Social Enterprise Spotlight: Labs Seeking Solutions

As society’s challenges become stickier, social innovators become more creative, collaborate in new ways, and experiment with different tools to address intractable problems such as water security, elder care, and youth unemployment.

kennisland2One such social innovator, Joeri van den Steenhoven, uses change/design labs as an approach for social change. As the founder of Kennisland, a Netherlands-based knowledge lab, Joeri has over a decade of experience building a knowledge society. With his recent move to Canada, Joeri now leads the Solutions Lab at MaRS Discovery District. Speaking at the upcoming Social Enterprise World Forum, Joeri shares his perspective on the promise and potential of change/design labs.

How do labs help solve intractable systemic problems?

Joeri: Today we face a wider range of social challenges and our current organizations can no longer match the complexity of these issues. Since governments and other institutions cannot do this work independently, labs act as support structures that can help connect these different stakeholders. If you consider the history of labs, labs have always been a group of people and a space outside of the core business taking a long-term approach to problem solving.

What specific social and environmental issues is the MaRS Solutions Lab aiming to address? Who is involved?

Joeri: The MaRS Solutions Lab works together with government, foundations, businesses, social entrepreneurs, academia, and communities to tackle complex social challenges and create systems change. Our lab will work on a limited number of challenges, one of which is chronic disease that the Ontario government has asked us to take on. One of the major threats to the future of our health system is chronic disease like heart disease, cancer and diabetes.

What excites you most about taking a lab approach?

Joeri: I’m excited by the search for new answers. I also enjoy testing our ideas and gathering learning on how to implement and scale the most promising ideas. Labs are about thinking, doing and learning. Personally, learning is my favourite part of the process. If we look at how to scale an idea, the best strategy is through learning.

What are you looking forward to in the next six months?

Joeri: The MaRS Solutions Lab is in its startup phase. After development of our theory of change, we are now building our team, methods, tools and network. It’s a very exciting time. I can relate to social enterprise, as it has that same entrepreneurial feeling. We need a business plan and to be able to convince our funders and investors of our strategy, as well as grow a strong team.

What role do you see social enterprise playing in labs and vice versa?

Joeri: Labs are looking for new answers and sometimes social enterprise has those answers or can help get to those answers. We live in a time where it’s no longer true that government can give us the solutions to our society’s problems.

The tremendous wave of social enterprise and the shift in people that do good, particularly on their own terms like through starting a social enterprise, is a very powerful movement.  Labs could help social enterprise tackle those challenges, as well as grow their market.

The Social Enterprise World Forum is a gathering of 1,200 social impact champions from various sectors and associations around the world. What excites you about attending the event?

SEWFJoeri: Firstly, I look forward to hearing about many new ideas and approaches from all kinds of social enterprises from across the world. I’m expecting a high-energy crowd and to be inspired by the ideas and people in the room. Second, I hope to learn from others working in the field of social innovation and labs. I’d like to share with them what Solutions Lab
is doing and what we might do together to generate
systemic change.

 

This blog is part of the Social Enterprise Spotlight series showcasing various social innovators speaking at this year’s Social Enterprise World Forum taking place in Calgary on October 2 – 4. Learn more about the Social Enterprise World Forum here.

 

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
Bookmark and Share
Devon Krainer About Devon Krainer

Devon was the Project Coordinator for SIX Summer School Vancouver 2014 and a researcher with SiG.

Comments

  1. Great piece Devon and Joeri! I’m curious about how this second generation of labs will differ from the Kennislands and Mindlabs and the InWithFors of the first generation. How can we build on what we’ve learned? Stoked for the lab panel at SEWF!

Speak Your Mind