Inspiring Action for Social Impact Series

About the Series

Conceived and created by SiG, Inspiring Action for Social Impact is a national speakers’ series comprised of a mix of in-person and online public talks by international thought leaders, applied learning workshops and dialogue on practical strategies for social innovation in Canada. Led by the world’s leading social innovation thinkers and practitioners, the Inspiring Action for Social Impact Series will guide us through proven collaboration and co-creation approaches and strategies that are capable of generating practical solutions to Canada’s most pressing and complex social problems.

  Upcoming2014 Events  –  2012-13 Events  -  2011 Events 


Tonya Surman – Centre for Social Innovation


Geoff Cape — Evergreen
Al Etmanski — BC Partners for Social Impact
 ”Canadian Social Innovation Terroir”


Tim Jones — ArtScape

Events held at MaRS are hosted in partnership with the

MaRS Global Leadership Series.

2014 Events

Philanthropy for Uncertain Times: Social Innovation and Systemic Change

MaRS Global Leadership and IASI 2014 featuring:

Stephen Huddart, President and CEO of the J.W. McConnell Family Foundation

The language and practices of social innovation—including “social entrepreneurship,” “social finance,” “social labs” and “social tech”—are coming into wide use. Not only are they influencing the mindsets, work and culture of the philanthropic and community sectors, but government and business are also becoming increasingly involved.

Thanks in part to the field-building work of Social Innovation Generation (SiG), social innovation is beginning to reshape how we approach complex problems in Canada, while also linking us to related efforts worldwide. Building on these early efforts, it is becoming clear that with imagination, commitment and collaboration, broader, systemic change is, if not assured, at least possible.

What role should philanthropy and other sectors play in the next phases of this work? How do we collaborate to best effect?

The J. W. McConnell Family Foundation has been involved in the field of social innovation for more than 10 years, including as a funder, investor and founding partner in SiG. In this talk, Stephen Huddart, the foundation’s president and CEO, reviews what the foundation has learned from some of the successes and failures of this work to date, and explores the potential of social innovation to contribute to an evolutionary shift in society’s capacity to adapt in the face of complex challenges. 

Designing change for the long haul

A webinar featuring Rosemary Addis, Executive Director, Impact Strategist and Co-founder, Impact Investing Australia

For many complex issues, solutions that work take time to develop, and need time to succeed. Wisdom about what’s needed available in the community is sometimes overlooked or we can’t see how to take the path the evidence points us toward.  A long term commitment made together with community is a key principles embedded in Children’s Ground.  This Australian initiative was incubated in government in a networked approach with community and others with a shared vision to redress the most entrenched and devastating social inequity facing Australia. Four years down the track from the first steps, the journey has still just begun. TheNetwork Incubation model employed and refined in this process has broad application.  It reflects the immense opportunity for change where we can embrace the uncertainty of a different way of working that doesn’t exist yet. It demonstrates the importance and challenges of maintaining a strategic vision with integrity yet letting the model grow from its roots, of ensuring rigour while navigating the unknown.

In addition to relating her experiences developing this approach, Rosemary Addis talks through the role and opportunity for governments in leading change, the power of social finance to drive new partnerships and the importance of measurement.

SiG was very pleased to partner with the MaRS Centre for Impact Investing for this event. Rosemary also participated in the 2014 Social Finance Forum on November 6 & 7 at MaRS.

Fail Forward 2014

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All we’re taught about failure is to avoid it at all costs. Let’s explore leveraging it for learning, adaptation, and innovation instead.

Fail Forward 2014 was a full day of thought-provoking ideas, useful tools and practices, and truly novel experiences to help us redefine our relationship with failure. Our instinctive reactions to failure include self-criticism, blame, avoidance, and a lot more that gets in our way. They prevent us from maximizing our learning when failure happens and from building organizations that can take smart risks and generate new ideas.

Failing forward, for individuals and organizations, means increasing performance, achieving ambitions, growing revenue, an the agility to stay relevant and competitive. Explore the Fail Forward Toolkit, a cumulative resource from Fail Foward 2014 with contributions from the conference’s speakers and faciliators.

In conversation with Bill Drayton

In conversation with Bill Drayton from Social Innovation Generation on Vimeo

Following his latest thoughts on “Leading with Authenticity” at the 2014 Skoll World Forum, Ashoka founder Bill Drayton spoke with MaRS CEO Dr. Ilse Treurnicht about empathy, how to cultivate the qualities needed for the new world, what vital role entrepreneurship can play, and how we must all be changemakers.

According to Drayton, it’s not enough to be happy to be in the game of life; we must constantly be reinventing the game. The rapid rate of change in our world has revealed the vulnerabilities in the systems we have designed to support our lives. Yet the call from Drayton is not one of fear or desperation; indeed, he believes that our new societies will be led by internal systems of empathy, where people will be capable of recognizing and engaging the contributions of all.

 ”In conversation with Bill Drayton” was presented by SiG, Ashoka Canada and MaRS.

Family by Family: Australian social innovation in action

Family by Family: Australian social innovation in action – MaRS Global Leadership from MaRS Discovery District on Vimeo.

Too many people in Australia are barely getting by. Family breakdown, child abuse and neglect, career stress, chronic disease and social inequality affect millions of people. Despite the best efforts of policy makers, services and community organizations, these tough social problems have not shifted for many years. Does this situation sound familiar?

The Australian Centre for Social Innovation (TACSI) is designing solutions that will help more people in Australia thrive, not just survive. Their flagship solution, Family by Family, was co-designed with families and is delivered by families. It is now expanding across Australia. In the first year, an unprecedented 90% of the families that took part in the program achieved their goals.

Exploring the Mesh: Sharing Economy & Social Innovation (Webinar)

Exploring the Mesh: Sharing Economy and Social Innovation from Social Innovation Generation on Vimeo.

Traditional businesses follow a simple formula: create a product or service, sell it, collect money. But in the last few years a fundamentally different model has taken root – one in which people have more choices, more tools, more information, and more peer-to-peer power. Pioneering entrepreneur Lisa Gansky calls it The Mesh and reveals why it will soon dominate the future of business and civic innovation. Sharing, while not new, has gained market and social power once enabled by technology. A cornerstone of the Mesh is Unused value = Waste.

During our April webinar, we discuss with Lisa how this shift in business models is taking place and what impact it is having and will have on society itself. How do we encourage deeper exploration of the opportunity The Mesh represents? On the flip side, are there unintended outcomes of such a shift and how can we prepare for them? 

The Social Labs Revolution: Why putting a man on the moon won’t cure his diabetes

Social Labs Revolution: Why putting a man on the moon won’t cure his diabetes – MaRS Global Leadership from MaRS Discovery District on Vimeo.

Zaid Hassan (Reos Partners) explores the fast-growing global movement around a new generation of ambitious social labs that are tackling significant challenges such as dramatically reducing global emissions, preventing the collapse of fragile states and improving community resilience.

In his latest book, The Social Labs RevolutionZaid details an effective, prototyping-based approach for addressing complex problems. 

Four Walls of My Freedom: Paperback Book Launch

The Four Walls of My Freedom is a riveting and redemptive family memoir by Donna Thomson, a disability activist, author, and consultant. The book is Donna’s account of raising a son with cerebral palsy and a passionate appeal to change the way we think about “the good life.” This event was held in partnership with PLAN Toronto.

The Collaborative Economy: How sharing is powering a sustainable future

April Rinne, Chief Strategy Officer of Collaborative Lab, shows how the collaborative economy has the potential to transform how we design products and services, create sustainable and “shareable” cities, re-imagine public services, reduce waste and connect communities.

April’s visit to Canada —  The Collaborative Economy Canada Tour – included  stops in Montreal, Toronto, Calgary and Vancouver, where she helped launch a new Canadian initiative: Cities for People. Supported by the J.W. McConnell Family Foundation, Cities for People is an 18-month experiment linking innovative community practice, applied research, policy development and investment opportunities related to urban resilience.

“Four cities, six days, 14 events: the Collaborative Economy Canada Tour was a ground-breaking tour de force on many levels. It set the stage for Canadian cities and policy-makers to become more shareable, Canadian entrepreneurs and business leaders to understand new opportunities, and individuals and communities across the country to see how they can ‘unlock wealth’ in assets all around them” — Tour Summary and Reflections Report, jointly prepared by April Rinne & Vanessa Timmer.

Access an illustrative summary of the Tour and the final report on the Cities for People blog.

Systems Change: Facing Canada’s Toughest Challenges

Social innovation labs (also called design labs and change labs) are an approach to tackling complex societal challenges that require systems change. This new league of labs provides a structured process for approaching messy and complex challenges and a safe and creative environment to experiment and prototype radical innovations. It also enables deep collaboration among multi-disciplinary teams and diverse stakeholders, and takes a user-centred approach as opposed to institution- or organization-centred approaches.

Joeri van den Steenhoven, director of MaRS Solutions Lab, presented his views on systems change and social innovation labs to an audience of over 300 people. Joeri’s broad demographic audience ranged from federal, provincial and municipal public servants to global consultancies to grassroots NGOs and changemakers galore, not to mention citizens who as “passionate amateurs” hold the flame of commitment to a range of vexing social and environmental challenges.

From One to Many: Building movements for change

During our kickoff 2014 Inspiring Action for Social Impact webinar, Indy Johar discussed how to build a community around being open. How do we go from ‘I’ to ‘We’? One to Many? While organic and grassroots movement building is important, accelerating and creating the conditions for broader system change is equally important. We have to find more and better ways to achieve scale.

As we moved through the presentation we discussed the growing Sharing Economy. Indy guided our thinking about this and similar movements – what and when is it time to build – and what should we be ready for in terms of potential challenges or missteps?

Indy Johar is a co-founder of 00:/ and a qualified architect. On behalf of 00:/, Indy has co-founded multiple social ventures from to the up coming [A £4m Open Venture Accelerator] and has also co-led research projects such as The Compendium for the Civic Economy, whilst supporting several 00:/ explorations/experiments including the,

Below are the slides now embedded in the video above, posted with Indy Johar’s permission.

To view our growing event archive, visit our 2012-13 page here, and our 2011 page here.

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