Social Innovation

Social Innovation assumes a world where ultimate good in society can be not only imagined, but also created. It is an initiative, product or process that profoundly changes beliefs, basic routines, resource and authority flows of any social system in the direction of greater resilience. Successful social innovations have durability, impact and scale.

Watch a short history of Social Innovation presented by Frances Westley during the Social Frontier Conference 2013.

Download a transcript of this speech.

A Story of Social Innovation

“…The need and desire for change is profound… We need to be change makers.” – (from the introduction to “Getting to Maybe; how the world is changed” written by Eric Young)

In 2002 a partnership between Frances Westley and McGill University led to the creation of the McGill-DuPont Social Innovation Think Tank. With a goal to explore how can we move the dial on our most complex social problems, the Social Innovation Think Tank, a hybrid group of relationships between DuPont, McGill, the Ontario Science Centre and Opportunities 2000, adopted a multi-disciplinary process.

Calling on their own experiences from a range of disciplines, the group identified a variety of successful social change initiatives, and then engaged some of the world’s leading thinkers behind them. It was from these discussions that the group continued the search for detectable – and informative – patterns in transformative processes. Frances Westley, Brenda Zimmerman and Michael Patton wrote Getting to Maybe as part of the continued pursuit of identifying and learning about these patterns. In order to share and deepen the knowledge they had generated, Social Innovation Generation (SiG) was formed in 2007 to provide practical support for social innovation in Canada.

Resilience and Adaptability Cycle

C.S. Holling, one of the leading ecologists in the world, is fascinated by the patterns he sees in ecological systems and lately has come to see these same patterns in social and political systems and artistic forms. He believes that he and his multidisciplinary team of colleagues, which has strong connections to SiG@Waterloo, are beginning to understand one of the key properties of healthy systems, that being resilience. read more


In social innovations, there must be an alignment of circumstances that make action possible. The trick is to see the relationship among various elements. And in order to see, we must often change our thinking. We must move from seeing the world as simple, or even merely complicated. To understand social innovation, we must see the world in all its complexity. read more

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