What happened to the map?

Since 2007, SiG has seen the social innovation ecosystem blossom and last year we posted an earlier version of this map to visually depict that growth. Its purpose was  to demonstrate the strength of the sector for a meeting we were attending. It was a prototype if you like, developed under a tight deadline when it first became public. It was far from perfect and excluded some key players in the sector. Several iterations have since been developed in an effort to respond to our community.

We were excited by how popular the map was, and we decided to make it a project of its own. We are happy to release the infographic (below) that illustrates the sheer size of the sector in Canada, and the national/global reach of organizations well as, an open database to capture in more detail the incredible work of the sector.  

In red: filters will allow you to narrow organizations based on their area of operation and their impact (regional, national, or global). In green: if you want to look for a specific organization by name we recommend you use the text search feature with Ctrl+F or ⌘+F.

What is our criteria?

Social innovation is still fairly new to most, and many have never heard the term, much less identify their work as socially innovative. Given this, perhaps the most exciting aspect of mapping the ecosystem could be to capture who did see their work or the work of others as socially innovative AND provide an opportunity for people across the country to see what others are doing at a bird’s eye view.

In the last 10 years, the most satisfying work we’ve done has been in partnership with other organizations. It is our hope that people will find synergies in their work, learn about the work of great organizations, understand the incredible capacity of social innovation in Canada, and even connect with each other as they discover others who are encountering similar challenges in their work.

How can you contribute?

It’s inspiring to hear about the incredible work being done in Canada. There are incredible initiatives popping up in every corner of the country – from Code for Canada, to the LED Lab in Vancouver, to Inspire Nunavut, to the 4Rs Youth Movement. We recognize that social innovation is alive and well in every province despite our current database showing otherwise, and we hope you will take part in this project to reflect social innovation activity in Canada. Here are some ways to start:

  • Check the database

Make sure it includes your organization and that the work of your organization has been accurately captured. If it is not, change it! The database is open for anyone to edit.

  • Help us by capturing the work people are doing all over Canada

The database includes initiatives at all stages and sizes. Gaps we are especially eager to close are in the Northern provinces, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and Prince Edward Island.

  • Take the time to learn more about the incredible work of others

You’ll be surprised to learn the incredible diversity of the work being done by others in Canada, and just how unique some of it is. For instance, Kudoz is an incredible learning platform in Burnaby, British Colombia for adults with cognitive disabilities that was a finalist for the 2016 Global Service Design Award.

  • Share the work of others

We don’t spend nearly enough time sharing the work being done in Canada. It is about time we stop being humble, and recognize what others around the world have – that Canada is a leader in social innovation. In the last year the ecosystem was recognized by the Economist in their Social Innovation Index 2016.

Who holds the keys to this project?

I was the one who originally created the visual and have been charged with keeping track (or losing track) of suggestions, but I am leaving SiG at the end of June to take the next step in my career. SiG will keep a copy of the database in the event something happens to the original, but we are giving this tool back to the community to take a shape and life of its own.

We are experimenting if you will, walking the talk of Social R&D.

Will you update the map?

The map is still a visual tool we will use at SiG for presentation but it will not be updated. You can access it below.

2016 – Looking back, Looking Forward

2016 was resource rich for SiG. As we approach a new year, we thought we’d compile a short list for you to ease the burden on your digital bookmarks. 

– In 2016, we published three reports!

– We orchestrated a Canadian tour for Carolyn Curtis and Ingrid Burkett of the Australian Centre for Social Innovation (TACSI). Along with SiG colleague, Geraldine Cahill they visited Vancouver, Victoria, Edmonton, Winnipeg, Ottawa and Toronto. You can read about the tour and download some TACSI resources here. 

– As part of the TACSI Tour, we co-hosted a public event with MaRS Solutions Lab and the Centre for Social Innovation titled: “The culture, passion and how of social innovation”.

The Culture, Passion and How of Social Innovation from Social Innovation Generation on Vimeo.

– Vinod Rajasekaran came on board as a SiG Fellow to work on Social R&D. He has since authored “Getting to Moonshot” and co-authored “How Can Integrated Innovation Advance Well-being and Inclusive Growth?”

Earlier this year Vinod lead a learning tour for a Canadian Delegation to Silicon Valley with Community Foundations Canada (CFC). Participants visited Singularity University, Silicon Valley Community Foundation, Y Combinator, IDEO, and more!

- ABSI Connect celebrated its first anniversary! SiG acts as administrator, champion and advisor for the ABSI Connect program in Alberta. We are honoured to play a small role in this inspiring program. Read their report: The Future of Social Innovation Alberta 2016.

– As the Federal Government extended invitations to submit ideas on innovation and creativity in various ministries, SiG was ready with some policy recommendations. See the full submissions on our policy page and review SiG’s take on policy’s role in social innovation.

– In the waning summer days, we began to map the Social Innovation Ecosystem in Canada (last updated on November 2016). We heard from many of you about more and different organizations to include, so we are currently working on an open redesign model for this map. If you would like to be included, get in touch.

What was on our bookshelves this year?

The Silo Effect“, “Building the Future“, “Sharing Cities“, “The Rainforest“, “Linked“, “LEAP Dialogues, Networks“, “The Art of Leading Collectively“, “Learning to Die in the Anthropocene“, “Don’t Think of an Elephant!“, “Public Good by Private Means“, “The Practices of Global Ethics“, and “Uberworked and Underpaid“.

And what was on our desks?

 “Canada Next: Learning for Youth Leadership and Innovation”, “Push & Pull”, “Licence to Innovate: How government can reward risk”, “The Future of Social Innovation in Alberta”, “Shifting Perspective: Redesigning Regulations for the Sharing Economy”, “Where to Begin: How Social Innovation is emerging across Canadian Campuses”, “Discussion Paper – Charities, Sustainable Funding, and Smart Growth”, “Pilot Lessons: How to design a basic income pilot project for Ontario”, “Unpacking Impact: Exploring impact Measurement for Social Enterprises in Ontario”, “From Here to There in Five Bento Boxes”, “The Architecture of Innovation: Institutionalizing Innovation in Federal Policy Making”, and “Insights & Observations at the Intersection of Higher Education, Indigenous Communities and Local Economic Development”.

Who we’ll be watching in 2017?

ABSI Connect – this emerging fellowship we have been super proud to support continues to evolve. Read their latest blog.

Allyson Hewitt – this year Allyson has dedicated her time to exploring the creation of a pro bono marketplace in Canada. We are excited about where that will go. Want to get involved? Feel free to reach out to Allyson!

Canada – 2017 is a big year for the nation and an opportunity to think boldly about our future. Many efforts are underway to pursue the possibilities, and we are excited to see these projects come to life. In particular the 4Rs Youth Movement will be hosting regional and national gatherings from coast to coast to coast, engaging approximately 5,000 Indigenous and non-Indigenous youth in face-to-face dialogue that highlights the contributions of Indigenous peoples over the last 150 years and allows for authentic relationship building that furthers reconciliation.

Indigenous Innovation Summit  2017 will host the 3rd Indigenous Innovation Summit. As we celebrate our sesquicentennial we will also take the time to recognize and celebrate indigenous innovation.

Happy Holidays,

SiG Team

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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 Foundation, United 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.

Debriefers

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.

 

The Future of Evergreen: never changing, never staying the same

After starting a series of small businesses in university, Geoff Cape fell in love with big ideas and mustered the courage to explore these ideas, learning much along the way.

This is the story of Evergreen.

On September 25th, we were fortunate enough to have Geoff Cape, Founder and CEO of Evergreen, join us for our Inspiring Action for Social Impact lecture series. As we listened, it is clear that it has never been a straight path for the organization, celebrating its 25th anniversary this year, but it continues to be guided by a simple idea: we need to integrate nature into cities by engaging people in transforming the urban experience. From the very beginning, Evergreen brought this idea to life on the ground with activities like tree planting, but it has always played with complex issues as well, working with unusual partners to spark creative projects.

The Urban Century – what is happening to our cities?

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Calgary’s 2013 flood showed Canadian cities were vulnerable to natural disasters. Photo by Stuart Dryden/QMI Agency

In 1990, environmental messaging was about saving the polar bears, saving the rainforest or thinking about wilderness landscapes – none focused on cities. While Evergreen didn’t have the capacity to tackle the full complexity of urban issues at the time, they were always focused on the urban experience. It is at the heart of their work.

A nightmare scenario is now playing out globally in cities as a result of urban sprawl and population growth, creating sterile and isolated urban communities. Combined with the intensifying impacts of climate change, cities have also seen damaging fires, extreme weather storms, and water damage that have the ability to cripple industries and local economies. The 2013 Calgary storms caused billions worth of damage.

From a simple idea to radical innovation

Before receiving permits from the City of Toronto, Evergreen commissioned an artist to create an art project that would symbolize Evergreen's vision for the Don Valley Brick Works.

Before receiving permits from the City of Toronto, Evergreen commissioned an artist to create an art project that would symbolize Evergreen’s vision for the Don Valley Brick Works. Photo c/o: Ferrucio Sardella

Innovation has always been at the core of Evergreen’s DNA; they were one of the first organizations in Toronto to  have an internet connection and email addresses. Evergreen continues to push for innovation while staying true to its mandate through creative and often grassroots programming, such as its work to transform children’s learning environments.

By literally bringing nature to children in their playgrounds and other learning environments, Evergreen ignited the re-design of children school grounds across Canada. This fresh approach resulted in changes globally and has inspired similar projects in California. The concept puts civic engagement into the hands of community, allowing them to transform their shared spaces leading to empowered communities and, often, introducing a way to bring the interest of both corporate and political partners to the table. More recently, Evergreen transformed the Toronto city landscape with Evergreen Brick Works. The Don Valley Brick Works Factory helped literally build the city, including landmarks like Casa Loma and Massey Hall, but once it closed, it left a heavy industrial footprint. Evergreen had the vision to reimagine what it could mean for the city – before it even had permission to do so. Combining bold artistic statements and creative thinking, they found an architect who could help realize their vision, while also keeping and retrofitting the original industrial structure.

Photo provided by Diamond Schmitt Architects

Photo c/o: Diamond Schmitt Architects

Unusual Partnerships and Bringing Funding to the Table

logo-telg

Logo from Evergreen

When Toyota officially came on board as a partner 15 years ago for Evergreen’s school landscape program, this kind of partnership was rare.  In 1998, when talks around partnership began, no environmental organization would partner with a car company and Geoff was heavily criticized for suggesting the idea – many staff nearly resigned.

Feeling his way forward, Geoff created a partnership strategy that incorporated the strong values of the Evergreen staff. He drew up a charter, which was signed by the CEO of Toyota and Geoff, holding both partners accountable to be leaders in their respective fields. As of 2010, the partnership has worked with 2,200 schools and has had a direct impact on almost 900,000 students across the country.

Through the years, Evergreen learned that by connecting externally and building unusual partnerships they could foster creativity, but with unusual partnerships, there was also a need to listen carefully to the community, ask for help, and ask good questions to navigate the unknown.

What’s in the future for cities?

With a majority of the world’s people living in cities, it is estimated that $50 trillion will go towards building urban infrastructure in the next 15 years.  Evergreen knows we need to build something fundamentally different to the status quo and wants to be part of bridging and developing the ideas that support sustainability, resilience to climate change, and efficiency. The future of our cities should not just deliver more infrastructure, but engage citizens with equality to create a higher quality of life.

Lasting Lessons

Evergreen has and continues to evolve as an organization by running a diverse variety of programs, being comfortable working with ambiguity, and operating with both distributed leadership and constant restructuring to make sure the organization reflects its priorities.

It is rare for a founder to continue as CEO after 25 years, a fact that is not lost on Geoff. He admits he is not sure it makes sense for him to lead Evergreen in the future – although at this stage, he would like to. This is not the talk you hear or expect to hear from a CEO whose job security relies on the board of directors being confident in a CEO’s vision and leadership.

This is also not the first time Geoff has voiced these exact worries.

Back in 2008, just as Evergreen Brickworks was starting to secure its funding and bring new partners to the table, the organization was experiencing a pivotal point of growth. At that stage, Geoff expressed concern that he would become an institutional bottleneck that would stifle creativity in the organization.

Seven years later, we know this couldn’t be further from the truth. During his 25 years, Geoff has handled controversy and risk taking, continuing to earn the support and confidence of those at Evergreen.  Every challenge is faced with Geoff’s trademark of open leadership. Being self-aware of himself and the organization, and transparent with his staff, he is committed to doing what is right for the organization and the urban communities they seek to inspire and empower.

These values are now at the roots of Evergreen.

For Geoff’s full talk, watch below!

Greening Cities, Healthy Planet with Geoff Cape – MaRS Global Leadership from MaRS Discovery District on Vimeo.

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 M̩tis 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 Рall areas in which First Nations, Inuit, and M̩tis 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.