Why experiment, anyway?

A Year of Exploration

From Wikimedia Commons

December has been a month of reflection for many years – not because it’s close to year-end but because I moved to Canada as a preteen in December. I remember the start of my journey in this beautiful country. My earliest memories of Canada are snow, the holidays, and some of the more unique things we have put in place to care for one another as a society. Things like the Canada Pension Plan (CPP), Registered Education Savings Plan (RESP), and a high-functioning public education system were foreign to me. My mother took English as a Second Language from an immigrant services organization that was supported by the local community foundation. The idea of a community foundation was foreign to me.

St. Elizabeth

Today, community and social assets, such as the ones I learned about when I first arrived, are all around us – many invisible. You could say they are in the air we breathe. Yet, once upon a time, they were novel. They were innovations. Some folks somewhere, decided to craft hypotheses, do research, run experiments, test assumptions, take risks, and scale what worked. No asset is designed to operate at its optimal forever, and in a fast-changing world, we often forget how fragile our community and social assets can be. How might they be ready for and evolve in a way that attends to tomorrow’s needs? How might the spark of experimentation that led to the creation of these assets be rekindled, sustained and embedded within these organizations? What conditions are necessary to make continuous innovation worthwhile?

Questions such as these led us to kick-start an exploration to strengthen community and capability, and seed more capital for social impact organizations practicing research and development, or as we are calling it for now, “Social R&D.” The exploration is incubated by SiG, supported by The J.W. McConnell Family Foundation, and is championed by a growing movement of organizations including: Community Foundations of Canada, Open North, MaRS, Skills Society, Engineers Without Borders Canada, WEST Neighbourhood House, York University, and many others.

The Social R&D exploration caught the wind this year, taking a multi-sector approach. There were policy professionals, front-line agencies, executives, academics, entrepreneurs, storytellers, engineers, designers, and many others contributing to the journey.

We focused on four primary areas of enhancement to social and grant-making organizations:

Demystifying R&D and demonstrating R&D in action

Through Appreciative Inquiry principles, we researched and shared 50 inspiring R&D practices in Canada’s social impact sector to demystify the practice, surface resonating language, and identify ways for grant-makers and social mission organizations to better activate, empower and build R&D capacity, capability, community and capital. We packaged the practices in a first-of-its kind report in Canada – called ‘Getting to Moonshot’ with a Foreword by Geoff Mulgan, Chief Executive of Nesta.

CommuniTEA

Catalyzing a community

We hosted gatherings, had one-on-one meetings and phone calls, and engaged over 100 people practicing R&D within their organizations. Through this exploration, more Social R&D practitioners found each other. Peer relationships began to deepen and grow, across geographies, sectors and disciplines. This community has its roots in a Social R&D Declaration of Action that was co-created and jointly signed in late-2015.

Advancing practice

We designed and hosted two unique gatherings this year to cross-pollinate, advance, and increase the adoption of R&D practices. In August, we convened approximately 20 practitioners from across Canada to connect with one another and with funders to learn, share insights, exchange methods, and find ways to strengthen their organizational R&D craft. In October, in partnership with Community Foundations of Canada, we led an inaugural study tour to Silicon Valley to learn about R&D practices, emerging technologies, and innovations in the world’s leading lean R&D ecosystem. We also contributed to the development of a new labs and experimentation learning module hosted by Innoweave. The module kicks-off in January.

Grantbook

Influencing policy

Social R&D can lead to better policy development. We also believe that Canada can drive inclusive growth by strengthening R&D in the not-for-profit and charitable sector. However, this sector remains one of the least supported in terms of access to federal R&D infrastructure, advisory support, capacity and capital. We helped to convene a cross-sector policy gathering with Public Policy Forum in June; participated in policy meetings and consultations, including the pan-Canadian innovation policy consultation, and; submitted a policy brief to the Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development focused on enhancing federal R&D support for Canada’s social sector.

We have just begun this journey. Not everything worked as planned, there were failures along the way – there always will be (more on the failures in January). We are thrilled to advance each of the above four areas in 2017 and have you join this exploration as a partner, champion or practitioner.

The funny thing with mainstreaming experimentation is that we will not know what approaches will work best in advance. Only through experimentation, fast learning, and showing how it’s improving lives will they materialize.

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2016 – Looking back, Looking Forward

2016 was resource rich for SiG. As we approach a new year, we thought we’d compile a short list for you to ease the burden on your digital bookmarks. 

- In 2016, we published three reports!

- We orchestrated a Canadian tour for Carolyn Curtis and Ingrid Burkett of the Australian Centre for Social Innovation (TACSI). Along with SiG colleague, Geraldine Cahill they visited Vancouver, Victoria, Edmonton, Winnipeg, Ottawa and Toronto. You can read about the tour and download some TACSI resources here

- As part of the TACSI Tour, we co-hosted a public event with MaRS Solutions Lab and the Centre for Social Innovation titled: The culture, passion and how of social innovation.

The Culture, Passion and How of Social Innovation from Social Innovation Generation on Vimeo.

- Vinod Rajasekaran came on board as a SiG Fellow to work on Social R&D. He has since authored “Getting to Moonshot” and co-authored “How Can Integrated Innovation Advance Well-being and Inclusive Growth?”

Earlier this year Vinod lead a learning tour for a Canadian Delegation to Silicon Valley with Community Foundations Canada (CFC). Participants visited Singularity University, Silicon Valley Community Foundation, Y Combinator, IDEO, and more!

ABSI Connect celebrated its first anniversary! SiG acts as administrator, champion and advisor for the ABSI Connect program in Alberta. We are honoured to play a small role in this inspiring program. Read their report: The Future of Social Innovation Alberta 2016.

- As the Federal Government extended invitations to submit ideas on innovation and creativity in various ministries, SiG was ready with some policy recommendations. See the full submissions on our policy page and review SiG’s take on policy’s role in social innovation.

- In the waning summer days, we began to map the Social Innovation Ecosystem in Canada (last updated on November 2016). We heard from many of you about more and different organizations to include, so we are currently working on an open redesign model for this map. If you would like to be included, get in touch.

What was on our bookshelves this year?

The Silo Effect“, “Building the Future“, “Sharing Cities“, “The Rainforest“, “Linked“, “LEAP Dialogues, Networks“, “The Art of Leading Collectively“, “Learning to Die in the Anthropocene“, “Don’t Think of an Elephant!“, “Public Good by Private Means“, “The Practices of Global Ethics“, and “Uberworked and Underpaid“.

And what was on our desks?

 “Canada Next: Learning for Youth Leadership and Innovation”, “Push & Pull”, “Licence to Innovate: How government can reward risk”, “The Future of Social Innovation in Alberta”, “Shifting Perspective: Redesigning Regulations for the Sharing Economy”, “Where to Begin: How Social Innovation is emerging across Canadian Campuses”, “Discussion Paper – Charities, Sustainable Funding, and Smart Growth”, “Pilot Lessons: How to design a basic income pilot project for Ontario”, “Unpacking Impact: Exploring impact Measurement for Social Enterprises in Ontario”, “From Here to There in Five Bento Boxes”, “The Architecture of Innovation: Institutionalizing Innovation in Federal Policy Making”, and “Insights & Observations at the Intersection of Higher Education, Indigenous Communities and Local Economic Development”.

Who we’ll be watching in 2017?

ABSI Connect – this emerging fellowship we have been super proud to support continues to evolve. Read their latest blog.

Allyson Hewitt - this year Allyson has dedicated her time to exploring the creation of a pro bono marketplace in Canada. We are excited about where that will go. Want to get involved? Feel free to reach out to Allyson!

Canada – 2017 is a big year for the nation and an opportunity to think boldly about our future. Many efforts are underway to pursue the possibilities, and we are excited to see these projects come to life. In particular the 4Rs Youth Movement will be hosting regional and national gatherings from coast to coast to coast, engaging approximately 5,000 Indigenous and non-Indigenous youth in face-to-face dialogue that highlights the contributions of Indigenous peoples over the last 150 years and allows for authentic relationship building that furthers reconciliation.

Indigenous Innovation Summit - 2017 will host the 3rd Indigenous Innovation Summit. As we celebrate our sesquicentennial we will also take the time to recognize and celebrate indigenous innovation.

Happy Holidays,

SiG Team

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Reconciling Myself for Reconciliation in Canada

Photo by Miriam Espacio

Just before daybreak, on a September morning, I stand in a small circle of people around a sacred fire on Ambleside Beach in Vancouver. As the light creeps into the eastern sky, I hold hands with the stranger next to me, while listening to the calls of the ravens and gulls overhead. Reconciliation Canada has gathered us for this Sunrise Ceremony to call our ancestors, those who have passed from this earthly existence, to ask for their guidance as we move into more active reconciliation conversations and actions.

I stand here, a settler, feeling very unsettled.

I’m unsettled as our country prepares for a year celebrating the birth of a nation that was founded at such great, hurtful expense for the First Nations of this land. To be honest, as a non-indigenous Canadian on the threshold of 2017, I feel guilt and uncertainty – and I worry. The more I find myself in spaces and conversations about reconciliation in Canada, the more I worry that there is so much that I don’t yet know.

I worry that I don’t know for sure what my place is or should be in all of this. I worry that I don’t know what to do. I worry that if I step forward, I will make mistakes that may cause more hurt –  which might be unforgivable. But what I truly worry about most is that all these worries will mean that I do nothing. And that would be, for me, the most unforgivable thing.

The fire ceremony comes to a close and I let go of the stranger’s hand. A little later, at a community breakfast, he approaches me to introduce himself and to tease me that I had gripped his hand so hard that it hurt! I wince – and tell him immediately that I’m so sorry. But he just laughs and takes my hand again for a moment, holds it gently, smiles, tells me he is glad that I was there, and then moves on to speak with others.

In that moment, right there, that kind stranger taught me something about how to make my own way forward towards action for reconciliation. I realized that I need to both let go and go deep; that any contribution I can make to the reconciliation movement will flow, from these same vulnerabilities that worry me.

Image from Reconciliation Canada

It is a realization that I continued to explore through a workshop developed by Reconciliation Canada called Leadership Learning for Reconciliation, which posed a central question; “What does reconciliation mean for YOU?” Through the workshop, I began to understand that the greatest courage required for this work may be to genuinely look within and to get to know the weak, frightened, thoughtless parts of my own self and life  – to own my shadow sides that make me cringe and that I fight to ignore rather than to acknowledge and heal.

I imagine that many of us have relationships in our lives that need reconciliation – I know for sure that I do.  I’m beginning to understand that the way I think about them, the way I have or have not tried to address my damaged and hurting personal relationships, is my starting point to learn how to become better prepared, able and ready to work for broader reconciliation efforts in society. Maybe we need to reconcile what we each know as ‘mine’ before we can effectively connect together to heal histories, hurts, and troubling issues that are ‘ours’.

Photo from the inaugural Indigenous Innovation Summit, Raven Lacerte and Paul Lacerte, who started The Moose Hide Campaign, honour Justice Sinclair by presenting him with a drum. (Photo by the NAFC)

I believe we have to find a way to come to terms with our own worries about what we will each do for reconciliation. We need to reconcile ourselves, with all the grace we can muster, to the unavoidable challenges that are part of reconciliation efforts. We need to accept that we are bound to make mistakes in this new part of our shared journey in Canada. We cannot be sure of every step, but we need to show up anyway.

We will need courage and humility to be called on errors and to experience some pain and remorse at our own failings. We need to trust that we can ask for forgiveness and be generous in offering forgiveness to others. We need to focus on holding empathy for each other, learning from each other, trying together to find the way forward. Trying again. And again.

We won’t be able to do this alone and we will need help along the way. The most inspiring support that I’ve encountered is the immense generosity of some amazing indigenous leaders in Canada. Particularly at the two Indigenous Innovation Summits that I’ve had the privilege to attend, I’ve witnessed the authentic, generous words and actions of people like Paul Lacerte, Karen Joseph, Jessica Bolduc and Melanie Goodchild, to name just a few. They are choosing to bravely speak truths, positive and negative, and to do so with love and faith.

Truths about what has been and what now needs to be.

Love for all who try to think, speak and act differently.

Faith that we can do this thing called reconciliation.

They encourage me in very profound ways that lessen my worries and help me to step forward into the work ahead.

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“Not something rocket scientists had to worry about”

This is an excerpt of our new report, ‘Getting to Moonshot: Inspiring R&D practices in Canada’s social impact sector’, by SiG Fellow, Vinod Rajasekaran.

Necessity can be the mother of invention. It’s certainly true that really hard questions can prompt really creative responses.  SiG’s new report, ‘Getting to Moonshot: Inspiring R&D practices in Canada’s social impact sector’ is a great collection of case studies demonstrating what this means in practice.  It showcases 14 Canadian not-for-profit, charitable and social enterprise organizations engaged in research and development (R&D) activities that better deliver products and services that change lives.

Canada faces many of the big challenges that other developed countries do – from energy transition and economic inequality to finding jobs in rural areas – as well as some that are more unique, like reconciliation with indigenous peoples.  Like many other countries, Canada invests a lot of money in traditional R&D and business innovation. But it’s now addressing how to shift more money, and brainpower, to social as well as economic needs.

In this report, you’ll find fascinating accounts of what this looks like in action. The mission to the moon in the 1960s serves as a good metaphor. It combined what seemed an almost impossible goal with a programme of innovation driven by an agency with a strong public mission, collaboration on a vast scale,and, of course, success against the odds. It was also the biggest and boldest expression of the mid-20th century idea of R&D.

In ‘Getting to Moonshot,’ we see that boldness applied to social challenges. Some aspects of the SocialR&D method are very like other kinds of R&D, including the use of experiments and evidence. Other aspects are very different: many of the projects are small and more iterative and often involve beneficiaries in the R&D process (not something rocket scientists had to worry about).

The social sector has some way to go in making R&D mainstream and in providing as strong a pull to spread and scale new ideas as the push that goes into creating them in the first place. But this is an inspiring start. If our societies are to thrive in this century, and achieve the Sustainable Development Goals that the world has signed up for, we’ll need a lot more of the spirit, and method, that’s so well documented here.

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Is our playbook out of date?

A photo by Greg Rakozy. unsplash.com/photos/oMpAz-DN-9I

Canada spends over $300 billion annually on social outcomes, according to the OECD. Our fast-evolving societal challenges — ranging from mental health, Indigenous communities’ access to quality education, and a lack of affordable housing — demand equally fast-paced and nimble research, learning, experimental and replicating approaches so people can access the best possible services, supports and solutions, no matter where they live in Canada. This is where R&D comes in.

Canada’s not-for-profit, charitable, B Corp, and social enterprise organizations have built strong capabilities in volunteer management, donor stewardship, and program delivery, among other things. Along with an appreciation and celebration of these competencies, there is increasing consensus that social change in the 21st century requires an additional strong capacity and capability in research and development, or R&D.  

Just as R&D in the business world drives new and improved products and services, R&D can also help social mission organizations generate significant and rapid advancements in services and solutions that change lives. However, currently only a small proportion of social mission organizations repeatedly incorporate a wide range of new knowledge (like insights into how the brain works and how positive behaviours can be encouraged) or new technologies (like machine learning) or new processes (like human centred design).  

R&D is not yet well understood, funded or widely practiced by the social impact sector and thus is not yet adopted as a core organizational practice. It is a new field with a small body of codified knowledge and practice.

The “Social R&D” exploration aims to catalyze a change. The exploration is incubated by SiG, seeded by The J.W. McConnell Family Foundation, and is championed by a growing movement of organizations including: Open North, Community Foundations of Canada, MaRS, Engineers Without Borders Canada, among many others.

The new report, Getting to Moonshot: Inspiring R&D practices in Canada’s social impact sector authored by SiG Fellow Vinod Rajasekaran, with a Foreword by Nesta’s Chief Executive Geoff Mulgan, highlights 50 compelling R&D practices from 14 organizations across Canada, including: Saint Elizabeth’s field visits with frontline staff, GrantBook’s digital simulations, Skills Society’s neighbourhood prototyping and The MATCH International Women’s Fund’s 15% staff time for experimentation. The report illustrates that pursuing R&D helps organizations minimize costs in program growth, track improvements and learning more effectively, and ultimately deliver better outcomes for and with the people they serve. The intention in the future is to move beyond the report and host an online collection of practices with open access.

There are wonderful elements of R&D in Canada’s social impact sector and this report is an attempt to make a small portion of them visible to demonstrate that investment in R&D is a critical success factor in seeing measurable gains in social wellbeing. Against a backdrop of increasingly complex social, ecological and economic challenges, together we can transform how social mission organizations enhance lives for the 21st century.

SiG invites grantmakers, philanthropists, governments, and practitioners to join the movement to boost Social R&D capacity, capability, infrastructure and capital in communities across Canada.

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LabWISE on Trust and why it matters in a Social Innovation Lab Process

 SiG Note: This article was originally published on the RECODE Blog.  It has been cross-posted with permission. 

LabWISE is priming collaborative groups to create big changes to major challenges across the country. Launched in mid October, the LabWISE program is a partnership with the J.W. McConnell Family Foundation and the Waterloo Institute of Social Innovation and Resilience (WISIR), and is designed to train community-based teams in the WISIR social innovation lab process. It provides ongoing coaching to support Canadian organizations in leading a social innovation lab to tackle intractable social and/or environmental challenges.

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Pro Bono in Canada

SiG Note: This article was originally published on the Toronto+Acumen blog.  It has been cross-posted with permission from the author. 

October 23-29 was Global Pro Bono Week! The week is a global campaign that celebrates the thousands of professionals who volunteer their skills and professional expertise to support non-profits all around the world. The global pro bono movement has long been ignited and attracts new international partners every year.

Source: http://www.probonoweek.org/

What exactly is Pro Bono?

As defined by the Taproot Foundation (a global expert in pro bono), pro bono is “using a volunteer’s core professional skills to provide free professional expertise to organizations serving the public good’.

Pro bono is a subset of skilled volunteering that gives non-profits access to business and legal skills and experience as needed, , such as developing and implementing new business strategies or improving organizational infrastructure.

For example, volunteering  one’s management consulting experience to increase donations for a food bank would be a pro bono service. Volunteering at a local food bank’s kitchen to collect or distribute food would be what the Taproot Foundation describes as hands-on volunteerism.

Screen Shot 2016-11-17 at 9.44.52 AM

Source: Taproot Foundation

What is being done around the world?

In 2015, there were 50 events hosted in 19 countries by 27 organizations during Global Pro Bono Week. Examples of events include seminars, information sessions, pro bono ‘speed dating’ and pro bono ‘marathons’ (similar in structure to tech hackathons).

Examples of events from this year’s Global Pro Bono Week include:

France – Intercompany Pro Bono Marathon, hosted by Pro Bono Lab

Pro Bono Lab organised a large Pro Bono Marathon, teaming employees from 10 companies to support 10 non-profit organisations with capacity building services (such as consultancy in finance, strategy, management, marketing, communication, law or web).

India – Online tools to Work smarter – get your answers now!

This session highlighted online tools that help non-profits optimize their time and resources. The session focused on free tools for project management –  tools that help create and capture data/reports and present them in a creative manner.

Canada – Canadian Pro Bono Tweet Up

On Monday, October 24th, there was a virtual discussion of pro bono giving in Canada with corporate and social profit leaders from across the country.

Check out more tweets from this national conversation here!

Screen Shot 2016-11-17 at 9.48.21 AM
Why should you get involved?

It is becoming abundantly clear that pro bono work benefits all involved. For professional service companies, there are endless reports depicting the value that pro bono opportunities have on attracting, retaining and engaging talented workforces (especially millennials), as well as enhancing brand and public relations. The following report details a strong business case for pro bono services, as well as case studies). Moreover:

 

Pro bono can also be immensely useful for developing  business innovations. Innovation has been described as “the application of knowledge in a novel way”. As pro bono engagements are an opportunity for employees to apply their skills in a different environment, it can be thought of as a catalyst for innovative thinking.

“Our fellows not only provide value for society at large, but also gain global perspectives, new ideas, and skill sets that ultimately inform business innovation.” – Robert L. Mallett. Previously President of the Pfizer Foundation.

Screen Shot 2016-11-17 at 12.02.22 PM

Source: Business Value of Pro Bono Source: Taproot Foundation

What is next?

Many leading Canadian organizations are convening together to spark a pro bono movement that can grow and scale throughout Canada. While there a strong volunteerism culture in Canada, there still exists an immense opportunity to deliver high-quality, high-impact pro bono services to social change organizations.

“Volunteering continues to be fundamental to Canadian society with more than 13 million volunteers contributing more than 2.1 billion volunteer hours annually (equivalent to 1.1 million jobs).” – Statscan

There are a plethora of ways one can develop and engage with the pro bono marketplace in Canada. One can work with their organizational leaders in implementing a company wide pro bono program, work individually on pro bono engagements, or help with advocacy efforts.

Within Toronto, Endeavour is a fantastic resource for those wishing to engage in pro bono projects. We also encourage you to visit Taproot’s website to learn more about pro bono. We are also seeking champions to help grow the pro bono movement and marketplace on a national scale (contributing to a variety of initiatives, including needs assessment, corporate & non-profit engagement, awareness building).

If you are interested in this, please feel free to contact Allyson Hewitt (‎Senior Fellow, Social Innovation – ‎MaRS Discovery District), at ahewitt@marsdd.com. You can also follow her on twitter @AllysonHewitt and #ProBonoCDN for more updates on Canadian pro bono.

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Getting to Moonshot

A photo by SpaceX. unsplash.com/photos/TV2gg2kZD1o
Canada spends over $300 billion annually on social outcomes, according to the OECD. Our fast-evolving societal challenges – ranging from mental health to reconciliation and affordable housing – demand equally fast-paced and nimble research, learning, experimenting and replication of approaches so people access the best possible services, supports and solutions no matter where they live in Canada. This is where Social R&D comes in.

Over many decades, Canada’s social impact sector has built strong capacities, capabilities and standards in volunteer management, governance, program delivery and fundraising, among other things. Along with an appreciation and celebration of these competencies, there is increasing consensus that problem-solving in the 21st century requires an additional strong capacity and capability in research and development, or R&D.

Just as R&D in the business world drives new or improved products, services and processes, R&D can also help social mission organizations achieve significant advancements in long-term quality of life for Canadians. Currently, a small proportion of social mission organizations embrace and incorporate a wide range of new knowledge (like insights into how the brain works and how positive behaviours can be encouraged) or new technologies (like web-based platforms  that support people in periods of life challenges – such as Tyze) or new processes (like human centred design).

R&D in the social impact sector is not yet well-understood, supported or widely practiced. It is not yet adopted as a core organizational practice.

SiG’s ‘Social R&D’ exploration aims to catalyze a change.

We are calling the sum total of know how, approaches, technologies, process and approaches emerging to advance how we achieve long-term inclusive quality of life in Canada, ‘Social R&D.’ We see it as a significant step in developing a culture of continuous social innovation in Canada: diffusing a foundational capacity that the whole social impact sector can draw on, whether an organization pursues systems change or service efficacy.

The upcoming new report, Getting to Moonshot: Inspiring R&D practices in Canada’s social impact sectorpresents over 50 inspiring R&D practices from across Canada, including: Saint Elizabeth’s field visits with frontline staff, GrantBook’s digital simulations, Skills Society’s neighbourhood prototyping, The MATCH International Women’s Fund’s 15% staff time for experimentation, among other things. The report also highlights calls to action from the sector on what is required to go further. Here’s a preview:

There are wonderful elements of R&D in Canada’s social impact sector and this report is an attempt to make a small portion of them visible and demonstrate that investment in Social R&D is a critical success factor in seeing measurable gains in social wellbeing.

SiG invites practitioners, communities of practice, impact networks, grantmakers, philanthropists and governments to engage with us to co-create infrastructure and resources that help to strengthen Social R&D adoption and capability in communities across Canada.

Against a backdrop of increasingly complex social, ecological and economic challenges, and increasing austerity, Social R&D is a foundational key to making significant advancements to how social mission organizations enhance lives.

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Making Indigenous histories and futures visible

The YVR Art Foundation is a nonprofit, charitable organization founded in 1993 by the Vancouver Airport Authority to foster the development and enhancement of BC First Nations art and artists. The First Nations of British Columbia have artistic traditions that have been part of their fabric of life for millennia. While these traditions are not unique to BC, the Vancouver Airport is one of the only public authorities that has decided to dedicate space and championship to the celebration of local Indigenous art and craftsmanship. 

jade canoe

Bill Reid -The Jade Canoe at Vancouver International Airport 

Last week, some 4,000km away at Toronto’s YWCA, dedicating and creating intentional space to celebrate Indigenous culture was the heart of a public discussion convened by Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam about Truth and Reconciliation in an urban context.

The panelists included Susan Blight, an artist and activist; Sam Kloetstra, Youth Coordinator, Toronto Indigenous Health Advisory Circle; Sarah Midanik, Executive Director, Native Women’s Resource Centre; and Andre Morriseau, Director, Awards and Stakeholder Relations, Canadian Council for Aboriginal Businesses (CCAB). 

One of the most cited critiques of Toronto’s city planning during the discussion was the lack of intentional place-making for Indigenous peoples. Many suggestions were offered: renaming streets and waters, a multi-functional space/community centre to re/learn culture, a centre for Indigenous Social Innovation, a dedicated district – akin to Chinatown, Little India etc, and an Office of Indigenous Affairs within City Hall.

Sam Kloetstra recently moved to Toronto and Kristyn accidentally introduced him as having just moved to Canada. As Sam pointed out, what’s interesting about the mistake is that, “Not every Indigenous person identifies as being Canadian, but every Indigenous person I’ve met identifies as being Torontonian.” This knowledge is a wake-up call for the City of Toronto. So, how to step up its game?

North American Indigenous Games

North American Indigenous Games

The North American Indigenous Games (NAIGs) will come to Toronto in 2017 – the same year the Invictus Games will be held in Toronto, which Prince Harry announced last year with Prime Minister Trudeau and Premier Wynne in attendance. In contrast, few people have heard about the North American Indigenous Games, which have been held since 1990. These kinds of events can help raise the profile of Indigenous leadership. Similarly, Andre Morriseau spoke of a missed opportunity to build on the success of the Toronto-based 2015 Pan Am Games by creating a living asset of Indigenous experience, athleticism and culture in Toronto. Amplifying the profile of the NAIG’s is a very achievable way to learn from that missed opportunity.

Still, there are some inspiring rogue and entrepreneurial examples of place-making and place-keeping out there that others can build on. Susan Blight and Hayden King took to the streets a few years back, making stickers with Ojibway translations of Toronto street names that they plastered over the English signs, beginning with Queen Street, or Ogimaa Mikana. What began as a political action became a full scale billboard project.

First Story app

First Story app

There’s also the work of First Story. Since 1995,  First Story Toronto, (formerly The Toronto Native Community History Project), within the Native Canadian Centre of Toronto, has been engaged in researching and preserving the Indigenous history of Toronto with the goal of building awareness of and pride in the long Indigenous presence and contributions to the city. They have created a handy mobile phone app (via itunes and google) and you can take self-guided tours of the city, learning about Indigenous heritage and communities in Toronto.

Naturally, in addition to place-making efforts, citizens themselves need a culture shift. Education systems can play a role in this and many are making strides to introduce new curricula. But on the streets and in our every day, how do we foster better relationships with each other? I think it was Andre that remarked, “If you don’t have a dog, do you talk to anyone in the park?”

While making things visible may be the easier first step, actually allowing oneself to be uncomfortable in not knowing how to demonstrate your willingness, to work on Reconciliation is the harder part. Chad Lubelsky from McConnell’s RECODE project wrote recently:

A key challenge therefore is to not rush into solutions, but to live with the tension that resetting relationships will require everyone — Indigenous and non-Indigenous — to change, and to change together. Change happens in concert and takes time; perhaps more time than we’d like…These tensions will create discomfort, and increasing our discomfort might be an indicator that we are making progress. It’s hard work that will only get harder.

There is so much more for us to talk about and action together – in urban environments and in rural communities. There is much that people don’t know. For the participants in last week’s discussion, all seemed to agree that a physical and official commitment by the City of Toronto to reflect Indigenous life is important. Yet all would also agree that we can’t stop there. As a Globe and Mail article published just yesterday outlines: “There is a danger that these gestures become mere performance rather than actively helping to repatriate indigenous land and life.”

The City can move forward with many of the suggestions raised during the discussion, but while they work through official channels, we must all continue our own journey along this difficult but hopeful path.

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On wattle trees and maple leaves

In two days from now, I fly out to Vancouver to begin a whirlwind tour with two of the brightest Australian social innovation leaders. I dare say, two of the brightest social innovation leaders, period.

The Australian Centre for Social Innovation (TACSI) was created 7 years ago and since that time, has led the practice of social innovation in Australia, developing on-the-ground solutions such as Family-by- Family and Weavers, building capability in the practice, skills and conditions for social innovation, and initiating tough debates about how we might shift outcomes in relation to some of our most challenging social issues.

SiG is both happy and fortunate to welcome its CEO, Carolyn Curtis and Ingrid Burkett, Director of Learning and Systems Innovation to Canada and I am even more fortunate to host their tour through Vancouver, Victoria, Edmonton, Winnipeg, Ottawa, Montreal and Toronto.

This tour is a learning opportunity for both countries. While wattle trees and maple leaves share few attributes, the two nation’s social and political systems share many. We have vast social and environmental resources and talented people but are stuck on those thorny problems where solutions seem to elude us – inter-generational poverty, systemic violence, poor mental health, unfair distribution of wealth.

TACSI has made some significant in-roads over their first few years, particularly in the area of family preservation and restoration. This is important. As Canadian media has reported, (and here and here) and service agencies know well, far too many children are being removed from their families due to overwhelming challenges and being placed in unsustainable situations that often present more problems than they resolve. Not to mention that loss of resiliency that comes with the break-up of families, no matter what their size or constitution.

tacsi family restoration project

Throughout their time in Canada, TACSI will meet with elected officials, public servants, non-profit leaders, social lab practitioners and professional service designers to hear about Canadian efforts to address similar social problems. In Vancouver, we’ll be meeting with the team developing the Healthy City Strategy, City Studio students and the teams who developed Kudoz and Well-Ahead.

In Victoria we’ll meet with public servants who are instrumental in the delivery of new service approaches. Similar meetings with public service innovation teams will take place in Edmonton, Ottawa and Toronto. In Edmonton we’ll also meet with the people involved in SDX – as they describe themselves – “a watering hole where multiple sectors can come together, learn together, and act together.”

In Winnipeg, Carolyn and Ingrid will meet with the United Way Winnipeg and stakeholders involved in their poverty reduction strategy. The brilliant folks at the Winnipeg Boldness Project will also host us and a learning community to discuss Indigenous Innovation and whole systems change.

Arriving in Ottawa next, we shall split up and meet with government innovation teams, meet the awesome reverse mentors at Hub Ottawa and finish the day with the National Association of Friendship Centres, The Circle on Indigenous Philanthropy, Community Foundations of Canada and Media Style.

Next on the tour will be Montreal where we will hear the exciting plans of Amplify Montreal – a collaboration between Montreal organizations and citizens focused on making Montreal more innovative, inclusive and resilient. The TACSI folks also get a chance to meet some outstanding social entrepreneurs and philanthropic leaders at the McConnell Foundation, before heading to Toronto.

At their last stop, Carolyn and Ingrid will be part of a terrific panel discussion at the Centre for Social Innovation (CSI), featuring Canadian innovators from the MaRS Solutions Lab as well as CSI itself. Together, we will talk about how change happens and how we can create a culture and the political, business and social will to focus innovation on positive social and environmental outcomes.

It’s a full 10 days, no?!

I’ll be recording insights throughout the journey via video with Carolyn and Ingrid. What are they learning? What are they hearing? What were some of the big a-ha’s from the various people they met? Let me know if you have any questions!

It’s going to be a hugely significant journey for both Australia and Canada and we will share all we can with you along the way. Watch this space! And our Twitter and Facebook pages for updates throughout the tour.

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