especially within historically strong and influential organizations. Yet, as the nucleus of innovation works in parallel with the traditional operating system at Chrysalis, the positive results speak for themselves and make the case for continuing to support HCD approaches and processes internally.

Embedded HCD as a change process within Chrysalis has led to the discovery of hidden talents among staff, a shift away from resistance to change towards an embrace of HCD among individuals’ parents, and a renewed sense of positivity, knowing individuals are participating in outcomes they want to see for themselves and being included in a process that supports their own vision of a good life.

As social innovation continues to grow in the province of Alberta, how do we begin to create a culture among organizations where it is “cool” to do things differently and place people and innovation at the heart of the how we design social change? Perhaps in the spirit of Chrysalis, this is our project for 2017 and Canada’s sesquicentennial.

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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

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