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.

Experiencing the shock of the possible in uncertain times…

SiG Note: This article is cross-posted from MaRS Discovery District, with permission from the authors. 

Indeed these are uncertain times that we live in… — Stephen Huddart

Speaking to an over-200-person audience at MaRS Discovery District on November 24, Stephen Huddart, President and CEO of the J.W. McConnell Family Foundation, challenged the growing contemporary narrative that our future is bleak and looming ahead with daunting uncertainty.

Screen Shot 2014-12-08 at 10.15.42 AM

Reminding us of a long history of Canadian precedents for testing systems-level innovation, and of the new big experiments underway today, Stephen invited us to experience the shock of the possible (a term coined by Eric Young).

It’s a shock catalyzed by the deepening of strategic philanthropy, as the philanthropic sector reorganizes itself to collaboratively address the complex issues of today with new and unusual partnerships.

In particular, foundations are becoming leading participants in systems change efforts, accessing new tools and—in support of their grantees—exploring cross-sector partnerships that scaffold up the possibility of new systems.

In his MaRS Global Leadership and Inspiring Action for Social Impact talk, Stephen exemplified the sector’s new direction with key initiatives from the J.W. McConnell Family Foundation and beyond, elucidating the radical shift in how we do good that is fostering new possible futures for Canada.

Philanthropy for Uncertain Times: Social Innovation and Systemic Change – MaRS Global Leadership from MaRS Discovery District on Vimeo.

New tools enabling systems change

A new series of mindsets and tools is reframing how foundations approach their entire cycle of work, from funding to programming to endowment management, facilitating an accelerating shift toward systems change aspirations.

Stephen referred to this collection of tools as the “Social Five.” These rapidly developing new tools are enhancing our capacity to nurture social change at scale and transform the systems that, if left alone, are otherwise on track to dramatically underperform for communities and Canada.

Screen Shot 2014-12-08 at 10.17.36 AMThe Social Five consist of:

While individually significant, the full potential of the Social Five lies in their integration as a web of interconnected action, cumulating in a vibrant ecosystem of mutually supportive markets that collectively enhance our capability to collaborate toward systems change.

MaRS was celebrated in Stephen’s talk as a strong institutional example of seeding and nourishing the integration of these tools to enhance the capacity of others. Starting with MaRS’ and Social Innovation Generation’s 2010 collaboration on the Canadian Task Force on Social Finance, which advanced the field of social finance in Canada, MaRS has become a hub of convergent social innovation, with the MaRS Centre for Impact Investing fostering the social finance and B Corp markets in Canada; SiG@MaRS nurturing social entrepreneurship in Ontario and beyond; and the MaRS Solutions Lab leading the uptake of social lab processes by a broad range of cross-sectoral stakeholders in Canada.

In other words, MaRS works to support the integration of the Social Five—including social technologies, pathways to scale and, broadly, social innovation—into a thriving ecosystem of breakthrough opportunities for systems change.

Philanthropy’s big experiments to solve complex problems

15698113727_a24108f35b_z‘An ecosystem of breakthrough opportunities for systems change’ broadly describes one approach influencing the philanthropic sector’s reorganization.

The theory of change is that collaboration is critical to solving our most entrenched social challenges and fostering new systems (via key platforms such as collective impact, shared outcomes or shared value).

In this spirit, the J.W. McConnell Family Foundation’s initiatives depend on and involve hundreds of partners working together to enhance the resilience of communities and our national capacity for social innovation. For example:

  1. In partnership with over 150 organizations, Innoweave delivers webinars, workshops and mentorship around the Social Five to hundreds of participants, with the goal of enhancing the social sector’s capacity to innovate and scale social impact.
  2. Cities for People is a “collaborative experiment of urban leaders and thoughtful citizens innovating to raise expectations about how cities could be.”
  3. RECODE is a network of hubs within Canada’s higher education institutions designed to inspire, incubate and support students in creating social enterprises and becoming social entrepreneurs.

Broadly, each initiative highlights a radical shift in philanthropic programming—where the critical focus is collaboratively seeding and nourishing the Canada we envision into a real possibility.

Possible Canadas

Screen Shot 2014-12-08 at 12.39.00 PM

Quote by Khalil Z. Shariff, CEO, Aga Khan Foundation Canada

As foundations take new directions in their philanthropic work, multiple possible Canadas are unfolding and defying the dark stories of an uncertain, fearful future.

But for Stephen, the brightest and most significant possible Canada is one where all of our collaborative energy and new tools are focused on reconciliation between First Nations, Métis, Inuit and non-Aboriginal Canadians.

We are living in an age of reconciliation in this country, and it represents an opportunity that, if taken, can change the course of our history for the better. But, if not, can lead to the perpetuation of terrible circumstances  — Stephen Huddart

Recently, several transformative initiatives launched and are starting to both immediately enhance community well-being and work at a generational scale toward reconciliation. These initiatives include:

To continue on a path of new partnerships, healing and systems change, Stephen emphasized that the first step is empathy. Empathy for each other. Empathy for communities unlike our own. Empathy as a pathway to both speak out and listen to new voices.

When you introduce new energy into systems, the elements reorganize at a higher level of sophistication. A remarkable analogy for what we’re doing here. And I would say that if there is another word that would describe that, it’s not social innovation, or any of the tools, it’s empathy. Empathy is really a seven-letter word for love. That is what is powering the future that we want to build together — Stephen Huddart

More from the presentation:


Philanthropy for Uncertain Times – MaRS Global Leadership from MaRS Discovery District

Wicked Problems & Empathy (Part I)

“And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others…” – Marianne Williamson

The ‘mechanics’ of social innovation are difficult enough: achieving durable, transformative impact at scale to fundamentally disrupt the very system that created a wicked problem in the first place.

As a sociologist and cultural theorist, I can’t help but complicate things further by focusing on the social in social innovation – the cultural conditions and the very fabric of human relationships at play when we think about systems or breakthrough social change. By looking through a social lens, we dive even deeper into the complexity inherent in wicked problems.

A call for empathy

Two weeks ago, graduate students at the Munk School of Global Affairs decided to take this dive into the social, kicking-off the 8th Annual Munk Graduate Student Conference with a keynote address by Seán Coughlan, Chief Executive of Social Entrepreneurs Ireland (SEI), on subject of: Wicked Problems, Effective Solutions and the Role of Innovation and Empathy.

Roots of Empathy c/o Naming and Treating

Roots of Empathy c/o Naming and Treating

Seán Coughlan opened his address with a tip of the hat to Roots of Empathy, a Canadian social enterprise with a mission “to build caring, peaceful, and civil societies through the development of empathy in children and adults” that has successfully scaled out of Canada to the US, UK, Europe, and New Zealand.

The impetus for Roots of Empathy is similar to that behind a broader call to nurture empathy in society: there is a critical need to build understanding, break cycles of violence, and shift systems by opening our eyes to see, sense, and care for the networks of individuals around us.

Why are there cycles of violence or wicked problems in the first place?

Seán Coughlan shared his belief that human nature is basically good – generally, people are good. But “if a majority of people are good, why don’t we have a greater impact?”

The first answer: an absence or lack of empathy, emphasizing the critical importance of cultivating empathy among children – the driving force and goal of Roots of Empathy.

The second answer (potentially an even more broadly entrenched barrier): a fear of empathy – a fear of really walking a mile in someone else’s shoes.

Seán explained that this fear of empathy grows from a fear of helplessness. Empathy is ‘to understand and share the feelings of another’ – but what if we feel for someone, but feel powerless to help them? If we can’t see a solution, we are afraid to feel for the person facing the problem. Or as Seán put it, it may seem “better to be blind than feel helpless about the situation.”

It is hard to hear that articulated (or read it written) without immediately stopping to consider: “Have I done that?” Sitting in the front row of the lecture hall, I followed Seán’s train of thought one station further: our fear of empathy is likely also rooted in a fear of guilt or culpability.

What if we do understand what someone else is experiencing, what if we feel for them, but do not try to help? Or worse, what if we do understand, feel for the person, know what to do…and still do nothing?

In a way, we face these questions and their consequences every day, several times a day, beyond our own relationships or communities. Globalized communications, transportation, and information networks mean an entirely new scale of access to stories of suffering.

In sociology, there is a great deal of focus on the power of images and stories to shape our cultures and socialize our actions. The explosive and calculated use of deeply evocative images of suffering by cause-related campaigns and media (in the public, private, and social sectors) often overwhelms our compassion, while the language of globalization – and global power flows – implicates not only our role in these problems, but often (rightly or wrongly) our capacity to simply do something about it.

This can lead to pushback: ‘I can hardly handle empathizing with all the suffering in the world; I can’t be responsible for it all.’ The combination of helplessness, guilt, and responsibilization becomes an enormous deterrent to empathy, deepening our fear of opening up to empathy.

Fostering conditions for empathy

During his address, Seán Coughlan offered a way to counter this fear of helplessness: new, powerful solutions to complex problems that help us tackle these challenges and tie us to the calling of empathy to grow the solution. With this in mind, Social Enterprise Ireland focuses on the systems-changing potential of social entrepreneurs who “have the most potential to have an impact.”

Charismatic leaders and role models in and of themselves, these social entrepreneurs dare to prototype solutions to wicked problems, thereby empowering us as a society to re-engage fearlessly in empathy. Our fear can dissipate when the possibility of helplessness is erased. All the power is stripped from our fear- and guilt – by the power of the solution.

Empathy becomes an inherent cascading effect of impactful social solutions.

I like to think of it as ‘solutions-oriented empathy training’. By supporting innovative social entrepreneurs to scale their impact and reach more people, Social Entrepreneurs Ireland implicitly fosters the conditions for empathy – scaling the solutions that might just empower us to empathize with others through the possibility of positive action. 

Chicken-and-egg

The cultivation of empathy is also a fundamental step to further fostering the conditions for broader social innovation (as SiG Communications Manager Geraldine Cahill explores). Empathy is an important element of systems thinking; understanding and caring for others enables us to appreciate multiple perspectives and better understand the networks of relationships in a system. At the end of the day, social innovation and empathy are mutually constitutive.

C/O B Hartford J Strong

C/O B Hartford J Strong

Systems-change will never be the work of one person; but one person, or a small group of people, can be essential to tipping the scales on emotional norms, inspiring us to embrace, not fear, empathy. Art, literature, and films abound with the stories of these inspirational figures: they share their hope, challenge our helplessness, and invite us to welcome, care for, and share in the experiences of each other.

But not all stories get to be heard. As we begin to conquer our fear of empathy, and resolve the absence of empathy, through powerful social solutions and innovations, the next challenge will be to listen for the voices of those whose stories and experiences we don’t even know exist.

Impact Ontario Closing Panel Digest

On Tuesday, March 18th, the MaRS Centre for Impact Investing hosted ImpactOntario, a landmark conference designed to bring together investors, social entrepreneurs, philanthropists, financial institutions, and thought-leaders to explore opportunities, network, support deal-flow, share experiences, learn from the past, and look to the future of impact investing.

The conference was a reflexive and dynamic microcosm of the impact investing ecosystem.

By the end of the day, deals had been struck, key learnings were internalized, and a great buzz of energy around impact investing had spread infectiously among conference goers – the perfect time to zoom out and reflect on the entire ecosystem from ‘35,000 feet.’

C/O ON Social Enterprise (@OntarioSE)

C/O Ontario Social Enterprise (@OntarioSE)

Moderated by Tim Draimin, Executive Director of Social Innovation Generation (SiG) National, the closing panel focused on lessons from abroad with insights from Michael Chodos, Senior Advisor to the US National Advisory Board on Impact Investing, and Geoff Burnand, CEO of Investing for Good, a UK Community Investment Company (CIC).

A true episode of Dr. Who, the final panel was a unique chance to look back, stand still, and see the future of impact investing. Here is the Closing Panel Digest:

Current Activity & Current Concerns

Michael Chodos: The US National Advisory Board is focused on what the ecosystem looks like, which policies and practices work, and which need to be discussed with policymakers to remove barriers, promote what works, and support what is emerging. Chief concerns:

Language is a distracting challenge – discussions of impact investing always turn, in part, into a definitional conversation about what it means. The way to think about impact investing is two-fold:

      • (Look Back) There are existing policy tools that the US government has used for decades that are valuable, that work, and that should serve as a learning platform from which we can grow (ex. CDFI) 
      • (Look Forward) Grab hold of the spirit of entrepreneurship and unleash that spirit to deploy private capital in new ways

The story of impact investing is ‘the blind men and an elephant ‘-  people often have a specific stake or interest when they join the space and see only one part, instead of the whole ecosystem.

Steps forward? Develop a common framework for educating policymakers and other actors to enable the synergistic development of the impact investing ecosystem.

Geoff Burnand: A couple years ago, Investing for Good arranged the first UK Social Bond for a charity (Scope). Last week, the first social bond fund in the UK was announced – a fund to be managed on the premise of Social Alpha (aka a “commitment to delivering financial returns for investors [that] is brought to bear while also delivering positive social returns”). Chief concern: 

What do these types of fund managers know about social metrics or value? It is important to remember that “pioneers get the arrows and settlers get the land.”

Steps forward? Become settlers. Get our business model right and try not leave the space open for other people to come in who are probably not as aligned to the mission we are trying to deliver as they should be.

Field Building: Corporate Form

Michael Chodos: “That which is measured is that which is achieved.” We organize commercial activity around money because it is the simplest universal metric for measuring success.  There is no universal metric (yet) for measuring impact.

The problem of ‘I know it when I see it’ is that everyone sees everything differently. Looking ahead, new corporate forms (B Corp) might help resolve how we measure success in social returns and how we ‘give permission’ for organizations to take the social and environmental into account.

Steps forward? Create more flexible corporate forms and continue to move forward on social metrics. Develop a common language and a common way of thinking about success, so that new products and approaches can be created in uniform, universally understood ways.

Social Impact Bonds

Geoff Burnand: Social Impact Bonds (SIBs) are really complicated instruments that are broadly unintelligible to mainstream capital and mainstream investors. They don’t fit into portfolios easily; they are hard to value; there is no exit. They will evolve, however, driven by commendable interest in developing new financial vehicles. 

Michael Chodos: There are a relatively small number of SIBs in the US, but they are gaining momentum. By end of year, they will probably measure in the dozens. It is important to separate a discussion of SIBs from a discussion of ‘pay for success’ generally.

Pay for Success – outcome-based metrics apply across government deployment of funds, beyond SIBs.  It is a more fundamental rethinking of how government deploys money.

SIBs – While still in the early stages,  SIBs have captured the imagination of the public as a way of deploying private money to solve a problem at the prevention stage (smart expenditure up front), before spending 3x as much in the remediation stage (wasted taxpayer dollars).

The risk in SIBs is currently born by foundations, corporate social responsibility dollars, or high-net-worth individuals, with traditional investors coming in behind, generating complicated transactions with multiple ways of linking capital to a project. On top of all this complexity, the Veridium tokens and alt coins in general are adding an extra layer to consider. This current process, however, is part of the ‘proof of concept’ stage.

Steps forward? If the concept is proved, money is saved, and public entities actually pay as promised, then all of this complexity will begin to dissolve in the next few years.

Role of Philanthropic Capital
Jordan Gildersleeve (@JGild)

Jordan Gildersleeve (@JGild)

Michael Chodos: There is a massive body of institutionally-managed and philanthropic capital in the United States; at the moment, a very small percentage of that capital is being deployed in program-related investments or income-earning instruments. Philanthropic capital can drive social finance innovation in two ways:

1. Drive increased effectiveness by deploying the tax-advantaged capital ear-marked for grant-making to income-related instruments, building capacity for engaging in these types of transactions. Fund innovation, prototyping, and proof of concept.

2. Find a way for the 95% of philanthropic portfolios that are currently under ‘normal asset management’ to service the mission of the organization. Develop strategies for aligning the portfolio with the purpose of the foundation.

Steps forward? Think about ways foundations can act as catalytic capital in social finance transactions to better develop and focus these instruments. The foundation world can lead the way: get into transactions early, trial them, share emergent lessons from the process, and develop evidenced-based research on what structures work, what is replicable, and what actually makes a difference? 

Geoff Burnand: Philanthropic capital is an important and active part of the social finance field. It is the area probably most fertile for bringing the impact investing space together, for both investors and investees.

Steps forward? For example, Impact for Good is arranging the first social investment fund for the arts in the UK; the fund will focus on the social value of arts (The Arts Ventures Fund), rather than art for art’s sake.  A prerequisite of the fund is that it have some philanthropic first-loss to leverage in private capital underneath. This is a key role philanthropic organizations and individuals can play: seed and support new financial models and projects, unlocking capital flow from the private sector. 

The New Normal: Steps to the Future of Impact Investing
  1. When can the average person invest his/her portfolio in impact investments?
  2. Will we likely see retail impact investing products anytime soon?
  3. Will a transformation of financial theory at the University-level be necessary?

Geoff Burnand: It is astonishing that the financial advising/services sector does not get more engaged in the development of the impact investing field. It will likely be ten years before someone could walk into his/her financial advisor’s office and move part of his/her portfolio into impact investments.

In terms of retails products, we need to focus on making potential products as mainstream as possible. When Investing for Good launched the first social bond, it was listed on a regular exchange, was properly constructed, and had a proper prospectus. 

In terms of transforming curriculum, it will be absolutely necessary to start teaching about the positive use of money and to emphasize greater prudence on social value.

Michael Chodos: Already, many professors are starting to think about environmental, social, and government (ESG) returns. There is an ongoing evolution of thought.

With respect to the productization of impact investing opportunities, the average mid-level retail investment advisor is not going to be the pioneer; they are going to follow once metrics are established, risks are known and it’s easy enough to explain as a simple retail product. Key leaders need to be the major banks and financial institutions; they need to be part of driving the conversation, efforts, and engagement to start socializing these products. For now, it’s mostly sophisticated investors who will be buying their own shares of SIBs.  

Tax Policy: the Future of Incentives

Geoff Burnand: This week, the details of a tax break for social investors will be announced (Social Investment Tax Relief). The tax break targets investments in small social enterprises to try and grow the community finance space. While this will obviously be beneficial, some frontline community organizations will still be considered too high risk; these types of organizations need to be de-risked before mainstream investors take interest.

Steps forward? Tax relief should be expanded to apply to all social purpose organizations, regardless of their size. If the policy goal is to move mainstream capital into social enterprises, targeting only small social enterprises might not be as effective as they carry higher risk. 

Michael Chodos: There are three main streams of government policy to consider: tax policy and subsidies; public-private partnerships and fund-matching; and social procurement.

While the likelihood of comprehensive tax reform in the short-term is probably low, there are many effective tools embedded in the tax code that have already moved billions into affordable housing, community health, and economic development.

Steps forward? Focus on the intersection of existing experience with tax policies that work and developing a more robust focus on measurement. Increasing discipline around measurement will help us to identify the true benefit of things like community health, local economic development, and affordable housing; if we quantify and monetize those benefits in a more explainable, consistent way, the tax policy conversation will shift and we will see positive forward movement. 

Looking Ahead: Opportunities for the Next 5 Years

Geoff Burnand: There is not enough focus on real deals: what money is moving, for what reason, does it come back, and, if so, why? We need to focus on that and understand what is happening in the ecosystem. 

Michael Chodos: We need to focus the conversation on metrics instead of anecdotal stories. In five years, we should be able to share experiences about what works, what does not, what outcomes look like, what vehicles make sense and which do not. We need to develop more proof-points and share the raw data of what works and what doesn’t.

Tim Draimin: There is energy, buzz, and optimism about impact investing, but making it a reality is harder to do. We can’t be wooly-eyed about what we need to be able to do. This focus on metrics – being clear on what we’re trying to achieve and being able to prove it –  is very important.

*This digest summarizes the content of the closing panel and does not necessarily reflect verbatim statements. 

 

Down the Rabbit Hole…three weeks of social innovation

Where shall I begin, please your Majesty?” he asked. “Begin at the beginning,” the King said very gravely, “and go on till you come to the end: then stop” - Lewis Carroll, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland
 

Three weeks ago, I joined Social Innovation Generation (SiG) National as the Communications Intern. As the greenest bud on the tree of knowledge in the social innovation field, I began at the beginning: with the learning essential to working within a network committed to building a culture of continuous social innovation in Canada.

As a sociologist and community activist, I have long been interested in and actively pursuing systems-change, unaware that this work often flirted with the concepts and approaches used in social innovation. Immediately prior to SiG National, I was researching consumer responses to proliferating marketplace opportunities to shop ‘ethically.’ Would ‘ethical shopping’ practices ignite a wave of mainstream behaviour change? No, not yet. Not really.

In the past three weeks, it has become clear that my interest in transformative social change is an interest, a passion, for social innovation: systems-level change that has “durability, scale and transformative impact.” My current process of learning could not be more poignant, relevant, or powerful.

Social Innovation 101

Why systems-level change? Social innovations target the root causes of complex problems – problems that are simultaneously cultural, social, dynamic, evolving and seemingly intractable. This means taking on and challenging the whole system that created the problem in the first place, without knowing how the system will react. In this way, social innovation is a form of lived experimentation, where innovators act with deliberate intention in the face of complexity and uncertainty, pursuing positive impact with no guarantee of transformative change (1). 

Dense waters

Social innovation is framed by a vast literature of theory, thoughts, insights and complex thinking. Diving into that literature has been the cornerstone of my acculturation at SiG. As I dove, I couldn’t help but notice that some of the more theoretical precepts of social innovation resonate with Alice’s experiences in Wonderland: could Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland be used to illustrate some of the more elusive preliminary concepts of social innovation? Why not.

Having so recently begun at the beginning myself, here is the (brief) ‘Alice in Wonderland’ guide to key social innovation concepts, dedicated to all the other new buds on the tree of knowledge:

EMERGENCE
John Tenniel

John Tenniel

“….for it flashed across her mind that she had never before seen a rabbit with either a waistcoat-pocket, or a watch to take out of it, and, burning with curiosity, she ran across the field after it, and was just in time to see it pop down a large rabbit-hole under the hedge. In another moment down went Alice after it, never once considering how in the world she was to get out again.”

Complex systems – like life – are unpredictable.  How could Alice have predicted a talking, formally-dressed rabbit? Yet Alice has strong opportunistic instincts for potentially transformative change: she responds quickly to a novel opportunity and jumps in head first into a completely uncertain and previously impossible reality.

A key precept of social innovation then is that systems change depends on both innovative action and emergent opportunities: the ability to seize potentially ambiguous opportunity in the pursuit of transformational possibilities previously unimaginable. How many are brave enough to see and follow the White Rabbit into uncertainty when the moment is right?

RESILIENCE

“How puzzling all these changes are! I’m never sure what I’m going to be, from one minute to another.”

John Tenniel

John Tenniel

As the conditions of Wonderland require her to become a different height, Alice mobilizes the resources around her to find ways to adapt her size, experimenting with cakes, bottles, fans and mushrooms. She keeps experimenting with different options to get her size to the best height for the given, evolving circumstances, despite being both afraid and tired of the process.

Alice’s capacity to negotiate such dramatic change demonstrates resilience: our capacity as individuals and communities to creatively adapt, co-create, and respond effectively in the face of constantly changing conditions. Resilience serves as both a framework and desired outcome of social innovation: it as a way of identifying opportunities for transformation (i.e. build capacity) and of strengthening communities’ response to externally-imposed transformation (i.e. climate change).

THOMAS THEOREM

“And the moral of that is: Be what you would seem to be…”

In a debate with a Duchess, Alice points out that mustard doesn’t seem to be a vegetable, but it is a vegetable. The Duchess responds that you should really only ever be what you seem to be. Her comments speak to a poignant concept known as the Thomas Theorem: there are real consequences to how we think about, understand, and perceive the world.

It sounds simple, but it is truly a powerful concept. If a problem seems intractable to us, it will be; if social divisions seem set in stone, they will be. Social innovation involves thinking about and understanding the world in new ways that frame and ignite new actions; in other words, social innovation “holds thought and action in tension” because “whether we think about things matters;” thought inspires action and vice versa (2).

DISRUPTION
John Tenniel

John Tenniel

“I could tell you my adventures—beginning from this morning,” said Alice a little timidly: “but it’s no use going back to yesterday, because I was a different person then.”

For Alice, her engagement with the broader social context of Wonderland has transformed her, ‘disrupting’ who she is so much that she cannot answer the simple question: “Who…are…you?”

Social innovation disrupts the system into which it is introduced, transforming both the system and the innovator themselves. Alice’s experience of transformation is analogous to scales of disruption: personal and system-wide. Both Alice and the society she interacts with have their routines, beliefs, and power systems disrupted by their interaction. While Alice is not ‘innovating’ (she’s dreaming), her experience of disruption points to an important lesson: as successful social innovations cross-scale, they ignite cascading changes that are disruptive at the individual, community, and systems level. While the original intention of social innovation is positive impact, that will not neutralize pushback from the system.

There may always be a Queen of Hearts and her army (system stasis) pushing back against any potential revolt of her kingdom; we must always try to consider all the players in the system when we’re thinking about social innovation.

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Note: All the italicized quotes are from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (1865) by Lewis Carroll.

1 Frances Westley, Brenda Zimmerman, and Michael Quinn Patton (2006). Getting to Maybe: How the World has Changed. Random House Canada.

2 Frances Westley, Brenda Zimmerman, and Michael Quinn Patton (2006). Getting to Maybe: How the World has Changed. Random House Canada, pp.22.

 

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Shareable Cities: The power of the collaborative economy

Imagine a shareable city. What does it look like? Or are you asking: “What is a shareable city?” 
 
c/o @RedefiningTO

c/o @RedefiningTO

The concept of shareable cities is a compelling interest of Cities for People, a new Canada-wide initiative that launched this month and is designed to make our cities more resilient. This month, Cities for People and Social Innovation Generation (SiG) co-hosted a national speaking tour featuring April Rinne, chief strategy officer of Collaborative Lab, and her approach to building shareable cities.

On February 11, April made her Toronto stop at MaRS in partnership with MaRS Global Leadership and SiG’s Inspiring Action for Social Impact Series. Her message was poignant and clear: opportunities abound to build more shareable and sustainable cities through the collaborative economy.

It’s time to seize these opportunities by “connecting dots, catalyzing ideas and building networks.”

(Dot 1) Learn

We must explore and engage in the collaborative economy, the space where the capacities, ideas, businesses, actions and policies for building resilient cities are fermenting and scaling. The collaborative economy includes all types of collaborative practice:

  • collaborative consumption (like Airbnb);
  • collaborative production (like the Maker Movement);
  • collaborative financing (like Crowdfunding); and
  • collaborative learning (like Moodle).
(Dot 2) Embrace the shift

These practices leverage a major values shift from the burdens of ownership to the value of access that enables and requires a reimagining of our lifestyles, communities and marketplaces.

c/o @rwr3peat

c/o @rwr3peat

(Dot 3) It’s all about sharing

Valuing access prompts sharing assets and finding opportunities in idle capacity: all of our possessions (commercial or personal) that are underused or locked up by our proprietary ideals. Sharing unlocks wealth and value for our communities and ourselves, creating a sharing economy based on using existing assets more sustainably.

(Dot 4) Connect needs with haves

When we think about how to match what we already have to what someone else needs more efficiently, new marketplaces and community connections are born and for innumerable reasons.

  • Savings and sustainability: An average car costs more than $700 per month, yet sits idle 23 hours a day. Why not create access to a pool of cars, optimizing their use and reducing costs and wasted resources? Enter Zipcar.
  • Exercise and community: Channel your passion for running to benefit your community by running to someone’s house to help them out – they call it GoodGym.
  • Pet therapy and animal rights: Pets are left at home for hours during the day, while plenty of people want to play with or take care of your pet. What if you could connect? Yes, please BorrowMyDoggy.

(Dot 5) Know the drivers

What’s common to these examples is their technology-enabled scale and scope, the defining characteristic of the collaborative economy. Three other key drivers are fuelling and powering this transformative trend:

  1. A great power and trust shift away from centralized institutions toward networks of individuals and a human-centred peer revolution.
  2. Economic realities remind us that “business as usual” can no longer be the status quo.
  3. Environmental pressures and population growth demand that we transform how we see our habits, our businesses and our communities.
( )Connecting the dots( ): Powering a sustainable future and shareable cities
c/o @Lewwwk

c/o @Lewwwk

Collaborative platforms reimagine how we approach sustainability by transforming existing value chains and inspiring us to see abundance and opportunity, instead of scarcity, in the untapped capacity all around us. Cities can become meaningful enablers of the collaborative economy and platforms for sharing themselves, unlocking idle capacity at city hall and on our city streets. Municipal governments must jump in as regulators and service providers and consider the following questions: How can we enable these collaborative economy innovations? How are they helping us to transform our service provision for communities? Who aren’t we reaching?

These are the types of questions that Cities for People and April Rinne intend to provoke and help answer. You can watch her lecture in full below.

How shareable can we be?
  • The top 10 ways cities can become more shareable
  • See what’s happening in the Toronto collaborative economy: check out the Toronto Sharing Map

This post was originally published on the MaRS Blog on February 28th, 2014.