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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What I’m Learning from the SDX

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

Aleeya Velji presenting at the Action Lab. Photo by Ben Weinlick

Twelve months ago, I wandered into the world of social innovation as an ABSI Connect Fellow. I landed in a really hot “hot desk” at Skills Society. Ben, who has a role fostering and developing both a culture and the craft of social innovation with Skills, instantly took me under his wing and without hesitation threw me in. I remember walking into the Skills Society Action Lab thinking: this is where I am going to learn awesome new things.

Ben is the guy that walks the talk. He embodies the concept of learning through action and deep collaboration in everything that he does and he seeks to creatively infuse, learn and engage with all concepts around social innovation. This culture – or way of doing – is now deep in the bones of Skills Society, radiating out  in projects and with the people Skills works with. Ben taught me that in order to work in complexity, we must sometimes stretch ourselves and be uncomfortable in the unknown; we have to simply try because the act of trying pushes us towards a new normal, working with, not against, emergence.

Ben Weinlick presenting at the SDX Community of Practice. Photo by Roya Damabi

Ben Weinlick presenting at the SDX Community of Practice. Photo by Roya Damabi

Recognizing that action supports learning, as well as my desire to learn some tools that support the craft of social innovation, I was invited into co-create and participate in the Systemic Design Exchange (SDX), an Edmonton-based Community of Practice* that convenes individuals from across sectors interested in learning about Systemic Design as a methodology for addressing complex, real world issues!

In response to our  learning during phase one of ABSI Connect, we Fellows suggested 6 pathways that could empower a uniquely Albertan way to put social innovation to work for our Province. I see four of the six ABSI Connect pathways colliding in the formation of SDX:

Screen Shot 2016-09-07 at 10.09.47 AM

To learn more about Systemic Design check out CoLab’s Field Guide “Follow the Rabbit”

At SDX we are building off these ABSI Pathways:

  • Working deeper together
  • Making room for risk taking and experimentation
  • Replacing strategic plans with adaptive processes
  • Mastering our Social Innovation ‘Craft’: refers to an ability to understand the various tools and process from social innovation (think: human-centered design, social labs, prototyping, social finance etc.)

It is emerging and unfolding as a community where deep collaboration is:

  • Truly drawing on and valuing diverse skills;
  • Bringing together various perspectives;
  • Allowing and looking to tackle all challenges through the assets that those around the table bring together; and,
  • Creating spaces for inclusive experimentation, adaptation, and a readiness to move together in response to emergent, radically impactful outcomes.
SDX venn diagram, provided by Skills Society

SDX venn diagram

So what is the SDX?  

With a bias towards learning by doing, and a desire to further develop the craft of social innovation in Alberta, the Alberta CoLab – a permanent, standing design team within the Department of Energy – and Action Lab – a space to think differently and make ideas happen – have come together to create SDX.

Together, we explore systems thinking, design thinking, and change lab approaches as pathways to get at the root causes of our city and province’s complex social, economic and ecological challenges.

SDX aims to be a watering hole where multiple sectors can come together, learn together, and act together.

The beauty of bringing together the Action Lab, the CoLab and community is the creation of a space for community and government to design and learn together by sharing expertise that honours the diversity in social innovation approaches.

SDX is infused with a strong community and rooted in action-oriented experiences to advance our learning around social innovation.

SDX is a safe space for learning together and opens up the opportunity to share and understand what levers can be tugged on to support systemic change in our communities and institutions.

“In my 17 years involved in quite a few collaborations and communities of practice, SDX is the first where I’d say it’s really a true collaboration where Community and Government really dig into working together.”  - Ben Weinlick

Hopes for SDX
  • Connect and strengthen networks in the community and across sectors;
  • Getting clearer on the what and the why of systems thinking and design to navigate complex problems;
  • Good mix of theory and learning by doing;
  • Solve World Hunger!…maybe not anytime this year at least…
  • Work hard, have fun, connect, collaborate, spark spin-off projects

Practice communities are formed by people who engage in processes of collective learning in a shared domain of human endeavour.   (Wenger & Snyder, 2000)

So where does meaningful collaboration really get us?

I am beginning to think about SDX as a systems change catalyst; as a platform that is able to facilitate, build partnerships and create coalitions to engage a wider audience in embedding systems thinking, systemic design, and change lab approaches in their work. SDX is sparking a process and pedagogical shift in how people across sectors consider  social, economic and environmental problems and design pathways to solutions (via inclusive innovation) and outcomes.

SDX respects our communities as dynamic, interconnected, living systems and therefore focuses on building an action-oriented space that facilitates the conversation between government (the space maker) and the community (the knowledge hub). I think government is creating a space for change and community has the opportunity to create innovative solutions that fit in the space that is being created.

When these two spaces collide at the grassroots level, concerns get amplified or heard. Collisions of diverse perspectives bring new energy to bear on the problems we are trying to solve. Collectively, our understanding of a system or a problem deepens to embrace complexity, shaping our work as both a community of practice and in our daily jobs. For those who have a platform to contribute to policy redesign or new programming, exposure to previously unheard ideas or lived experience leaves an indelible impact on their understanding, while learning by doing opens up a world of processes and approaches to co-creatively turn that understanding into meaningful action.

This makes SDX more than a space for new projects, prototypes or programs. There is also the possibility for culture shift, as we share, seed, and cultivate our learning, perspectives, and tools with colleagues, fostering cultures of social innovation both inter- and intra-institutionally. Perhaps this is the next challenge/hope/mission for SDX.

Where have all the tomatoes gone?
Screen Shot 2016-08-11 at 11.39.44 AM

The ABSI report was published earlier in the summer. To read the full report click here, or to read the summary report click here.

The meaning and purpose of our community of practice could be likened to a tomato plant. Community collaboration doesn’t try to tug on the seedling to get it to grow faster. It seems the only way forward is focusing on the whole: the water, sun, nutrients, companion plants, air, soil, and everything else that interacts to create a ripe fruit. By hosting the space and inviting cross-sector groups to learn and grow together, we are cultivating something special.

I recently read a medium article where the author wrote; “at the heart of systemic change is the assumption that it cannot be achieved alone.” Our ABSI Connect Phase 1 report similarly reflected that in Alberta, a unifying call to action is: “Whatever we do we must do it together!”

#SDXCoP is an example of true collaboration in action. Together, we are creating a safe space to co-create knowledge, begin infusing systems thinking and human-centered design into our work, and take action on specific challenges.  If we think about our work through a systems lens, we can wonder what might get cultivated at the watering hole.

What are some patterns of interaction that Communities of Practice engage in?
  • They problem solve;
  • Seek experiences and start projects;
  • Get to know the strengths of each member;
  • Allow ideas to collide and build on each other;
  • Discuss developments;
  • They transcend sectoral and professional barriers to bring their whole self to the table, and
  • Map and keep track of knowledge artifacts.
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Unleashing an Inclusive Innovation Agenda: SiG speaks with Nathon Gunn, Innovation Advisor to Federal Minister Navdeep Bains

Canada’s innovation ecosystem – from Industrial Research Assistance Program (IRAP) to Export Development Canada (EDC) and accelerators to Scientific Research & Experimental Development (SR&ED) – has primarily been in service to Gross Domestic Product (GDP) growth and in that vein, focused on STEM-oriented (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) companies. This is however, expanding and shifting. As Canada faces increasingly complex social, ecological and economic challenges, many parts of the innovation ecosystem are also opening up to support innovators and innovations that advance environmental, social and economic wellbeing. In other words, the innovation ecosystem is becoming more inclusive. More inclusive of powerful innovation models currently at the margins of the supports – social, digital, financial – as well as more inclusive around what we are innovating for – for social inclusion, for shared prosperity, and for sustainability.

Minister Navdeep Singh Bains with Nathon Gunn in San Francisco. Photo provided by Nathon Gunn.

Minister Navdeep Singh Bains with Nathon Gunn in San Francisco. Photo provided by Nathon Gunn.

This aspiration is championed by our own Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development (ISED), Navdeep Bains – most recently, by calling Canada’s innovation policy plan an “inclusive innovation agenda.”

SiG Fellow, Vinod Rajasekaran, took the opportunity to dive into this vision with Nathon Gunn, Innovation Advisor working with Minister Bains to develop an inclusive innovation policy framework for Canada’s future.

First off, what was compelling about this opportunity for you, Nathon?

I have long been convinced that a balanced and integrated approach to progress is fundamental to human happiness. The Prime Minister and the Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development have both demonstrated their commitment to expanding our definition of progress. They understand that innovation includes both social as well as economic advancement. Their term for this concept is inclusive innovation. Their leadership inspired me to come to Ottawa. As a serial entrepreneur with an interest in public policy, I bring real-world, on-the-ground experience in the work that I’m doing to help craft a national innovation strategy for Canada. I also bring a slightly different network of folks to the table.

Why is taking an inclusive approach to innovation important to ISED and Canada’s future?

An inclusive approach is essential because every sector of society — from the business community to universities and colleges, the not-for-profit sector, social entrepreneurs and Indigenous leaders — plays a role in driving innovation, growth and well-being. Government cannot do it alone if Canadians expect meaningful results. That’s especially true at a time when the world is facing major challenges that transcend national borders, such as climate change and prosperity gaps. For example, in the context of building an environmentally sustainable economy, we need to talk about how innovation and conservation go hand in hand rather than being diametrically opposed to each other.

We also need to address prosperity gaps in a world that is changing rapidly. We need to ensure that the benefits of technological advances and globalization are shared by as many people as possible rather than being disproportionately concentrated among the top earners. A thriving middle class isn’t just good for the economy; it’s also good for ensuring that we continue to live in a peaceful country with as few social divisions as possible.

This one

Modern society’s understanding of innovation has evolved considerably over the last century, yet we still grapple with fully enabling and embracing innovation in pursuit of both social and economic advancements. What do you believe has held back inclusive innovation in the past? Do you think this might begin to open up new metrics in addition to Gross Domestic Product (GDP), as an example Social Progress Index or the Canadian Index of Wellbeing?

I like to quote Peter Nicholson, a policy advisor to former Prime Minister Paul Martin and a special advisor to the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development. He says it often boils down to “rational apathy.” What he means is if you don’t have to do something, you often don’t. Rational apathy can account for why change often comes too slowly. However, as we learn to use data to develop more multifaceted insights, we also begin to see the importance of expanding our definition of progress and how to measure it. Issues such as climate change have accelerated the urgency for us to think about economic and social progress in a more expansive way. I think we see more than ever that a whole-of-society approach to tackling big, important issues, such as climate change, needs to be incorporated in our notions of progress. So I believe there is room for other measures of well-being, beyond GDP.

The federal government is shaping its goals around complex challenges, such as climate change, Aboriginal reconciliation, infrastructure, sustainable health care, etc. In many ways, the innovation ecosystem already embraces some of these goals. Clean technology, for example, grew out of the need to move towards a low-carbon economy. What do you think are the next steps that Canada’s innovation ecosystem can take to expand game-changing solutions to such complex challenges?

I am proud to be a part of a government that is working on such important issues and I can tell you that the Minister and his policy team are hard at work on this. Certainly, mission-driven investments where we put money into innovation but with a focus on big problems (think going to the moon or keeping global climate change to our targets) and things like grand challenges (think X-Prize for space) are examples of things we have seen work under the right circumstances here and abroad.

There is emerging evidence that not-for-profits, charities and social enterprises that have an embedded R&D function and practice R&D are seeing more impact gains. Do you believe an inclusive innovation system means also supporting R&D in social mission organizations?

Personally, I do think that is useful. However, it may be largely about helping clear the hurdles to these kinds of R&D initiatives for non-profits. Our government is conducting a summer of public engagement with all Canadians so now is the time for your colleagues to let us know what the barriers and pain points are for this kind of work. We need your prescriptions for how we unlock and facilitate your own activity. Please go to and make sure you tell us what would benefit Canada the most.


So far 896 ideas have been generated by Canadians. What are your Social Innovation ideas? Image from the Government of Canada.

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The Art of Disruption | A Reflection

SiG Note: This article was originally published on the Tamarack website.  It has been cross-posted with permission from the author. 

Last month, Tamarack’s Liz Weaver and Paul Born hosted a webinar on Community Change: The Art of Disruption as part of a Community Change Webinar Series. In this conversation Liz and Paul discussed some emerging ideas and strategies that are disrupting how some communities today are responding to the complex issues that they face. There were quite a few ideas that emerged from this conversation, but three in particular stood out to me:

The Power of Connection

Liz began the conversation with the acknowledgment that in today’s society people seem to be so connected, yet so disconnected at the same time. We see this in everyday life – we are constantly connected and dialed in to one another’s lives via Text, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat and the list goes on and on. But at times it feels that despite this constant online connection, many people are experiencing less and less real-life, meaningful face-to-face interaction.

There is great social innovations that have made connection their mission. Roots of Empathy’s mission is to build caring, peaceful, and civil societies through the development of empathy in children and adults. Read our profile here:

There are great social innovations that have made connection their mission. Roots of Empathy’s mission is to build caring, peaceful, and civil societies through the development of empathy in children and adults. Read our profile here.

The same could be said of the many organizations that are working tirelessly to create real, meaningful change in our communities and across the globe. Thanks to technology we see change-makers across the globe praising one another’s work, sharing their successes and supporting one another – we also see the criticism, the analysis of each other’s failures and at times, outright competition. Within the realm of community change, individuals and organizations alike are so much more aware of what other organizations are doing and what is happening in other communities, but we are not as involved or connected as we could be. Change-makers are often so disconnected in their work and when they do connect it is often very surface-level.

During the webinar, Liz reminded us that there are so many wonderful organizations doing incredible work but many are not achieving the big-scale change that they so desire. When you look at groups that are creating real traction in their communities you notice that there is something different going on and I think the answer circles back to this idea of connection.

To create real change, both in our individual lives and within our communities we need to connect – real-life, meaningful face-to-face interaction. We need to completely disrupt the ways that we have existed and worked within the realm of community change thus far and do something different.

The Power of the People

A second aha moment that came from this recent webinar was in regards to the power of the people. As Paul explored ideas of community change and disruption he was simply overflowing with the possibilities of people. Paul reflected on the ways in which Canadian citizens have completely stepped up when it comes to positive community change, citing the example of many Canadian citizens’ support of Syrian refugees. He also mentioned incredible examples of leadership happening in the realm of poverty reduction in cities like Toronto and Edmonton. We are beginning to see a huge shift in social responsibility – where people and their cities are no longer waiting for big governments to step in and take action, but rather the people and the cities themselves are becoming the leaders in large-scale social change.

The Government of Canada nearly tripled the number of spaces for privately sponsored refugees to 17,800 in 2016, compared to 6,300 spaces allocated in the previous year. Photo by Mark Blinch /Reuters

The Government of Canada nearly tripled the number of spaces for privately sponsored refugees to 17,800 in 2016, compared to 6,300 spaces allocated in the previous year. Photo by Mark Blinch /Reuters

We are in a wonderful time where it seems people are no longer waiting on the world to change – they are creating that change. They have decided to throw out the rule book and write their own. This is disruption at it’s finest.

Citizens want to be involved, so let’s involve them. Citizens want to be engaged, so let’s engage them. Paul reminds us that within the realm of community change it is our responsibility and our privilege to truly and deeply engage the people within our communities who are outside our organizations. There is definitely something to be said about the power of the people and their ability to disrupt and impact real change.

 The Power of the BIG 5

During the webinar, Liz and Paul also touch on Tamarack’s five BIG ideas for making significant change:

  1. Collective Impact
  2. Community Engagement
  3. Collaborative Leadership
  4. Community Development and Innovation
  5. Evaluating Community Impact

Our Idea Areas are key principles and techniques that help community leaders to realize the change they want to see. It doesn’t matter what issue you are facing – whether you are tackling poverty reduction, dealing with food access issues, wanting to improve health or trying to deepen the sense of community in your city – the thinking around these five areas and the application of the guiding techniques will help you to achieve impact. The question we must ask ourselves is this: How do we use these five BIG ideas to create positive disruption within the realm of community change? And what does the future of these five key idea areas look like?

1. Collective Impact

Liz talks about the future of Collective Impact – Collective Impact 3.0 if you will – and the emphasis on evolving from a shared-agenda, to a community-wide agenda. In order to create real, disruptive change the goals of a Collective Impact initiative must be owned by the entire community, not just the folks doing the ground work. *Liz and Mark Cabaj will be hosting a webinar on Collective Impact 3.0 - Register now! They will also be writing a paper on Collective Impact 3.0 so keep your eyes open for this!

2. Community Engagement

In our cities and communities, a new generation of community engagement is emerging. People want to be engaged in decisions, they want to work together and they want better outcomes for themselves and their neighbours. Paul talks about how he used to look at community engagement in three stages: inform, consult, and involve. But over the years has discovered that we can no longer separate these three pieces, we must inform, consult and involve in one stride. Engaging citizens in every stage is a critical component of any work that will impact community in any way.

3. Collaborative Leadership

In the conversation about Collaborative Leadership a listener asked the following question How can we better engage business in Collective Impact initiatives?” To which Liz responded that there are business leaders “with heart.” The more important question, Liz suggests, is how do we engage those business leaders who have heart and how do we connect them with community change? Liz suggests that the best tactic to address this issue is to:

  1. Do your homework
  2. Find the right fit and engage in real conversations (remember that thing I said about connection? It works – we promise;))
  3. Don’t stress about the “no” – focus on the positive outcomes

The future of collaborative leadership is a future with positive, cross-sectoral relationships that disrupt the current boundaries set in place.

4. Community Innovation

In their conversation, Liz and Paul stress that positive disruption can come at a systems level but also at the level of community programming. Often times innovation is happening right on the ground, centred within a community. This is the type of innovation that is key to real community change and this is the type of innovation that should be shared. This is the kind of work that we want to highlight at Tamarack – both at the Community Change Institute this fall but also in our everyday work.

5. Evaluation

Liz says “evaluation is key but what can we do about learning and sense-making amidst evaluation?” – It’s time to take evaluation to the next level. We need to begin to think about what we can truly learn from the evaluation process and results and really make sense of what is discovered. … For me, the Art of Disruption is about engaged people and organizations rising up, breaking through boundaries and working together in new ways. The Art of Disruption requires flexibility and encourages the evolution and adaptation of perspective and practice. I recently attended a one-day event with Paul Born in London, Ontario and at one point he jokingly began to sing a song that I feel sums up the Art of Disruption beautifully…

“The more we get together, together, together – the more we get together the happier we will be!”

 Continue Learning: listen to the full webinar in the Tamarack Resource Library

Custom design your own unique learning experience at this year’s Community Change Institute - do you know someone you think might be interested? Share this flyer with them or post it online!

Happy Learning!

As part of the Community Change Webinar Series later this month, on August 25th, Tamarack’s Liz Weaver speaks with  Carolyn Curtis, CEO and Ingrid Burkett, Associate Director of The Australian Centre for Social Innovation (TACSI). Register to receive the recording of their webinar, Innovation starts with People. This webinar is in anticipation for Carolyn Curtis and Ingrid Burkett’s #IASI16 Tour. There will be events hosted in Vancouver, Edmonton, Winnipeg, Ottawa, Montreal and Toronto. For details and to stay up to date with our work sign up for our newsletter - SiGnals

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Empathy – a key element for systems change

Several weeks ago, I joined SiG@MaRS as a summer intern. It’s been an enthralling ride, being ingrained in a radical environment that serves as a catalyst for both whole systems change and monumental social innovation.

I recently had the opportunity to attend a workshop on Deepening Community for Collective Impact, presented by Paul Born- President of the Tamarack Institute and a senior Ashoka fellow.

At first, I wasn’t quite clear on how attempts at deepening community fit into the efficacious and potent world of systems change. It is abundantly clear that creating resilient, inclusive communities is a necessity in our global conversations…as fear is running rampart in our society, dictating our political and economic landscapes. However, I was still uncertain how these two topics fit together.

To me, community has a loose definition, that strikes a different image for everyone. Some define their community as a weekly hockey game with co-workers, while for others it is group of Ugandan farmers partnered together in microfinance loans, and some may derive their sense of community from gang associations. Paul does not believe that a common definition is effective for community, as the experience of engaging with communities is highly contextual, individualized and richly diverse. That said, there is a word that epitomizes any community…which is belonging.

“Community has the power to change everything. No amount of innovation, individual brilliance, or money can transform our broken society as effectively and sustainably as building community.”

- John Kania, Managing Director, FSG; founder of the Collective Impact Movement.

As the day progressed, we shared our stories and aspirations for what a strong community can be, and what it can bring. An appreciation was emerging as we were understanding the radical systematic shifts that could arise from not only creating, but deepening community.


Source: Pixabay

Creating community is about building inclusivity. It’s about hearing the voiceless, and ensuring that they are understood. The conversation can’t be monopolized by the strongest or most visible; everyone needs a chance to be heard. A community becomes truly resilient and innovative when it recognizes, understands and embraces the diversity and vulnerability of its population.

“The good we secure for ourselves is precarious and uncertain until it is secured for all of us and incorporated into our common life.”

- Jane Addams, Author; Nobel Peace Prize winner (1931)

Some may simplify deepening community to the golden rule of ‘do unto others as you would have them do unto you’. In grand discussions of systems change and policy innovations, some may believe deepening community doesn’t belong in the same dialogue. If such is the case, perhaps we need to recognize a key outcome of deepening community is empathy. Can’t empathy be thought of as the fuel for the zealous efforts that change makers relentlessly exert when cultivating substantial policy changes and massive cross sector partnerships? Empathy gives us that deep understanding of the world beyond our peripherals, and enables and motivates us to build something better, together.

“The role empathy plays in our lives has only grown more important. In fact, in this time of economic hardship, political instability, and rapid technological change, empathy is the one quality we most need if we’re going to survive and flourish in the twenty-first century.”

- Arianna Huffington, Co-founder, the Huffington Post

Of course, empathy is not new to the toolkit of social change. Radical, transformative social change calls for collaborative action – which inherently requires empathy. Empathy as a tool has its own restrictions; it should not be our moral guide, but rather used to guide us towards respect and understanding. It enables us to engage one another with multiple truths, and move through our biases to combat complex issues together.

ashokaThe importance of empathy has been identified long ago and cultivating it has been a major endeavour – lead by the likes of Roots of Empathy Founder, Mary Gordon, and Ashoka.

Empathy fostered through deepening community can lead us to that inflection point, where faceless statistics become our neighbours, community members…and ultimately the very people who motivate and inspire us. Empathy is a choice we make to extend ourselves, and to understand the world at large.

“We need the skill of applied empathy – the ability to understand what other people are feeling and to guide one’s actions in response – to succeed in teams, to solve problems to lead effectively, to drive change.”

- Ashoka

Learning to strengthen and create resilient communities is an integral part of our systems thinking discussion – especially with the prevalence of fear in our current world. Deepening communities enables us all to be advocates of change, and to understand our vulnerable populations. It shows us that we all have a role to play in community; sometimes as leaders, sometimes as followers, and always as someone who belongs.

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What is the civic intelligence of your university or college?

A couple of years ago, Forbes Magazine and other news outlets reported on the “Smartest Colleges” in the United States. The brain training company Lumosity announced that MIT was smartest, followed by Harvard and Stanford, based on how well students had performed on a battery of online puzzles.

Many of my students (and I) suspected that this focus on “smartness” received more attention than it deserves. Although puzzle solving may be a reasonable indicator of success for certain occupations, such as computer programming, it’s not necessarily a good measure of whether a person will make a good citizen.

For one thing, good citizens are likely to feel responsibility towards their fellow citizens and have the “democratic faith” that John Dewey wrote about. For another thing, puzzle solving is a far cry from the types of “wicked problems” such as inequality, oppression, climate change and environmental degradation that citizens must actually address (and not just through voting). Moreover, the mistaken and dangerous idea that exact answers can be found for complex social problems by treating the world like a puzzle or a computer algorithm, may be more likely to prevail if puzzle solving is seen as the ultimate achievement.

I teach at the Evergreen State College (WA, USA), a non-traditional progressive liberal arts college. Evergreen is a public college that offers a variety of interdisciplinary programs that are often team-taught. Students are evaluated with written narratives, not letter or numeric grades. And I’m happy to say that Evergreen is one of the 40 colleges featured in the book Colleges That Change Lives.

Developing Civic Intelligence Games at Evergreen State College

Developing Civic Intelligence Games at Evergreen State College

At Evergreen I offer classes and a research lab that examine — and practice — civic intelligence, the capacity for people to work together effectively and equitably to address shared challenges. Civic intelligence puts the focus on our actual and potential ability to govern ourselves wisely. More importantly, it looks at how we might diagnose and improve this ability. My students and I have been exploring the idea of civic intelligence for at least 15 years.  We explore how people might make their communities, and the world, better for all.

In response to our concerns about “smartness” as the über ranking of colleges, our “Social Imagination and Civic Intelligence” program decided to explore alternative ranking approaches based on civic intelligence. The exercise proved to be educational for all of us; the challenges of identifying, interpreting, and presenting social data can’t really be appreciated if one only sees somebody else’s final results. And I admit that the utopian notion that colleges might actually compete for high civic intelligence scores was an exciting prospect.

Working collaboratively, we identified five broad dimensions that highlight how the civic intelligence of a college could be assessed. Obtaining viable values for these and somehow rolling them together in a meaningful way are the logical next steps. Then, in a civically intelligent spirit, we hope to evaluate this approach with results and feedback from several colleges and revise our approach as necessary.

(1) How does the college conduct its own affairs in civically intelligent ways? 

Are meetings open and are finances and grievance procedures transparent? Are there processes in place for communication across sectoral boundaries and is there openness and participation in curricular development? Do faculty and students participate in its evaluation?

(2) What does the college do to promote civic intelligence among students?

This includes the classroom and other forms of evaluated teacher / student activities as well as other activities outside the classroom including student groups and activities, informal as well as formal. We also identified interdisciplinary classes, especially those focused on societal problem-solving, as very important, as well as the quantity and quality of student engagement and leadership in educational endeavors.

(3) How does the college cultivate civic intelligence in the community?

This was intended to identify how the college cultivated civic intelligence beyond its perimeter and to what extent the work of the college influences the wider world. What percentage of students at the college are engaged in internships with educational, service, or non-profit organizations? Is there a legacy of non-profit groups in the community that were launched by students or faculty at the college or though educational efforts that started there? (See, for example, the Sustainability in Prisons Project). Are events related to civic intelligence open to the public? Does the college maintain a community partnership focus through centres and ongoing collaborative projects? And does the college enter into alliances with other colleges to build networks of civic intelligence that increase dialogue and innovation and provide more opportunities for students and faculty members?

(4) How does the college address significant societal issues and needs?

This refers primarily to how well and to what extent the college performs its social role of preparing students for the future. A college that accepted a large number of students who typically aren’t accepted, or are statistically more likely to drop out, runs the risk of receiving low marks in many ranking systems. But if the college educates these students and graduates them in higher numbers, those schools would be demonstrating higher civic intelligence than ones that only accepted those who seemed most likely to succeed. For this question, we also identified questions related to financial barriers, rates of student graduation, support for minority, first-generation students and other traditionally marginalized groups, and general success with employment after college with special attention to jobs in education, non-profits, and social service.

(5) What were the enduring lessons in respect to civic intelligence that the college imparted on its graduates?

Learning this probably means obtaining some measures related to attitudes, awareness, skills, or, even, social imagination when students enter and when they leave, including perceptions, as well as actions. We’re interested in developing active civically intelligent citizens for the long-haul. Hence, ideally, we’d gather feedback on graduates at regular intervals; do they work for non-profits or did they start one, are they in public service or benefit corporations? Do they work with economically disadvantaged people or migrants or refugees?

While a college may reap a more prestigious ranking by concentrating on puzzle-determined “smartness” in both admissions and pedagogy, America’s democracy depends on the civic intelligence — which includes creativity, skills, compassion and many other characteristics— of all of its citizens. This broad focus, while more difficult to implement, must not be ignored in the rush to enshrine STEM — Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics — as the preeminent educational pursuit.

Are there representatives from three or so schools in North America who are willing to tackle this initial challenge?

We haven’t gone to the next step – that of developing an approach where colleges could conduct a self-evaluation that would yield valid data.

We will continue our examination of civic intelligence at Evergreen and we encourage other schools to examine theirs. The rankings, of course, aren’t intended to be permanent. They are aspirational and, with work and encouragement, the hope is that colleges and universities will become a critical backbone of social purpose, cooperation and civic intelligence that builds on their deep experience advancing the world’s knowledge and humanity.

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Remaking a Living: A shared journey of social innovation

This blog can only do so much to share the inspiring journey of the Remaking a Living Project. If you would like to learn more about their journey, process, and  recommendations, please visit the Remaking a Living website and the project blog. All images were provided by the Remaking a Living Project unless indicated otherwise.

Our world is filled with complexity that cannot be grasped merely by way of numbers or facts.

A prime example is the unemployment rate – a widely cited statistic that fails to tell the whole story of those who find themselves not currently working; it only counts those who have looked for work in the past four weeks.

So where do the rest get counted? Statistics Canada refers to people who want to be working but have given up, over the short term or the long term, as ‘discouraged workers’ and considers them outside the work force, rather than ‘unemployed.’ These are the people that the Remaking a Living project sought to understand. They wanted to hear from the people who aren’t in the news and don’t make it to, or find success at, the employment centre. Mostly, they wanted to know:

How can we best assist those who have been marginalized in the labour force, so they can participate in the economy on their own terms?
Natalie Napier hard at work. Image provided by the Remaking a Living project.

Natalie Napier hard at work during the summer.

The process began last summer in Peterborough, which often ranks as the municipality with the highest unemployment rate in Canada. Natalie Napier, from the Community Opportunity & Innovation Network (COIN), led a small team to explore this question with coaching from InWithForward (IWF), an organization that works all over the world to re-design social services from the perspective of the people who use them, and financial support from the Atkinson FoundationUnited Way of Peterborough, and the Community Foundation of Greater Peterborough.

Last month, I had the pleasure of sitting down with Natalie Napier to chat about Remaking a Living:

KG: How did you become involved in this project and what were you doing at COIN prior to this?

NN: I have been at COIN for five years – it all started with an internship. These days my title is Lead Specialist in Innovation Projects. I was getting exposure to the innovation lab model, and I liked the idea of people from all parts of a system coming together to develop more holistic solutions, but in practice the innovation lab seemed to be geared to more privileged members of systems and the last thing I wanted was to carry out a project in which we learn about people experiencing a problem from other people.

KG: This kind of work is – for many- a completely new approach. What inspired the project?

NN: We were inspired by the Atkinson Foundation’s Decent Work Fund that asked, “What is decent work?”. COIN works with people who are marginalized from the workforce, sometimes people who have never had a job. I wanted to explore this question, but I didn’t want to get a grant and have none of the funding reach the very people I was hoping to help. Atkinson put us in touch with IWF.

KG: How did IWF become involved as a coach? I believe this is the first time they coached someone within an organization to conduct the work alone.

NN: The great thing about IWF is that they are always willing to think “How can this be done differently?”. COIN was excited about the potential, but as a small organization – even with our incredible partners – we were not in the position to hire IWF the usual way and they had other projects still in progress. Eventually we came to a solution: I would manage the project with a team and IWF would coach me, mostly remotely.

KG: I understand that Remaking a Living staged various interactions, which I was fascinated by. How did you come up with unique ways to approach people?

Watermelon Trading Post. Image provided by the Remaking a Living Project.

Watermelon Trading Post.

NN: IWF taught us to think of each interaction as a design brief. In one of the interactions, we wanted to get out of the city and talk to people who could tell us first hand about the experience of rural long term unemployment. A contact suggested a food cupboard based out of a church and the organizers of this food cupboard gave us some parametres, mostly to reduce any sense of stigma users might feel. We had to be inside the Church at the back of the room in which people wait to be able to access food and supplies; people had to choose to go out of their way to talk to us. Our goal was to stand out, to be family-friendly, to offer something of value, and to make people feel comfortable enough to tell us their stories.

Throughout the summer the project staged various interactions to explore this question, like a makeshift sneaker cleaning station outside a shelter to understand the impact of peer networks. Image  was provided by the Remaking a Living Project.

Another interaction was a makeshift sneaker cleaning station outside of a community dinner to understand the impact of peer networks.

The staff also mentioned that fresh fruit wasn’t usually available so when watermelons went on sale, we recognized them as the great big, juicy props they are and came up with the Watermelon Trading Post. A central value behind this project has been reciprocity, so we always had something to offer.

KG: How did you adapt to going from working inside an office to interacting with people all the time?

NN: For me, this project was about designing programs outside of boardrooms and I saw getting ‘out there’ as part of the process. IWF’s coaching had prepared me for it, and I am outgoing, but it wasn’t always easy. The people who we were trying to approach are often under-stimulated and isolated since they don’t have workplace interactions or spending money for activities. We found that as long as we struck the right note, and had something to offer (a laugh, watermelon etc), people were happy to chat.

KG: What were the obstacles you encountered?

NN: This was an incredible learning experience, but when you are processing so much yourself, it can be hard to share it with others. I found it really challenging to describe this project and its potential outcome to our funders. We also had to adapt IWF’s process to our non-profit: for example, our board wondered whether our adventures into people’s homes would be covered under our insurance and health and safety policy.

The finished web product of the Remaking a Living project, with their prototyped solutions.

The finished website of the Remaking a Living project, with their proposed solutions.

KG: What lesson did you take away from this process?

NN: I took two lessons away from this process. The first is the incredible challenge of communicating the value of this work with any degree of complexity to anyone, including and especially to those within my own organization. This was one reason the website was so important to me. We worked really hard not just to explain, but to show what our work was about. I had many important conversations in which I wasn’t able to get the point across; words utterly failed me.

Anyone working in the social sector knows this work is challenging; we all get frustrated with the results of our work and admit that we need new approaches, but we all still have an investment in some of the status quo. When someone comes along and transmits a message about a different way of doing things, we can surprise ourselves by getting our backs up. I learned that I needed to connect emotionally, not just intellectually. I needed to invite more people on the journey with me, rather than just focusing on finding the right words.

The second lesson I learned was that organizational learning and change takes time. IWF is designed to move at the speed of light: to analyze and reinvent. It was exciting and invigorating to work with an organization that has that kind of energy. My organization, while small and relatively agile, is designed to provide the stability of inclusive, flexible programming to people who are marginalized. Those are two very different machines. I wanted to import some of that IWF magic to my own organization, but I met resistance. At the time, it felt like a brick wall that I could not get through, but I can see now that I was just pushing too hard. Opportunities to incorporate aspects of IWF’s Grounded Change approach seem to abound now.

We don’t recognize patience as a virtue in innovation nearly enough.

KG: Would you say there is an interest in trying new things within Peterborough’s philanthropic landscape?

Last November our Executive Director spoke at the Philanthropy Forum in Peterborough about Social Innovation - the appetite is there.

Last November, SiG ED, Tim Draimin, spoke at the Philanthropy Forum in Peterborough about social innovation – the appetite is there. Photo provided by the Community Foundation of Greater Peterborough.

NN: The very fact that all these partners within Peterborough’s social and philanthropic landscape funded our project, and that so many local organizations allowed us to come into their spaces, is evidence that there is an appetite for new things. There are several really great grassroots projects and programs cropping up in Peterborough. Smaller organizations are often able to innovate with a nimbleness and boldness that larger institutions lack until there is more evidence available.

 KG: Do you think you’ll try this approach again?

NN: While the Remaking a Living Project has not found traction with its proposed solution ideas, it is still early. There is a lot of interest in exploring different issues using a similar process. I am currently crafting another project with this approach, including all the lessons learned from our first go – particularly the need to incorporate partners into the process.

I can’t imagine that anything I do in the future won’t owe something to IWF’s work. I am an evangelist. I think everybody deserves to be a force in the definition of ‘problems’ and creation of solutions that are about their lives. I don’t think there are many situations in which we should work any other way. I can’t go back.


IWF suggested that the project assemble a team of people who would be sympathetic to the project, but not afraid to ask tough questions and make us see things from different angles. They assembled the debriefers from different sectors who would look at what they were doing, asked questions, offer practical advice, and barrier-bust.


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What does Canada look like in 2067?

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

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

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


Photo: Renaud Philippe

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

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

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

This is where we landed:

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

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

Photo: Cheryl Rose

Photo: Cheryl Rose

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

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

And then there was a shift.

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

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

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



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

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

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

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Seeking! Post-Doctoral Fellowship in Social Innovation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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