44% of Toronto’s workforce is now precariously employed. Do we need an official response?


On June 25th, SiG is hosting a webinar with Sean Geobey of the University of Waterloo, Wingham Rowan, Director of the UK’s Beyond Jobs project, Dr. Wayne Lewchuk, Professor in the School of Labour Studies & Department of Economics, McMaster University and Michelynn Laflèche, Director of Research, Public Policy & Evaluation, United Way Toronto. Wayne and Michelynn jointly authored “The Precarity Penalty.

In this interview, Sean and Wingham introduce the webinar subject matter.

Sean Geobey: The Poverty and Employment Precarity in Southern Ontario (PEPSO) report from United Way Toronto and McMaster University outlines precarious employment in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area (GTHA) and the consequences for the 44% of the GTHA’s workforce working under precarious conditions. There are quite a few similarities between the Canadian labour market and that of the UK, though in some specific areas the regulatory environment and terminology is a bit different. For example, in Canada the conversation hasn’t included concepts like the “zero-hour contract.” However, there are still some very compelling parallels, and I wonder from your perspective in the UK, where is this labour market shift coming from?

Wingham Rowan: Decline of organized labour is part of it of course. But so is demand for responsiveness from customers, investors and service users. Employers are under increasing pressure to flex. And they now have sophisticated software that manages staff count with brutal efficiency.

SG: Here we see a lot of definitional uncertainty between temporary, involuntary part-time, casual, informal and precarious work. Some of this is tied to the difficulties researchers, activists and policymakers have in developing common language, but it seems much of it also comes from increasingly blurry boundaries between the concepts. To me this is particularly troubling as much of this is unregulated grey market activity. Is that something you’re seeing too?

WR: Increasingly that’s so. If you are only going to employ someone for a few hours here and there it’s very tempting to offer them cash-in-hand. Likewise, if you are a worker who doesn’t know if you will be called in by your employer today, you are going to seek whatever earning opportunities you can, if they decide you’re not required. Working informally is bad news in the long run. It takes individuals out of the system, in fear of detection, creating a ramp into further illicit activity.

Magnolia Laurie

SGGoing back to the PEPSO report, we see that precarious workers at all income levels have a harder time with the enforcement of legal workplace protections (both regulatory and through organized labour) and accessing services that enable them to improve their working conditions like childcare, training and transportation. I struggle with how much of the challenge is inherent in precarious labour markets and how much is because those markets don’t seem particularly transparent.

WR: Absolutely. If you are seeking odd hours of work here and there, to fit around your primary employment for instance, the quality of market you can access is crucial. Someone with conventional employment only enters the labour market every few years when it’s time to find a new job. An irregular worker can be in and out of the market, hoping to get hired, several times a day.

Current markets for odd hours of work in the community are inadequate: time consuming to use, there’s a high risk of transaction failure, high overheads. And they are too disparate to offer any meaningful data: a worker has no idea of where their opportunities are given their locality/skills/times of availability. There’s little hope of progression to new skills and higher paid, more secure work.

That problem needs to be solved for a lot of people. We hear a lot about the newly precarious worker. But there’s a core of around 20% of the population who NEED odd hours of work that fit around them. They could be carers, parents with complex childcare needs, those with unpredictable medical conditions, anyone starting a home business or students on low income. A job is not an option for many. They need a flow of personalized economic opportunities.

SGLabour markets have always functioned within regulatory and public investment frameworks and alongside social sector organizations. Our public education, health care, childcare and transportation infrastructure have been critical to the functioning of the 20th century labour market in Canada, as has been the role of organized labour in advocating worker protection and investment both through collective bargaining and their advocacy at-large. What I find compelling is the possibility that technologically-enhanced transparency in these precarious labour markets could enable reformation of those 20th century systems to better meet the needs of this workforce. Are you seeing any of those broader policy or organizing shifts?

WR: The British government has been far sighted around these issues. Since 2005, we’ve been building technology for what we call a CEDAH: Central Database of Available Hours. It’s very different from existing markets: city-wide, all possible types of work. Crucially it puts the individual in charge. They sell the hours they want, on their own terms, to as many employers as they wish.

The currency in these systems is reliability: does a person do what they say they will do? If they consistently fulfil the bookings that are within their parameters, they become increasingly valuable for local employers. So it pays to upskill them.

Collective bargaining for precarious workers is a tentative concept. Our work focuses on how you entice all the activity currently in shadow transactions into legitimate economies. Key to that is allowing each person to set their own parameters. So, I might be willing to do bookings on the other side of the city at short notice, but only for a very high rate. But I could be better value for a booking next week in the next street. I might also be more expensive for employers I don’t like. If I am reliable and responsive, they may just have to pay it. It’s crucial I have the data that informs my decisions of course. It may be that one-size-fits all payrates are too crude these days. There are better opportunities in giving workers the means to progress into new, higher paying, skills and types of work that fit their personal ambitions.

SGThe dark side to all this is the concern that online-enabled casualized labour will grind-down labour protections and wages even further than we have seen already. It is not hard to find stories of Uber and Lyft drivers or TaskRabbiters barely being able to scrape by in loosely regulated or completely unregulated markets. The fear that online labour markets are undermining labour standards has become increasingly common and I’d argue for good reason. While I am hopeful that the Ontario government’s review of labour and employment standards will help bring some of this work into focus, a major reworking of the regulatory environment hasn’t happened yet.

Similarly, while there have been some isolated steps to develop various “freelancer union” models, and while some sectors with a long history of intermittent work, such as construction and media, have well-established collective bargaining approaches, the organizing of precarious workers has been patchy at best. Ultimately my key concern is this – can online markets for labour enable a productive response to employment precarity, or must they necessarily push it to its negative extreme?

WR: It’s a fallacy to assume efficient markets mean a race to the floor in standards or pricing. A good market can unlock demand, support all sorts of interventions and allow workers all sorts of options denied now. It is poor quality markets, like TaskRabbit, that can mask so much unfairness. Obviously a market in the legitimate economy must enforce minimum wage and all sorts of other regulations. So key to raising income could be pushing up minimum wage as cities like Seattle have done.

Like it or not, it may be that precarious work is here to stay. It may be second best to a job, but we need to make it the best second best. Governments spend billions a year to make their jobs markets as inclusive and efficient as possible. They do next to nothing for those seeking irregular work. Perhaps it’s time for a full-spectrum employment policy that fosters the best possible markets for ALL forms of employment. There is a model of irregular work that is empowering, accessible, rewarding and potentially more secure than a job (because the individual has much wider relationships, experience and skills). It’s hard to glimpse given the appalling state of current precarious work. But I will be doing my best to explain what we’ve learned in the UK in the webinar.

Editor’s Question: What do you think after reading this post? Is the reality of precarious work here to stay or do we need to challenge this growing employment trend?

Join us online on June 25th for a more fulsome discussion and an opportunity to ask Sean and Wingham questions. Register!
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Seeing the patterns in our work for systems change

There was a strong sense that our Canadian Inspiring Action Series event on May 12 would be special.

We had yet to host Al Etmanski in Toronto, but he has been a close colleague for years. Alongside Vickie Cammack, Al began an exploration into Canada’s social innovation ecosystem before SiG was launched in 2007. This scoping work, supported by The J.W. McConnell Family Foundation, built on years of experience in the disability sector, where trial and error, bridge building and empathy-based approaches informed their development of PLAN and also eventually, the Registered Disability Savings Plan (RDSP).

They brought this experience into the SiG partnership and we all benefitted from it. Now everyone gets a chance to read much of Al’s wisdom in the form of IMPACT: 6 Patterns to Spread your Social Innovation.


At the Toronto “un-launch” of IMPACT, Al and local changemakers dug into each of the 6 patterns in detail to highlight practical and inspirational ideas for application in our own work. Hosting the evening with us, Allyson Hewitt, The J.W. McConnell Family Foundation Senior Fellow in Social Innovation at MaRS, provided some reflections on what she heard from Al and the guest panelists.

Two struck a chord in particular: Al Etmanski observed that the patterns often emerged out of a crisis, as when he and Vickie Cammack realized they were not making enough long term impact in their work with PLAN. They had to do things differently. During their secondment research in social innovation, one of their first observations was that movements are the ONLY way forward. It’s never good enough to just have great content.


Another important and difficult pattern to recognize was that friends come and go, but enemies can accumulate. To work for positive change, we must set the table for friends, adversaries and strangers. This dialogue is an end that enables trust.

“MaRS founder, Dr. John Evans, always said: ‘it is amazing, amazing,
what you can accomplish if you don’t care who gets the credit’” — Allyson Hewitt 

Moderating the panel discussion between the inspirational changemakers was Susan Pigott, who is currently consulting with MaRS and has deep leadership experience in the non-profit sector.

Joining Susan and Al, with wonderful insights of their own, were:

Watch the presentation to unearth all the nuggets!

Impact: Six Patterns to Spread your Social Innovation from MaRS Discovery District on Vimeo.

Allyson also captured so much of the magic in the following poem. Although it’s hugely helpful, it’s still in your best interests to read the book. Enjoy!


By Allyson Hewitt – with rhyming inspiration provided by Dr. Seuss


When one reaches a certain stage in life

One seeks a way to avoid, living in strife 

So Al has taken time to reflect

And share his thoughts, and interject

The lessons he’s learned, the patterns he’s seen

He’s been collecting them now since he was a teen

So what are these patterns he did imbue

Sit tight as I share them all with you

1. Think and act like a movement

That is the way to systems improvement

Pay attention to what’s going on in your field

Expand receptivity, increase your yield


2. Create a container for your content

That seems like a plan on which he is bent 

Make it easy for people to do the right thing

Inspire people to action, get them into the swing

3. Set the table for allies, adversaries and strangers

A welcoming environment helps us manage the dangers 

Dialogue and convening is more than a means to an end

Cultivate new relationships, is how your time you should spend

4. Mobilize your economic power

Change makers there is no need to cower 

Turn your social capital to create economic success

Both of your networks and others, all moving to yes

5. Advocate with empathy

Embrace those thought of as the enemy 

Seek to find an approach that is solutions-based

Work with government on the issues with which they are faced

And remember this, I tell you now

6. Who is as important as how

 Social innovation is about character, not technique

Bold humility is the trait that we do seek

So read Impact and share your views

Are those the patterns you indeed would choose? 

Or do you have others you would like to share

Then write them down, if you’ve time to spare


If not, no worries Al calls us to act

But first read the words of wisdom you’ll find in Impact


Editor’s Note: We’d love to make our presentations more impactful for you. Tell us how by filling out our short survey.

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Order of Canada honours Al Etmanski and Vickie Cammack

For immediate release
May 8, 2015
Order of Canada honours social innovators Al Etmanski and Vickie Cammack for dedication to fostering communities of care and belonging across Canada


Announced by His Excellency the Right Honourable David Johnston, today British Columbians, Al Etmanski and Vickie Cammack will be appointed to the Order of Canada at a ceremony in Ottawa.

Al and Vickie founded the Planned Lifetime Advocacy Network (PLAN) in 1989 as a family-led organization to secure a better future for people living with disabilities. Since that time, they have been instrumental in numerous social innovations, both locally and nationally. Perhaps most notable among their achievements is the development of the Registered Disability Savings Plan, which was championed into being by the late Canadian Finance Minister, Jim Flaherty. Now an internationally replicated financial instrument, it follows their work with PLAN, working to secure financial independence for people living with a disability well into older age.

“There is perhaps nothing more important than to feel as though our lives matter, that we belong in our community and can contribute to its vitality,” said Tim Draimin, Executive Director of Social Innovation Generation (SiG) National. “Al and Vickie have made it their life’s work to create that sense of belonging for all Canadians. They have set a national agenda we can all rally behind.”

Etmanski and Cammack’s work on the RDSP was followed by the development of Tyze Personal Networks: an online tool that brings people together around someone receiving care. Tyze was a response to the other question that nagged them as parents – how do we create communities of belonging so that everyone feels they are cared for? Other work includes the Representation Agreement, the Family Support Institute, as well as valuable resources including Safe and Secure and A Good Life.

“Al and Vickie’s thoughtfulness and quiet determination to make this country a nation of inclusion will have ripple effects for generations. We are hugely fortunate to work so closely with them to foster a culture of social innovation in Canada,” said Stephen Huddart, President and CEO of the J.W. McConnell Family Foundation.

Al Etmanski released a new book in April, Impact: 6 Patterns to Spread your Social Innovation, in which he champions our country’s unique, grassroots methods of achieving social change. Drawing on stories from more than 50 Canadian trailblazers – including Me to We, Greenpeace and Idle No More – Al Etmanski explores essential steps required to change the status quo. Al will be speaking about this new resource in Toronto on the evening of Tuesday, May 12 at the MaRS Discovery District.

The Order of Canada is one of Canada’s highest civilian honours. It recognizes outstanding achievement, dedication to the community and service to the nation.

For comments or interview opportunities, please contact:


Geraldine Cahill

Manager, Programs and Partnerships

Social Innovation Generation (SiG) National

w: 647.260.7844

m: 416.566.5313

t: @sigeneration


Laurence Miall

Director, Strategic Communications

The J.W. McConnell Family Foundation

w: 514.288.1221 

m: 438-878-1703

t: @jwmcconnell

ABOUT: SOCIAL INNOVATION GENERATION                                 

SiG is a collaborative partnership founded by The J.W. McConnell Family Foundation, the University of Waterloo, the MaRS Discovery District, and the PLAN Institute. Our ultimate goal is to support whole system change through changing the broader economic, cultural and policy context in Canada to allow social innovations to flourish. www.sigeneration.ca


Established in 1937, the J.W. McConnell Family Foundation engages Canadians in building a more innovative, inclusive, sustainable, and resilient society. The Foundation’s purpose is to enhance Canada’s ability to address complex social, environmental and economic challenges. We accomplish this by developing, testing, and applying innovative approaches and solutions; by strengthening the community sector; and by collaborating with partners in the community, private, and public sectors. 

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Doing Good Better: Upping Canada’s Game with an R&D Engine

Canadians take great pride in our history of innovating for the public good. Today there are a wide range of people, projects, networks, and organizations working in the social impact space across diverse sectors – ranging from enterprises and social service agencies to schools and community foundations.

Innovations such as The Women’s Institute (1897), the Palliative Care Movement, Insite - North America’s only supervised injection site, Roots of Empathy, the Desjardins and Credit Union Movement, and the Registered Disability Savings Plan are Canadian social innovations in the public, private and not-for-profit sectors that have and are significantly improving outcomes around the world.

forhomeandcountryInsite_(logo)Exported ROE2

Yet, it’s an uncomfortable fact that Canada’s many billions spent in social outcomes can produce better outcomes. Our contention is that while the social impact sector has always conducted research & development (R&D) and innovation to some degree, the scale and complexity of the challenges we face today mean we need to dramatically up our game.

What if Canadians embraced the value of R&D for

generating outstanding outcomes in social impact?

R&D for social impact could be far more intentional, connected, and supported. In that way, it would be much more accessible, widespread, celebrated, and most importantly, impactful.

What if we had a virtually accessible, distributed R&D function for the sector that everybody could share in and benefit from? This would an audacious opportunity for Canada as we near our country’s 150th birthday in 2017: we can create a breakthrough in the way that R&D is conceptualized, catalyzed, shared, incentivized, and made accessible for the world.

The functions of an R&D engine might be a range of possibilities, including catalyzing and incentivizing — as well as amplifying and sharing — new impactful processes, approaches, knowledge and models for the benefit of all. This might include:

  • helping to catalyze a national network of social innovation labs in communities;
  • designing a pro-active obsolescence management system for social programs and services; or, 
  • developing a financial incentive for NGOs to conduct R&D, similar to the Scientific Research & Experimental Development (SRED) tax credit available for the private sector.

R&D has shifted the paradigm of how new and relevant solutions get unleashed in sectors such as: automobile, life sciences, construction, and technology. Now imagine the benefits of robust national R&D resources and support systems for the immigrant settlement, or child & youth development, or senior care sectors.

Canada has yet to marshall required resources to develop a comprehensive networked R&D engine (our metaphor for Canada’s high octane social impact R&D function for the 21st century) that all sectors working to better the world can use. Not-for-profit leaders, passionate amateurs, social purpose entrepreneurs, public policy professionals, philanthropists, think tanks, front-line social service professionals, corporates, private and community foundations, and academic partners are often unable to access the appropriate resources to conduct R&D and innovate on an ongoing basis.

An R&D engine could help share knowledge, tools, platforms, innovation systems and supports to:
  • rigorously define problems;
  • generate hypotheses and conduct better experiments;
  • leverage big data in new ways being pioneered for the social sector by organizations like Data For Good and others;
  • access models and approaches from across the sector and beyond;
  • build and test prototypes;
  • assess which initiatives to scale or pivot;
  • share failures;
  • simulate solutions and scenarios;
  • design feedback loops for pro-active obsolescence management; and,
  • surface and share what works widely and accessibly.

Platforms like MaRS Solutions Lab, Alberta’s CoLab, Canada’s funding bodies’ knowledge mobilization networks (jointly funded by SSHRC, CIHR and NSERC), Ashoka Canada, the J.W. McConnell Family Foundation’s Social Innovation Fund and Innoweave, Tamarack’s Vibrant Communities, the global Impact Hub network (and home-grown domestic analogues like the Centre for Social Innovation and HiVE), BC Partners for Social Impact, CIFAR, Grand Challenges Canada, and the UK’s Nesta and What Works Network serve as helpful launch points.


A sector-wide R&D engine would learn from, expand upon and complement existing platforms, and offer Canada the ability to actively foster process, product and systems innovation in a cohesive and networked way by better generating the right questions, challenging existing orthodoxies, launching grand challenge competitions, and catalyzing moonshots – practices, systems, tools or products that have the potential to become mainstream in 10 years.

Such an engine could:
  • catalyze, conduct, apply and evaluate R&D;
  • incentivize R&D;
  • build accessible R&D capacity, available to organizations and passionate amateurs;
  • strengthen purposeful cross-disciplinary and cross-generational collaboration;
  • scout, harvest and share R&D from across the sector and beyond; and,
  • celebrate and nurture a culture of inquiry.

More broadly, it could expand our collective understanding of how social and systems innovation takes place in Canada and how it can be accelerated. The engine could become a proof point demonstrating the power of R&D unleashed to do good better.

Why does R&D matter?

Canada is fortunate to have some remarkable social service systems. Unfortunately, many of them, conceived and deployed many decades ago, are struggling to renew themselves.  They aspire to evolve through continuous refinement to ensure they stay relevant for the growing complexity of Canadians’ needs in the 21st century. Think of challenges like fetal alcohol syndrome, increasingly unequal levels of educational attainment for different populations, child and youth mental health, an aging population, or retooling a curative health system into a preventative one. New R&D support tools like the Canadian Index of Wellbeing and the Social Progress Index can be used in local or national contexts to help orient public policy.


While Canadian social impact organizations in the private, public and not-for-profit sectors have deep knowledge about the vulnerable populations they serve, they are often trapped in highly restrictive funding models that don’t value their strategic work as social impact innovators. They lack access to financial, knowledge, process and systems innovation resources — resources that would enable experimentation, innovation, cross-sector collaboration and multi-organization consortia to respond to new needs and to improve outcomes on longstanding social problems.

New insights and new tools are emerging. The last decade has produced an enormous suite of applicable new knowledge and tools. Think of the new methodologies and approaches, like social innovation labs, for designing enhanced social outcomes that derive from…

  • the application (and combination) of new hard and soft technologies (e.g. smart phones and apps);
  • new “nudge” insights or “social stickiness” (informed by the rapidly growing knowledge about human psychology and brain science); and, 
  • the range of ways that social innovation researchers (an academic field only several decades old) are beginning to crack the innovation code.

Many social service delivery systems, originally established and funded only to ameliorate symptoms, are itching to repurpose themselves and solve problems at their roots by using their accumulated experiential wisdom plus new innovation tools and insights to reinvent pathways to sustainable wellbeing.

Think of a microcosm of social delivery, the immigrant settlement community. Currently, it is a billion dollar industry on its own. Doesn’t it make sense to have a national centre of excellence supporting immigrant settlement service innovation?

Do we have an innovation system commensurate

with our public spend for social outcomes?

Looking down from 70,000 feet, Canada’s public spending on social outcomes (health, education and social policy) represents a whopping 17% of Canada’s GDP, or $338 billion (2014 estimate). Canada’s not-for-profit sector (including hospitals and universities) is calculated to be about 7% of GDP or $100.7 billion (2007). While there is some very sophisticated R&D in parts of the social impact sector, like health, there is a real thirst for R&D by leaders in others, like frontline community services.

Now imagine…

What if social impact organizations had access to an R&D function in the same way they have access to a finance or communications function? What if funders, donors, and grantmakers support, incentivize and even reward R&D? What if an R&D engine could help organizations with pro-active obsolescence management, so social services and programs are constantly renewed? What if we could invest in growing R&D capacity within organizations?

What if Canada led the world in achieving breakthroughs in homelessness, child and youth mental illness, community care, and other complex challenges as a result of a robust and integrated R&D function shared by social impact organizations across the country?

Author’s note: The authors would like to thank outside readers, listed below, for making important comments on earlier drafts of this blog. Of course, any errors or affirmations remain the responsibility of the authors. Thanks to: Maureen Fair, Zoe Fleming, Tatiana Fraser, Allyson Hewitt, Stephen Huddart, Indy Johar, Luc Lalande and Geraldine Cahill.

About the authors

Tim Draimin Photo smallTim Draimin, Executive Director of Social Innovation Generation (SiG), partners on collaborative cross-sector initiatives strengthening Canada’s social innovation ecosystem. He is a member of the scientific advisory board of Grand Challenges Canada and a senior adviser to MaRS Centre for Impact Investing.

unnamedVinod Rajasekaran is an engineer and cross-sector leader helping to enhance Canada’s impact infrastructure so we can do good better for the next 100 years. He works with The HUB, the world’s fastest-growing professional community and innovation platform for people working to better the world. Vinod is also involved in HUB’s incubation of Rideau Hall Foundation, which aims to catalyze and align ideas, people and resources to move the Canadian spirit forward.

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Apply Now to Trico Foundation’s 2015 Social EnterPrize!

Note: This article was originally published on May 4, 2015 on socialfinance.ca. It has been cross-posted with permission from socialfinance.ca and the Trico Charitable Foundation.

The Social EnterPrize Awards were created by the Trico Charitable Foundation in 2011 to recognize and celebrate leadership and excellence in social entrepreneurship across Canada.

Social-EnterPrize-Jubulation-crop-10-1080x675The awards look for the best practices, social impact and innovation of organizations and their social entrepreneurial strategies. Presented biennially, the awards provide organizations with funds and support that can be used to take their social enterprise to the next level. Awardees have included: Potluck Catering, Mission Possible, Caroline Arcand of Groupe Convex, Embers Staffing Solutions, YWCA Downtown Vancouver, TurnAround Couriers, and JUMP Math, and applications are now being accepted for the 2015 Social EnterPrize.

Over the past four years, we’ve been privileged to learn about and from these Canadian social enterprises. Trico’s goal for these awards has always been the chance to shine the light on the best examples in Canada, as well as provide resources for their continuation. However, it has not been just a journey for the awardees, but the awards themselves. In 2013, our jury had just met to decide the Social EnterPrize winners when Kevin Starr published Dump the Prizes in the Stanford Social Innovation Review.

Starr wrote: “Too many of these things are winner-or-very-few-take-all, and too many focus on the usual suspects. In any case, the notion that even a smart selection jury can somehow discern which is best from a dozen stellar organizations is kind of silly.” While we winced at his commentary, his call was the first that perked our ears. Rather than simply disagreeing with his premise, we took a look at where our awards were not living up to their potential.

YWCA-CoverOur first insight was that a biennial awards process leaves the entire “off” year with little opportunity to learn from our winners and better understand their journeys. A video segment had always been part of the production of the awards, but with our 2013 winners, we went a step further. Coordinating with four post-secondary institutions across the country, we developed case studies on each of the organizations. The collaboration between academic institutions meant that professors and students were involved with the social enterprises themselves – providing an academically rigorous, yet practioner-based case study. Our goal was to develop a case study that would give the reader key takeaways to implement in their own social enterprise. We are pleased to be releasing these case studies, along with our own analysis, throughout April and May 2015 at Trico Foundation.

Our second insight came from the case study process as it enlivened our own understanding of what it takes to successfully implement a social enterprise – the internal operations, the organizational readiness, and the team behind-the-scenes. To that end, we enhanced our ‘prize pack’ by adding consulting services from the Business Development Bank of Canada and bringing the recipients to the wealth of expertise at the 2015 Social Finance Forum.

At the same time, we were involved in dialogues that asked questions around “How can we attract talent to social enterprises?”, “How do we find COOs?”, and “How do I have a career in social enterprise?” that started us thinking that somehow we’d left behind the teams of the social enterprises, by focusing solely on the founder. We are in good company in this mistake, as many Awards processes do. However, we started to take inspiration from Mass Challenge and Hult Awards in how they celebrate the diversity of the team. In addition, we heard the strong calls to move beyond ‘superhero syndrome’ by social entrepreneurs such as Liam Black.

The combination of all these factors came to us while watching the Skoll Awards in Oxford. We realized that we had the opportunity to improve the 2015 Social EnterPrize awards and kick-start the conversation on teams and to shine the light more broadly across the organization.

We’ve added the team feature for 2015 because two things became crystal clear:

  1. We wanted to get away from the lone entrepreneur myth and have conversations about the value of multi-faceted teams;
  2. We think the winning organizations will benefit from having more than one team member soak in all the wisdom and expertise available through the Social EnterPrize.

We share these insights with you because they mean that in 2015 your favorite Canadian social enterprise benefits even more from the Social EnterPrize. Our hope is that our learnings benefit not just social enterprises, but also the organizations that support them. We welcome you to support your favorite social enterprise by sharing this opportunity with them.

The deadline to apply is May 29 at 4pm MST. Applicants can learn more at tricofoundation.ca and can apply directly at: https://trico.fluidreview.com.

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The Id of Collective Impact

As the first speaker in our Canadian Social Impact Spotlight series, Tonya Surman, founding CEO of the Centre for Social Innovation (CSI), shared her insights on the role self-interest plays in the journey for solutions to complex social challenges.

As a business graduate, I couldn’t help but be intrigued by her question:

How do we use the power of markets to change the world?

-Tonya Surman

Tonya elaborated on how she has pursued the answer to that question. At a time when we are all looking for new ideas, and how to think differently about systems change, Tonya breaks it down to need, shape and impact, using the Centre for Social Innovation as example:


The Centre for Social Innovation (CSI) is a response to an identified need: the need for social entrepreneurs to have a space and common place to connect with one another, revealing possible projects and identifying resources or supports to leverage toward impact.


The CSI platform is also a shape, a model that meets this need. Serving 800 social innovation organizations, CSI facilitates and provides services through one single platform. The model – the shape of doing things was created; a platform that addresses the clear need. Shape is about rules and tools, parallel to that of the gaming industry. A culture and platform is created and players are enabled with the same objective, guidelines and accessories to achieve their mission statement – a clear game, a clear shape.


CSI’s impact is realized through supporting a culture of change. CSI has become a learning organization, continuing to work towards creating conditions that best foster social innovation. Their theory of change is communicated through a unique pyramid shape where the foundation is space, the next layer is community and the peak is the emergence of innovation.


Tonya also spoke of a newer endeavour; one that she says reflects her self-interest in building out the CSI platform. CSI’s community bond is an example of another shape. An investment vehicle for unaccredited investors to generate a ~4% return by investing in the purchase of a new building – 192 Spadina. She first offered a bond for CSI Annex.

The bond projects are about leveraging community. What brings community together can be seen as the magnetic attractor, which could be a common threat or an mutual opportunity. It can be seen as a call to action for individuals to work together. When you consider the magnetic attractor, who you work with is no longer determined by you; instead, it is about who sees themselves in the same ecosystem looking to address the same social problem or opportunity.

An example Tonya shared is one that resulted in the banning of BPA in baby bottles in 2007. A group of 11 organizations from childcare, environment and health care found themselves competing for funding from the same foundation. They did not expect the foundation to propose they all work together. This presented profound challenges. Childcare was focused on direct service delivery, environmental organizations were focused on advocacy and health care was obsessed with ensuring the peer review process was on at all times.

They had 6 months to figure it out. At the beginning they discussed all the things that were broken about the partnership. It was about power and ego, futility and frustration.

Why do we want to work together, and what’s in it for us?

Collective impact was only achievable if everyone’s self interest was put on the table leading to transparency within the ecosystem.

The governance model they developed, the constellation, became a new shape. Chaos was put in the top half and order in the bottom, self interest in the top and collective interest in the bottom.


Constellation Governance Model

Constellation Governance Model

Self-interest embodies drive and drive creates movement. So how do we create order around the chaos of collaboration without losing that energy and drive? How can we harness it for social impact?

If you understand the magnetic attractor, you understand where the energy comes from, and you can harness it for impact.

Different shapes designed to aggregate self interest will help us see things differently and enable the engagement of individuals and organizations that would otherwise be unlikely to work together.

There’s so much I could write from the presentation. Better to watch it for yourself. Tonya’s inspirational words are powerful enough to encourage individuals and organizations alike.

Nothing risked and nothing gained is the motto of many entrepreneurs and is the big learning takeaway from Tonya Surman, who has an extensive number of trials and successes. She says that even when she fails, it doesn’t hurt that bad, and often redirects her to a new possibility. What risk teaches us is to be more or differently prepared and to do more work up front. At the end of the day, maintaining great relationships can turn any unsuccessful endeavour around at a later time.

Editor’s Note: Our next Inspiring Action Spotlight features Al Etmanski at MaRS on May 12, 2015. See the details here.

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Microtainer: lab resources (April 2015)

SiG Note: This article was originally published on April 7, 2015 on the MaRS Solutions Lab Blog. It has been cross-posted with permission from the author.
Launched August 2013, the Microtainer series was created and curated by Satsuko VanAntwerp of Social Innovation Generation. The MaRS Solutions Lab is excited to take on this legacy to spread information that will be interesting, insightful and useful to lab practitioners and the lab-curious. To access the whole archive of Microtainers, please visit the Microtainers series page.
Interesting resources that came across our desks in the past 4 weeks (in no particular order):
1. Danish Design Centre’s interview series on “When does design become a political act?”

Engaging interviews with:

Scott Brown, Research Associate, Parsons DESIS Lab, The New School

Christian Bason, CEO, Danish Design Centre

Rosan Bosch, artist and founder of Rosan Bosch Studio

Kit Lykketoft, General Manager, MindLab

2. Jon Turney’s aeon article “How to design the future”

As technological choices become ever more complex, design fiction, not science, hints at the future we actually want.

How to design the future

C/O Dunne and Raby via aeon

3. Eric Schnurer’s article in The Atlantic “When Government Competes Against the Private Sector, Everybody Wins”

If civil servants are pitted against businesses, they become more innovative and secure most of the contracts put out for bid.

4. Simon O’Rafferty’s slides “Service Design: Tactics + Pitfalls”

Great slidedeck by Simon O’Rafferty on the methods of Service Design and its pitfalls.

5. Google Cultural Institute

Take a look at the work of The Lab at the Google Cultural Institute, merging ideas with art and technology.

Google Cultural Institute

C/O Google

6. News: The new Arts Impact Fund in UK

The Arts Impact Fund is a new £7million initiative set up to demonstrate the potential for social investment in arts. Note: Restrictions on funding from some partners mean the Arts Impact Fund can only lend to organisations registered in, and operating primarily in, England.

7. Dr. Andrea Siodmok’s blog “Design in Policy Making”

Can we create public services that are valuable to the public, so that they are delighted, even proud of their existence – whilst simultaneously saving money?

8. Laura Bolt’s blog on AIGA “A Genius Lesson from Franklyn in How to Rebrand a Branding Agency”

Great design example of rebranding an innovation firm.

Redesign innovation firm


For more speedy PSILabs updates, follow MaRS Solutions Lab @solutions_lab and Terrie at @terriehyichan.

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Microtainer: lab resources (March 2015)

SiG Note: This article was originally published on March 17, 2015 on the MaRS Solutions Lab Blog. It has been cross-posted with permission from the author.

Launched August 2013, the Microtainer series was created and curated by Satsuko VanAntwerp of Social Innovation Generation. The MaRS Solutions Lab is excited to take on this legacy to spread information that will be interesting, insightful and useful to lab practitioners and the lab-curious. To access the whole archive of Microtainers, please visit the Microtainers series page.

Interesting resources that came across our desks in the past 6 weeks (in no particular order):


1. Practical illustrated summary of Lab Matters: Challenging the practice of Social Innovation Laboratories

Written by Marlieke Kieboom (Kennisland) in a more illustrated format.

2. Civic Quarterly’s articleCollaboratively Designing Public Services“ by Chelsea Mauldin

“Citizens often bear the burden of public services that weren’t designed with their experience in mind. If civic designers are ever going to improve these services, we’ll need to engage both citizens and civil servants alike in their creation.”

Civic Quarterly

c/o Civic Quarterly, Issue 2, Winter 2014

3. The New Yorker’s article ”The Shape of Things to Come

A rare in-depth look at Jonathan Ive and his team and “how an industrial designer became Apple’s greatest product”.

4. Devex’s article ”Putting evidence into policymaking: RCTs as a tool for decision-making

“In India, the Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab, a network of researchers who run randomized control trials based at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, is working with the Tamil Nadu government to integrate findings from RCTs into the policymaking design phase — a collaborative approach which evolved from J-PAL’s existing evaluation programs there.”

5. News: ”Government’s new innovation ‘Hub’ open to new thinking

“The federal government has opened its long-awaited ‘hub’ of thinkers and policy wonks whose brainstorming could reshape the way policy is made and services are delivered in Canada.”

6. Wired Magazine’s “15 Predictions for Tech and Design in 2015

15 projections from experts in the advancement of design and tech, including edible technology, adaptive education, and health diagnosis with nano particles.

c/o Wired Magazine

c/o Wired Magazine

7. Civic Quarterly’s article ”Untangling Complexity: Designing for Shared Understanding“ by Jacqueline Wallace

“The next phase of the digital revolution will be defined by products and services that facilitate shared understanding, allowing concerted participation around complex issues. In working to show the way, civic designers will need to call upon the powers of systems research, design research, social science, and open data.”

8. CBC’s news articleHarper government examines game-playing to motivate bureaucrats

“Federal memo says computer games have potential to train public-sector workers, engage citizens. The Privy Council Office, the central organ of government and the prime minister’s own department, now is looking at adopting gamification as it renews the entire federal workforce over the next five years.” ‘Harnessing the Power of Gamification’ was written by Coleen Volk, deputy secretary to the federal cabinet. Volk proposes that game-playing be promoted by a policy think-tank established by the government in mid-February, called the central innovation hub.”

9. News: “Financial Solutions Lab Announces $3 Million Competition to Tackle Consumer Financial Security

“The Financial Solutions Lab at the Center for Financial Services Innovation (CFSI) with founding partner JPMorgan Chase & Co. today announced a $3 million competition for technology innovators working to address consumer financial challenges.”

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Patterns, platforms and time for play

We’ve all seen the headlines.

The world is rapidly changing. Technology is iterating at great speed, pushing our minds and our bodies in ways we don’t fully comprehend.  The economy, which by definition is equal to the wealth and resources of a country or region, is under serious stress – and will be for some time.

Our natural climate is throwing us huge curve balls, thanks in no small part to the hits we keep sending her way.

And yet we know all is not lost.
c/o socialfinance.ca

c/o socialinnovation.ca

At MaRS, it is believed that entrepreneurship is key to leading the way through all of this change. Bill Drayton, Founder of Ashoka — and credited with coining ‘social entrepreneurship’ — would agree and add that the skill of pattern recognition is equally imperative.

Understanding how and identifying where particular stresses exist focuses the entrepreneurial mind.

Tonya Surman has been paying attention to patterns for a long time. Most recently, she has been considering what motivates the work of an entrepreneur – more specifically – her work as a social entrepreneur.

Tonya is no stranger to success. She was the founding director of the Canadian Partnership for Children’s Health and Environment, whose work catalyzed a new legislative framework to manage chemicals and ban bisphenol A in baby bottles.

She co-founded and chaired the Ontario Nonprofit Network, an organization that serves 55,000 non-profits. She was also a founding trustee of the Toronto Awesome Foundation, an organization that distributes monthly $1,000 grants to fund local projects.

However, it’s Tonya’s work as Founding CEO of the Centre for Social Innovation (CSI) that has garnered her the most public attention. Not content to seed and grow one thriving co-working space in downtown Toronto, Tonya and her team successfully pioneered the use of Community Bonds – an innovative model for grassroots, sustainable capital campaigns. CSI used this financial product to purchase a second co-working space in Toronto’s Annex neighbourhood and have now offered a second bond to purchase a building on Spadina Ave – opposite their inaugural home base.

c/o socialinnovation.ca

c/o socialinnovation.ca

In addition to all of this moving and shaking, CSI has a space in the Daniels Spectrum building at Regent Park and a whole other co-working space in New York City!

With all of this success, she might be content to sit back and smell the roses she’s been growing in her roof-top garden, but Tonya continues to push herself. As an Ashoka Fellow, she would likely agree with Bill Drayton that entrepreneurship is a life-long process. The work is never done. Just like the world of social innovation, once one peak is reached, another mountain reveals itself and one must keep climbing!

Talking through what she has learned on her journey and the secret to her impressive energy, Tonya joins the MaRS Global Leadership Series & SiG Inspiring Action for Social Impact for the first time on March 31.

Register for Tonya’s talk here.

A conversation and Q&A with the Toronto Star’s Catherine Porter will follow Tonya’s presentation. Catherine writes about everything from climate change, women’s rights, poverty, mental illness, international development and community activism. She has won two National Newspaper Awards for her work. Their discussion and your questions will be a great way to end an inspiring presentation.

Whet your appetite with this recent video interview below
where Tonya discusses her current motivations:


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Becoming a Wise Traveller

Are you like me? Do you feel frustrated by the limited impact you and others have had? Do you feel that despite your best efforts, and indeed successes, you have hit a brick wall?

You may have mounted a fierce advocacy campaign, pioneered a social program, mobilized new funds or even changed a law, but the status quo has barely altered. Social and economic justice hasn’t increased. Power hasn’t shifted. The old paradigm survives. And the sharp, distinctive edges of your social innovation are in danger of being eroded, isolated or forgotten.

Credit: Jim Lawrence www.kootenayreflections.com/

Credit: Jim Lawrence

In my experience, lasting impact requires more than coming up with a new idea and proving that it works. It’s more than replicating an innovation in several places.

Novelty isn’t enough. Neither are dedication, hard work, or loyal supporters. Nor is a sophisticated strategy, money, or the most robust application of the latest technology, for that matter.

Are these things essential? Yes.
A good start? Certainly.
But they are not enough to tip a system.

Just because you have a shiny new solution, the world will not beat a path to your door. Enduring social innovation doesn’t spread by accident. We need to deliberately nurture the conditions in which it can flourish.

One of these conditions is to become a wise traveller.

The Spirit of Haida Gwaii: The Jade Canoe by Bill Reid.  Photo: Bill McLennan.

The Spirit of Haida Gwaii: The Jade Canoe by Bill Reid. Photo: Bill McLennan.

In my new book, Impact: Six Patterns to Spread Your Social Innovation, I suggest three types of social innovators disruptive, bridging and receptive are required to achieve long-term impact. While each group has its own set of skills, strengths and limitations, they all have one thing in common: they understand the boundaries of their expertise and experience and welcome fellow travellers from organizations and institutions that have complementary skills.

Disruptive innovators are inspired by love and motivated by necessity. They challenge the prevailing way of doing things and shake the lethargy off the status quo. They wrestle a big idea to the ground. And yet, even when they prove that the idea works, it does not easily become the new standard. It can be ignored or misunderstood and may even be perceived as a threat to the system.

It is not easy to move from the margins to the mainstream. That’s why we need bridging innovators. Bridging innovators spot the big ideas surfaced by disruptive innovators. They leverage their connections, reputations and resources to make sure the potential is realized. They translate and interpret the value of a disruptive innovation to the system. Bridging innovators are the necessary link between disruptive innovators and receptive innovators.

Receptive innovators are key to implementing big ideas and spreading solutions far and wide. They have an insider’s knowledge of the key levers to advance an issue within a system. They know the formal and informal channels inside bureaucracy and who the key players are. They are navigators, steering the innovation so that
 it may flourish and become the new standard.

Credit: Komal Minhas for Komedia

The three types of social innovators. Credit: Komal Minhas for Komedia

Wise travellers know they can only go so far on their own. They respect the roles and functions of each type of innovator. They know that social innovations not only emerge from relationships, but also thrive and endure in relationships.


Join Social Innovation Generation, The J.W. McConnell Family Foundation and Innoweave on March 12 at 1pm EST for a webinar and in-depth discussion with Al Etmanski on his new book Impact: Six Patterns to Spread Your Social Innovation.

Register here

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Download the Introduction to IMPACT: Six Patterns to Spread Your Social Innovation.

Register here to be notified when you can purchase, IMPACT: Six Patterns to Spread Your Social Innovation.


Continue the #impact6 conversation with @aletmanski
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