Dear Universities, Show us what you’ve got!

Note: This blog was originally published on RECODE and was reposted with permission of the author.

Photo from York University

We live in a volatile, uncertain and complex world. With threats of climate change, rising income inequality, social unrest, resource scarcity and ecological degradation predicted to affect society’s progress, leaders and the institutions they run must play new roles to realize a sustainable future.

Breakthrough innovation is essential, requiring paradigm shifts and pivots in how we operate and function as a society.

Advanced education institutions – universities, colleges and polytechnic institutes – are ideally positioned to accelerate and scale the transition to a just and sustainable world. They already significantly contribute through their traditional teaching and research functions. Now we need them to intensify their efforts to tackle global challenges by going beyond teaching and research. Institutions must embed their social mandates into everything they do including within their administrative roles, capital projects, physical assets, and relationships.

Fortunately, community engagement is a burgeoning area of practice within advanced education. Myriad departments, centres and projects are involved in this nascent field of practice, with individual professors and institutes working with community partners on critical issues.

Problem:

Despite a plethora of activities and pockets of great practice, a strong and strategic institutional commitment is often lacking. There is an absence of a narrative or framework that recognizes their importance, and that motivates, accelerates and scales social innovation – and celebrates its social impact.

Solution:

Mobilizing institutions to contribute more holistically and consistently to social innovation and the communities they support starts by taking a community lens to an institution’s assets. These assets, or instruments, can be multi-purposed to achieve greater community impacts than their conventional counterparts. Investment for financial impact? Great. Investment for social and financial impact? Better. Procurement that achieves price, quality and convenience goals? Necessary. Social procurement? Better. And on, and on.

This is already happening.

SFU and McConnell Foundation commissioned me to write this report on “Maximizing the Capacities of Advanced Education Institutions to Build Social Infrastructure for Canadian Communities” to understand the state of play in which institutions harness non-traditional assets (including but beyond teaching and research) to contribute to social well-being. As shown in this diagram, institutions are starting to embed their social objectives into their financial, physical and relational roles alongside their traditional research and education objectives.

This paper identifies no less than thirty such opportunities available to institutions. There are likely more. Check out this one-pager for the preliminary list.

To use the examples above, note these investment, procurement and hiring initiatives within BC institutions:

  • Social Investment: Simon Fraser University set goals to reduce the carbon footprint of its investment portfolios by 30 percent by 2030 – in line with Canada’s national climate commitment. UBC’s investments include $265 million in social housing and another $117 million in greenhouse gas emission reduction projects.
  • Social Hiring: University of Victoria has an Employment Equity Plan with a goal to improve the participation of members of designated groups such as Indigenous Peoples, Visible Minorities and Persons with Disabilities in all jobs and at all levels where they are under-represented.
  • Social Procurement: The grounds and gardens at Vancouver Community College are maintained by Mission Possible, a maintenance company that employs inner-city residents and assists those with employment barriers to reach their full potential.

Academic institutions are also developing solutions-generating social infrastructure such as social innovation labs like Radius and thought leadership platforms like Clean Energy Canada. These innovation hubs are mobilizing talent, resources and relationships to ideate, test and scale essential societal solutions.

Notably, the private sector has much to offer the post-secondary sector on its social innovation journey. This guide for companies on social hiring, social procurement, living wages and social innovation can be easily tailored to advanced ed. Equally, companies seeking to embed their social purpose throughout their operations will be fast on the heels of educational institutions, learning and scaling their successes within their for-profit business models.

The public and private sectors have much to learn from each other. All post-secondary institutions are inherent drivers of social progress: the time is now ripe for a community pivot. The complexities of this era call for advanced education institutions to reconceive conventional assets and instruments to serve an even higher purpose.

We have no time to lose. Universities: show us what you’ve got!

For more insights on maximizing the capacity of advanced education to build social infrastructure, read this paper.

 

Labs in Place: Weaving Networks to Achieve Systemic Change

Designed by Karen Gomez, background image from LEDlab.

In 2015, Ecotrust Canada and RADIUS SFU partnered to initiate a social innovation lab to design, test, and scale solutions for a more vibrant and inclusive local economy in Vancouver’s inner city.

In the consultation phase, the team analyzed current literature on social innovation labs to develop a presentation of how a lab process might work in the Downtown Eastside (DTES). We then took this presentation to DTES community organizers and change leaders, where we quickly learned that adaptation, flexibility and continual iteration needed to become our mantra. A centralized, process-driven approach was not welcome in this particular community, and had the dangerous potential to entrench problematic dynamics already at play.  

This early lesson started the Local Economic Development Lab (LEDlab) on a path of iterating a social innovation lab model with the added characteristic of place. Our hypothesis is: when embedded in a community context, labs need to be respectful of preexisting relationships, networks, and change initiatives – and must adapt their role from process designers to network weavers, working in service of systemic change.     

Principles of Place-based Labs

Zaid Hassan (2015) describes social labs as multi-stakeholder change processes that are social, systemic, and experimental.1  The Social Innovation Lab Guide (2015) defines a Social Innovation Lab as a three-step process involving (1) Initiation, (2) Research and Preparation, and (3) the Workshops.2 While LEDlab embodies many lab-characteristics – such as problem identification, co-creation of solutions, rapid prototyping and continual learning – we felt compelled to re-imagine a lab model without highly structured workshop settings, where the inflow and outflow of participants could be more fluid.  

Below we share the principles of what we are now calling LEDlab’s place-based lab approach. These are our lessons learned from reconciling a more expert-driven social innovation lab process with our experience of working on the ground in the DTES community to create systemic change.

Please note: The principles below were gleaned from working in the DTES, which is a very rich and resilient community with a long history of activism and a difficult relationship with the research community. There are many people, places, and systems that may be open to more structured innovation processes, or which may present a different set of conditions, opportunities and constraints. The principles outlined below speak only to our current experience.

Daniel, past intern at the LEDlab, worked with the Downtown Eastside Market. The Market supports hundreds of vendors by providing a safe space to conduct business and allows them to earn extra income to supplement their income assistance. Image from LEDlab.

We embed ourselves in existing community networks and processes

Many labs seek to pull people out of their work in order to challenge assumptions and co-design new solutions. Our experience in the DTES suggests that in a neighbourhood and community context you can’t/shouldn’t pull people out of their work because it is EXACTLY their work and the ability to prototype within it that holds the substance and opportunity for solution-building. Convening of any kind is inherently exclusive – there are always people that are ‘in’ the group or the process and others who are not. In a community setting, the creation of any ‘exclusive group’, even when the group is convened for the good of the whole, can quickly become political and may cause real harm to relationships that exist between neighbours, friends, and colleagues.  

In a place-based lab model, we have learned instead to leave the community where they are and to embed ourselves into existing community networks and processes to identify high-impact ideas. We fundamentally think of innovation happening in and with the community, not about innovation happening in our lab.  

We build trust in service of systems change

We consistently ask ourselves: How can we add value? The answer is often surprising. Something as simple as sending a personal invitation to a meeting, calling a colleague to celebrate a win, or transitioning a network’s membership list to a listserv can offer tremendous value to a network. We often don’t place enough emphasis on the small acts of service that can build the trust within a network. The quality of relationships between people matter, and are so foundational to affecting systemic change.

We work at multiple scales, convening the ‘whole system’ in a responsive and emergent way

Interested in the incredible work of the LEDlab? They are hiring! Deadline to apply to their internship program is June 13, the internship is open to grad students only. Image from LEDlab

As ideas surface and gain momentum from various community members and stakeholder groups, the lab is able to responsively convene from across the system around a specific project idea or strategic initiative.  In this way, co-design is first grounded in community insights and felt needs. Second, we ask: who isn’t at the table, and bring together people with resources and mutual interest to develop out and test community-driven innovation.  

In the LEDlab model, there isn’t just one group of lab participants, but rather the lab is embedded in a multi-hub network, working on multiple solutions, where we play a bridging role across multiple networks, sectors, and scales. 

The Tapestry of Systems Change

Taken together, these principles inform a  lab model that sees itself as a platform for systemic change, willing and ready to respond to the emerging needs of the system in which it is embedded.

Recognizing that the DTES community is fertile ground for innovation, LEDlab’s work is two-fold:

  1. To keep our eye on, and give voice to, emerging ideas with the potential to contribute to the overall objective of creating an inclusive and vibrant local economy; and.
  2. To responsively convene new human groupings with the dynamic potential to create and implement innovative solutions. 

LEDlab is continuously creating and supporting social infrastructures to achieve new results. For this reason, our lab staff might more accurately be described as “systems entrepreneurs” – weaving their way across and through complex systems and networks, stitching together a vision and strategy for collective action. The approach is showing promising results in Vancouver’s inner city.

We welcome feedback from other practitioners, community members and academics. We look forward to adding to these principles and documenting the methodology in more detail as it evolves.

The author would like to thank Brenda Kuecks for her thought partnership and contributions to this blog.

Hassan, Z. (2014). The social labs revolution: A new approach to solving our most complex challenges. California, USA: Berret-Koehler Publishers, Inc.
Westley, F., Laban, S. (2015). Social Innovation Lab Guide. Waterloo Institute for Social Innovation and Resilience. Retrieved from: https://uwaterloo.ca/waterloo-institute-for-social-innovation-and-resilience/sites/ca.waterloo-institute-for-social-innovation-and-resilience/files/uploads/files/10_silabguide_final.pdf

Social R&D in Silicon Valley: Field Notes #1

This is the first in a series of Field Notes this year on methods, business models, conditions, as well as profiles of organizations pursuing or supporting R&D in the Bay Area and Silicon Valley. The observations, ideas and provocations here are meant to help us revisit our own assumptions and ask if our approaches are fit for the future, all with the aim of strengthening Canada’s Social R&D ecosystem.

Peter Diamandis, Co-founder of Singularity University and XPRIZE Foundation, two highly regarded impact-oriented organizations in Silicon Valley, reflected on the value of experimentation in a recent blog.

Singularity University is a global community using exponential technologies to tackle the world’s biggest challenges.

Diamandis noted:

“Running great experiments and building a culture of experimentation are crucial for driving breakthroughs in your organization.”

He also highlighted:

“You must ask the kind of questions to which you don’t currently know the answer, but if you did, you’d change the way you operate. If you already know the answer, or if you are testing an insignificant detail that doesn’t matter, you’ll just be wasting time and money. To get good questions/experiments, you must create a culture that incentivizes asking good questions and designing good experiments.”

Since January 2017, I am spending some time each month in the Bay Area and Silicon Valley to better understand: their culture of experimentation, how organizations structure themselves to deliver offerings in tandem with developing new and improved offerings, and the role of funders and grantmakers in supporting the practice of R&D in the impact sector.

The two questions I’m currently pursuing:

As we help create the conditions for a vibrant Social R&D ecosystem in Canada, what might Silicon Valley, the world’s largest R&D ecosystem teach us?
&
How might we begin to bridge the two ecosystems for exchange and mutual learning?  

Last year Community Foundation of Canada organized a Canadian Delegation to Sillicon Valley with the help from SiG fellow Vinod Rajasekaran.

In my time so far, I have met with, had site tours, and shadowed:

– mission-oriented startups like HandUp, Year Up and DataKind;

– innovation outposts like Swissnex, Center for the Edge, and Unicef innovation;

– community hubs like Impact Hub and Kapor Center for Social Impact;

– accelerators like Fast Forward;

– funders like Tipping Point Foundation, Silicon Valley Community Foundation, Omidyar Network and Draper Richard Kaplan Foundation;

– mature organizations like Kiva, Center for Care Innovations, and Feeding America, and;

– institutes like Long Now Foundation, Institute for the Future, and Singularity University.

Initial observations:

There is no ecosystem curator. They operate as a hive culture.

When I probed on the absence of a single curator to nurture an ecosystem for Social R&D, individuals mentioned that having a curator organization “can create a culture of dependence.” This might be the good-old “analog switchboard operator” versus “digital platforms” analogy. Digital platforms are more widely accessible, they can be used to self-organize for both online and offline engagements, and can help harvest collective intelligence more effectively and efficiently. However, ‘curator dependence’ is worth unpacking and following further. What are the dependencies experienced in an ecosystem by having a single curator organization? In what contexts have single curators served us well?

Grantmaking strategies must integrate funding for delivery and development. 

Individuals and organizations recognized the multi-dimensional nature of investment required to kick-start, embed and sustain R&D activities, capacity and function. It means investing in people, infrastructure, adoption, and skills, in addition to research and experiments. Nonprofits accelerator Fast Forward is an example of an organization that supports development of organizational R&D culture, skills and experiments. It is the first nonprofit accelerator that I have come across where research and experimentation capacity-building was baked into the acceleration program; enabling resourcing and mentorship around applying R&D methods such as A/B testing. Tipping Point Foundation is an example of a grantmaker that invests between $200,000 and $700,000 in unrestricted funding to build their grantees’ organizational R&D capacity over multiple years. This includes support of the development process, skills and competencies, data and research infrastructure, and initial experiments. At Tipping Point, funding both delivery and development is core to their grantmaking strategy. Grantmakers such as the Omidyar Network, Draper Richards Kaplan Foundation, and Nasiri Foundation also deliver unrestricted funding as part of their grants and impact investments to empower R&D in their investees’ and grantees’ organizations. How might Canada’s grantmakers and impact investors take an integrated funding approach that combines delivery and R&D (embedded capacity, skills, infrastructure and experiments)?

High velocity can create blind spots.

The ‘move fast and break things’ culture in Silicon Valley can create blind spots around inclusion and public benefit. While significant research investment goes into, as an example, the design and development of new emojis, the same proportion of investment will likely not go into research around who the emojis include or exclude, and their long-term individual and collective behavioural, policy or psychological impacts. They are, however, beginning to mitigate this risk. A recent attempt is the announcement of a $27 million open R&D fund for artificial intelligence (AI) in the public interest. The Fund is supported by the Knight Foundation, Omidyar Network, Hewlett Foundation, among others. It’s apparent that organizations in the Bay Area and Silicon Valley often struggle to balance multi-generational effects and outlook in their work, with a world that is fast-paced, focused on the present, and rewards short-termism. Organizations such as the Institute for the Future play a critical role by hosting foresight labs in food, health, cities, and other areas. The Long Now Foundation, an organization that cultivates long-term thinking through lectures and seminars, also has an active role in this ecosystem as a counterweight to the high-velocity culture. Might the same hold true in Canada? Who is Canada’s counterweight and futures host?

Mesh technical and non-technical ecosystems.

The technology and social change ecosystems in Silicon Valley can seem disconnected and, in many ways divided, with protests around Google buses and protests for better pay for Uber drivers. However, the two ecosystems are more consciously building bridges and becoming more connected. Organizations such as: Kapor Center for Social Impact, HandUp, DataKind, Feed America, Code for America, Hacktivision and NetHope act as important bridge builders between the social services, social impact and the technology worlds. In addition, the World Economic Forum is opening their new Center for the Fourth Industrial Revolution in San Francisco focused on the public policy impacts of emerging technologies such as Blockchain, autonomous craft, and artificial intelligence.  Bridge building organizations create opportunities that deepen trust and mutual value through exchange, learning, and co-creating. Could the technical and non-technical ecosystems be more integrated in Canada in order to achieve inclusive growth?

Discovery and problem-orientation.

R&D in the social impact sector can often be centred around defining and solving a “problem” at the outset of designing an intervention or options for interventions. This approach is most prevalent in Canada, often under a ‘labs’ manifestation. While an intentional focus on the problem may get to the heart of a right-sized intervention, organizations such as Kiva, Khan Academy, Singularity University, Wikipedia and the Center for Care Innovations seem more ‘discovery-oriented’ in their R&D. The underlying assumption for this approach is that “possibilities are often hidden and oblique, so curious tinkering might lead to new discoveries that are not so obvious.” How might curious tinkering be empowered in Canada’s social impact sector?

How can we make it easier to discover Social R&D?

We are already a month into 2017, Canada’s 150th birthday year. How exciting! This year, we are committed to building on the momentum to help strengthen the legitimacy, community, capital and capabilities of R&D in Canada’s social impact sector.

Introducing the Social R&D Digest*

*We welcome ideas on a more catchy name!

The Digest is an easy way to discover and promote experiments, insights and practitioners. Sent to your email inbox every two months, the Digest is a curated collection of crowdsourced Social R&D stories along three streams:

1 – experiments & pivots
2 – methods & practices
3 – structures & business models

We believe that by highlighting what works, insights, and pivots by people pursuing R&D in social mission organizations across Canada – that the social impact sector will work even better, and make bolder leaps and advancements to enhancing lives.

The inaugural edition will be sent out February 28th.

That brings me to… call for stories!

What experiments are you working on? What new practices have you implemented? What methods have you discovered? What business models are you trying out? What key lessons have you learned?

Let’s feature them as part of the inaugural Digest.

Send a 75-100 word story, with a photo and any web links to vinod@sigeneration.ca by 5pm Eastern February 15, 2017.

Sign up here to receive the inaugural Digest.

Inclusive innovation policy struggles to connect the dots

By Karen Gomez

Note: This article was originally published on the Re$earch Money on January 18, 2017.  It has been cross-posted with permission. 

Over the past 20 years, the Canadian public’s understanding of a successful innovation ecosystem has evolved enormously to include social, technology, science, engineering, mathematics, arts and business innovation. From peacekeeping and palliative care to lacrosse and basketball, settler and Indigenous Canadians innovate from our unique cultures and contexts to solve problems or seize opportunities across sectors. We need look no further than the Governor General’s Innovation Awards to see the changing mindset about what constitutes innovation. As His Excellency told the Globe and Mail (June 9, 2015), besides technology innovation and business innovation, we need social innovation.

Read the summary report here.

Yet the 2016 public policy consultations on Canada’s Innovation Agenda struggled to make the vital connection between our unique innovation strengths, the urgent complexity of contemporary challenges facing Canadians, and the opportunity to define innovation as the integration of STEM, business, arts and social innovation.

In the ISED (Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada) summary report, Innovation for a Better Canada: What You Told Us, there is a terse and high-level evaluation of the innovation ecosystem. It hews to the old mindset, with the important exception of making a strong link between innovation and a greener economy.

Citing a competitive global race for tech and digital growth, the report signalled a doubling down on the mindset of trickle-down economics. From Thomas Piketty to Anthony Atkinson to Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett to Robert J. Gordon, we are hearing that this laissez-faire approach to innovation economics and social well-being is failing us.

Innovating innovation

We need to innovate our understanding of innovation. The report fails to recognize that Canadians are transforming the innovation economy into a collaborative culture of cross-sector innovation oriented towards durable solutions to complex challenges and new triple-bottom line market opportunities; where economic value is created from the pursuit of social and environmental value. With this mindset, Canadians are expanding the innovation marketplace and aligning innovation to solve social and environmental challenges.

To read about the incredible work of JumpMath see the case study prepared by Queen’s University and the Trico Charitable Foundation.

Take JUMP Math. “Junior Undiscovered Math Prodigies” is an evidence-based numeracy program that challenges both teaching and societal norms by overcoming the assumption that there are natural hierarchies of ability. In 2011, a randomized controlled study led by SickKids Hospital determined that the math knowledge of students taught using JUMP Math grew at twice the rate of students using the incumbent mathematics program. Incorporated as a charity in Canada, in 2015 JUMP Math used multiple revenue streams totalling $4.8 million to cover its $3.99 million in expenses, with most revenue coming from royalty advances and teaching tool sales.

In other words, a charity is leveraging diverse revenue streams to advance a transformational education innovation with a social return on investment (SROI) of $16 for every $1 spent and dramatically improving a cornerstone skillset for innovation and life.

JUMP Math shows how a combination of mindset shift, business model innovation, education innovation, and government cost saving can foster a generation with greater capacity to thrive in daily life and as innovators. JUMP is an example of a social innovation — a durable, scalable and impactful innovation that solves the root cause of a complex social and environmental problem and, in turn, produces economic value. It is also an example of successful entrepreneurship leading to global scale, with program expansion into the US and Europe.

All sectors innovate

Similar social innovations are prolific across Canada, coming from charities, non-profits, businesses and government. In particular, the social sector is leveraging new processes, tools and technologies to develop impact-focused and evidence-based innovations, such as the Insite Safe Injection Site in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside or Housing First in Medicine Hat, AB.

Even North America’s largest urban innovation hub, the MaRS Discovery District, runs as a social enterprise with an integrated social innovation stream. As MaRS CEO Ilse Treurnicht noted in a recent speech at University of Toronto: “In reality, innovation is too often narrowcast. It is not about shiny gadgets and cool self-driving cars, it touches every aspect of our lives and every person in our society. We are all innovators. It is also, humanity’s toolbox — humanity’s only toolbox — for tackling wicked challenges.”

With the OECD reporting that Canada’s social spend exceeded $300 billion in 2015, there is a direct economic case for social innovations that tackle root causes of social problems and hit on economic savings aligned to social or environmental well-being or redirect capital flows to create much higher SROI.

Social innovation is a Canadian strength

Read the Economist Intelligence Report on Social Innovation.

The Economist Intelligence Unit identified Canada in 2016 as the third best country in the world for social innovation. The temptation may be to interpret this ranking as evidence that all is well and stay the course. But in fact, it is intentional cross-sector partnership, community innovation and signalling from the public sector that fuelled this success — and will be critical to scaling it.

While we may be third in the world overall, the world itself is in the early adopter phase of systemically integrating social innovation as a powerful innovation pathway for dealing with the complexity of 21st Century challenges and needs. Canada’s unique opportunity and competitive advantage is to take up the mantle of leadership and advance our social innovation strengths as a cornerstone of Canada’s Innovation Agenda.

Embed social impact in innovation policy

Many of the ingredients to winning the innovation race are in our own homegrown appreciation that innovation is driven by, and can directly lead, to greater social inclusion. Yet we are looking to other jurisdictions as bad role models.

The Munk School has a great newsletter on Innovation Policy in Ontario, register here. Image from the University of Toronto

As Munk Centre for Global Affairs professors Daniel Breznitz and Amos Zehavi note, successful innovation policy in Israel led the country to leap from one of the lowest levels of R&D intensity among developed countries in 1970s to a world leader in R&D intensity. Yet, “in parallel to this success, Israel changed from being the second-most-egalitarian Western society to the second most unequal.” In response, Breznitz and Zehavi call for innovation policies to intentionally address social impact as well as economic growth and competitiveness. This is the opportunity facing Canada now as we design our innovation agenda.

Seize the moment

Integrated innovation is the leading edge of a market disruption that is creating more than economic value. Inclusive innovation is necessary for communities to thrive in the 21st century.

Canada and Canadians will succeed when we clearly align our innovation policies with the range of economic, social, cultural and environmental challenges we face and embrace all expressions of innovation leading on that challenge. We can take advantage of Canadians’ cultural affinities for collaborative working arrangements to bring very diverse innovators together to amplify their impact.

2017 is the moment to seize the assets and capabilities of all sectors, including Canada’s 160,000-strong charity and non-profit sector, as well as the power of passionate amateurs, to ensure innovation is a projet de société.

Reconciling Myself for Reconciliation in Canada

Photo by Miriam Espacio

Just before daybreak, on a September morning, I stand in a small circle of people around a sacred fire on Ambleside Beach in Vancouver. As the light creeps into the eastern sky, I hold hands with the stranger next to me, while listening to the calls of the ravens and gulls overhead. Reconciliation Canada has gathered us for this Sunrise Ceremony to call our ancestors, those who have passed from this earthly existence, to ask for their guidance as we move into more active reconciliation conversations and actions.

I stand here, a settler, feeling very unsettled.

I’m unsettled as our country prepares for a year celebrating the birth of a nation that was founded at such great, hurtful expense for the First Nations of this land. To be honest, as a non-indigenous Canadian on the threshold of 2017, I feel guilt and uncertainty – and I worry. The more I find myself in spaces and conversations about reconciliation in Canada, the more I worry that there is so much that I don’t yet know.

I worry that I don’t know for sure what my place is or should be in all of this. I worry that I don’t know what to do. I worry that if I step forward, I will make mistakes that may cause more hurt –  which might be unforgivable. But what I truly worry about most is that all these worries will mean that I do nothing. And that would be, for me, the most unforgivable thing.

The fire ceremony comes to a close and I let go of the stranger’s hand. A little later, at a community breakfast, he approaches me to introduce himself and to tease me that I had gripped his hand so hard that it hurt! I wince – and tell him immediately that I’m so sorry. But he just laughs and takes my hand again for a moment, holds it gently, smiles, tells me he is glad that I was there, and then moves on to speak with others.

In that moment, right there, that kind stranger taught me something about how to make my own way forward towards action for reconciliation. I realized that I need to both let go and go deep; that any contribution I can make to the reconciliation movement will flow, from these same vulnerabilities that worry me.

Image from Reconciliation Canada

It is a realization that I continued to explore through a workshop developed by Reconciliation Canada called Leadership Learning for Reconciliation, which posed a central question; “What does reconciliation mean for YOU?” Through the workshop, I began to understand that the greatest courage required for this work may be to genuinely look within and to get to know the weak, frightened, thoughtless parts of my own self and life  – to own my shadow sides that make me cringe and that I fight to ignore rather than to acknowledge and heal.

I imagine that many of us have relationships in our lives that need reconciliation – I know for sure that I do.  I’m beginning to understand that the way I think about them, the way I have or have not tried to address my damaged and hurting personal relationships, is my starting point to learn how to become better prepared, able and ready to work for broader reconciliation efforts in society. Maybe we need to reconcile what we each know as ‘mine’ before we can effectively connect together to heal histories, hurts, and troubling issues that are ‘ours’.

Photo from the inaugural Indigenous Innovation Summit, Raven Lacerte and Paul Lacerte, who started The Moose Hide Campaign, honour Justice Sinclair by presenting him with a drum. (Photo by the NAFC)

I believe we have to find a way to come to terms with our own worries about what we will each do for reconciliation. We need to reconcile ourselves, with all the grace we can muster, to the unavoidable challenges that are part of reconciliation efforts. We need to accept that we are bound to make mistakes in this new part of our shared journey in Canada. We cannot be sure of every step, but we need to show up anyway.

We will need courage and humility to be called on errors and to experience some pain and remorse at our own failings. We need to trust that we can ask for forgiveness and be generous in offering forgiveness to others. We need to focus on holding empathy for each other, learning from each other, trying together to find the way forward. Trying again. And again.

We won’t be able to do this alone and we will need help along the way. The most inspiring support that I’ve encountered is the immense generosity of some amazing indigenous leaders in Canada. Particularly at the two Indigenous Innovation Summits that I’ve had the privilege to attend, I’ve witnessed the authentic, generous words and actions of people like Paul Lacerte, Karen Joseph, Jessica Bolduc and Melanie Goodchild, to name just a few. They are choosing to bravely speak truths, positive and negative, and to do so with love and faith.

Truths about what has been and what now needs to be.

Love for all who try to think, speak and act differently.

Faith that we can do this thing called reconciliation.

They encourage me in very profound ways that lessen my worries and help me to step forward into the work ahead.

Is our playbook out of date?

A photo by Greg Rakozy. unsplash.com/photos/oMpAz-DN-9I

Canada spends over $300 billion annually on social outcomes, according to the OECD. Our fast-evolving societal challenges — ranging from mental health, Indigenous communities’ access to quality education, and a lack of affordable housing — demand equally fast-paced and nimble research, learning, experimental and replicating approaches so people can access the best possible services, supports and solutions, no matter where they live in Canada. This is where R&D comes in.

Canada’s not-for-profit, charitable, B Corp, and social enterprise organizations have built strong capabilities in volunteer management, donor stewardship, and program delivery, among other things. Along with an appreciation and celebration of these competencies, there is increasing consensus that social change in the 21st century requires an additional strong capacity and capability in research and development, or R&D.  

Just as R&D in the business world drives new and improved products and services, R&D can also help social mission organizations generate significant and rapid advancements in services and solutions that change lives. However, currently only a small proportion of social mission organizations repeatedly incorporate a wide range of new knowledge (like insights into how the brain works and how positive behaviours can be encouraged) or new technologies (like machine learning) or new processes (like human centred design).  

R&D is not yet well understood, funded or widely practiced by the social impact sector and thus is not yet adopted as a core organizational practice. It is a new field with a small body of codified knowledge and practice.

The “Social R&D” exploration aims to catalyze a change. The exploration is incubated by SiG, seeded by The J.W. McConnell Family Foundation, and is championed by a growing movement of organizations including: Open North, Community Foundations of Canada, MaRS, Engineers Without Borders Canada, among many others.

The new report, Getting to Moonshot: Inspiring R&D practices in Canada’s social impact sector authored by SiG Fellow Vinod Rajasekaran, with a Foreword by Nesta’s Chief Executive Geoff Mulgan, highlights 50 compelling R&D practices from 14 organizations across Canada, including: Saint Elizabeth’s field visits with frontline staff, GrantBook’s digital simulations, Skills Society’s neighbourhood prototyping and The MATCH International Women’s Fund’s 15% staff time for experimentation. The report illustrates that pursuing R&D helps organizations minimize costs in program growth, track improvements and learning more effectively, and ultimately deliver better outcomes for and with the people they serve. The intention in the future is to move beyond the report and host an online collection of practices with open access.

There are wonderful elements of R&D in Canada’s social impact sector and this report is an attempt to make a small portion of them visible to demonstrate that investment in R&D is a critical success factor in seeing measurable gains in social wellbeing. Against a backdrop of increasingly complex social, ecological and economic challenges, together we can transform how social mission organizations enhance lives for the 21st century.

SiG invites grantmakers, philanthropists, governments, and practitioners to join the movement to boost Social R&D capacity, capability, infrastructure and capital in communities across Canada.

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.

How Elections Determine the Future of Innovation

With the Federal election campaign well underway it is high time we talk about innovation.

Governments are often written off as a potential engine for innovation, but innovation in government is at the core of its future and the future of our country.

“Necessity is the mother of innovation” and in a time of complex social and ecological issues, rising deficits, and where calls to reform the state get louder across the world – innovation has earned its place in this discussion.

There is no better time for this discussion than during an election period. A change in government can mean radical disruption, even a slight shift in the balance of representation can allow for renewed interest and traction on otherwise forgotten initiatives. It also provides an opportunity to reframe, rethink, and reinvent current initiatives.

Ultimately, an election provides us with an opportunity to pick a vision for the future of our country, and by extension decide where resources will be allocated, which often dictates the government’s role in the market.

The current prevailing archetype for government is that of market regulator: offering both oversight and at times, salvation for dying industries and businesses. But governments have done and can do more for the economy.

entrepreneurial-state-368x535 Governments have been unsung risk takers for decades, making significant investments in groundbreaking research, innovations, and businesses. In her book, The Entrepreneurial State: Debunking Private vs. Public Sector Myths, economist Mariana Mazzucato delves into the incredible impact government-funded research has had in innovation as a result of what she refers to as “The Entrepreneurial State.” The State, as she illustrates, uses vision and the financial means to position itself as a market shaper – not fixer.

Government-funded research has created the elements necessary for some of the biggest and most successful products and companies today. Mazzucato cleverly illustrates her point with the iPhone, whose components and features like GPS, the internet, touch screen display, microchips, and more were a direct result of robust government-funding in innovative technologies. Governments were the catalysts that helped fund the building blocks to the modern world.

On January 25 two Toronto teens sent a Lego man into space aboard a homemade weather balloon.

Two Canadians sent a Lego man into space aboard a homemade weather balloon in 2012.

Canadians have much to be proud of when it comes to innovation. Canada was the third nation on earth to travel to space. Canadians have made huge leaps in medical science, including the groundbreaking discovery of insulin. Canada continues to be a robust research and development machine championing public-private partnerships, but work remains to be done to encourage businesses to increase their efforts in research and development.

In Canada, governments contribute 10% of the billions spent on research and development, but they play an important role by providing time and the resources necessary for change to occur.

True change takes time, but it also takes the vision to commit to change. The country is staring down some of the most complex issues ever faced and we need the gusto to face them with a research and development machine that focuses not just on traditional tech inventions, but one that catalyses social and ecological innovation, as well as the intersect between the three.

We are starting to accelerate in this direction. Various levels of government have given bold mandates and government-funding to explore challenges through various task forces and commissions.

A powerful example that comes to mind is the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), an important first step to a renewed trcrelationship based on mutual understanding and respect with First Nations, Inuit, and Métis people in our country. There was a powerful call to action made by the TRC for different levels of government to work together in order to implement the recommendations in areas like Child Welfare, Education, Health, Justice and more – all areas in which First Nations, Inuit, and Métis people face unique barriers that must be addressed.

Another that comes to mind is the Advisory Panel on Healthcare Innovation, whose mandate was twofold. First, to “Identify the five most promising areas of innovation in Canada and internationally that have the potential to sustainably reduce growth in health spending while leading to improvements in the quality and accessibility of care”. As well as, to “recommend the five ways the federal government could support innovation in the areas identified above.”

Coming out with a report just last month, the Advisory Panel went against its mandate boldly recommending the creation of an annual $1-billion Health Innovation Fund. Their justification was simple; in our system we have been missing “a pool of funds to support change agents as they seek to develop and implement both incremental and disruptive innovations in the organization and delivery of healthcare.” Incredible work to improve delivery of our healthcare system has been accomplished, but there is no way to scale their success. The Innovation Fund would change that.

logo- ecofiscal comLast, but only one of the many examples of work done in the last decade, is the Ecofiscal Commission which although independent of government, aims “to serve policy-makers across the political spectrum, at all levels of government.” Their mandate is to “identify and promote practical fiscal solutions for Canada that spark the innovation required for increased economic and environmental prosperity.” The 12 economists who make up the Advisory Panel released the Commission’s inaugural report, advocating for every province to put a price on carbon.

These reports include the work of leaders across all sectors and fields who sense urgency and a need to act now. As we continue to navigate the longest election since 1926, it is important to bring these conversations into public discourse and encourage all parties to embody the Entrepreneurial State in their platforms. Regardless of the results from October 19, Canada needs a government that will champion catalytic innovation, evidence based decision making, and impact investments that will establish Canada as a leader in green energy, in health innovation, in social innovation, in research and development, and more.

Building on the best of all cultures

If you had the opportunity to spend a few days on reserve in northern Ontario, what would you say? Youth organizers in Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug (KI) First Nation asked the question and were amazed at the response. In 2013, 43 Canadians were hosted by the KI community over 5 days to develop a clearer understanding of what living in a remote community in the North is like. In the process of organizing the tour, youth in the KI community built confidence and leadership skills that will help them in future projects.

The success of the KI Tour is just one of the stories celebrated in a new report produced by the J.W. McConnell Family Foundation, in partnership with Journalists for Human Rights and the Tyee Solutions Society. Leading Together: Indigenous Youth in Community Partnership is a publication written by emerging and established indigenous and non-indigenous journalists, with each article depicting a different partnership in community, a focus on what worked, what didn’t, and lessons learned.

Leading Together

Where the KI First Nation tour was an opportunity for deepening understanding between people from dramatically different backgrounds, other examples include partnerships to make child welfare services culturally relevant, training young indigenous journalists, and creating peer support networks for young indigenous professionals.

As Erin Montour and Stephen Huddart from The J.W.McConnell Family Foundation wrote in a Globe and Mail article published alongside Leading Together, these young indigenous people are “creating trust and a belief in the future where before there was ignorance, fear and despair, and building the foundations for a more innovative and inclusive Canada. This is what reconciliation in Canada should be about – the creation of a partnership society that builds on the best of all cultures.”

This celebration and recognition stands in stark contrast to the spirit of Jeffrey Simpson’s article in the same newspaper where he declares some First Nations as living in a “dream palace” of yesteryear, while others choose to integrate to varying degrees with the majority cultures. While one report builds on a history of partnership and reconciliation, the other falls into predictable and unhelpful blaming and division.

Leading Together encourages us to build on a long-held tradition of partnership building in Canada, dating back to the arrival of Samuel de Champlain at Tadoussac in 1603. It doesn’t ignore the pain and deceit of the past, but it is focused primarily on learning, bridge-building and inspiring more young indigenous people to recognize their leadership potential. As Duncan McCue and Rachel Pulfer write in the second Foreward of the book, “These stories are grounded, real-world stories, that show how to inspire Indigenous youth, teach Indigenous and non-Indigenous youth to work together and, perhaps most importantly, offer us all lessons on the importance of giving back.”

These stories should be shared widely and often.