Mexico’s CatapultaFest Mixes Heady Innovation-Culture Cocktail

SiG Note: This article was originally published on July 9, 2015 on Social Innovation Exchange (SIX): Read. It has been cross-posted with permission from SIX

“I found my tribe!”

That’s how Pamela Alexander described her experience last year at Catapulta Festival 2014. She was invited as a media observer and soaked up her first exposure to social innovation, social purpose business and impact investing. This led her to re-examine her career. She ended up quitting her Mexico City media job and worked to align her values with her vocation. She began by moving to Tijuana, a depressed northern Mexican city, and starting a sustainable food-based initiative to help Mexican deportees from the USA build sustainable livelihoods.

FullSizeRender (8)I attended Catapulta 2015 as a board member and representative of SIX, which had been invited as part of Catapulta’s goal of being a local social innovation movement-builder connecting into global networks.

As co-founder Mark Beam described the Festival at its opening, “Catapulta’s goal is to be a platform to cultivate, inspire, and integrate social innovation with community.” Harry Halloran, founder of Catapulta funding partner Halloran Philanthropies, told me that Catapulta is different from other social entrepreneurship and social innovation events, like Skoll World Forum and SOCAP, by being embedded with community.

Although Catapulta had several international participants (from as far away as Uganda — for example, Sanga Moses shared the remarkable story of Eco-Fuel Africa), welcome impressions were gender balance (noticeable in a male-dominated culture) and the number of Oaxacans present, especially young people, students and individuals from projects like Sikanda’s community work with Pepenadores (waste pickers).

FullSizeRender (3)Oaxaca is a spectacular venue for social innovators. With a population of 500,000, the city has a rich indigenous culture and history coupled with a dramatic colonial setting. Some of the most exciting social innovations shared were the ones that drew from the local indigenous culture.

An inspiring example is Xaquixe Glass Innovation Studio that intuitively blends technological, business, environmental, cultural and social innovation.

A social purpose business, Xaquixe is tackling numerous issues simultaneously:

  1. The closure in the last decade of 75% of Mexico’s artisanal glassworks, undermined by the escalating cost of energy (LP gas has gone up 300% in 5 years);
  2. The fact that less than 10% of waste glass is recycled;
  3. Protection of threatened indigenous cultural traditions;
  4. Diverting used cooking oil (now discarded often in environmentally damaging ways) into energy applications; and,
  5. The gap in sustainable livelihoods for a rapidly growing and young population.

FullSizeRender (7)Tackling the cost of energy, Xaquixe has innovated the recycling of used cooking oil as a substitute energy source, building a network of Oaxacan restaurants as suppliers. The oil is supplemented with solar, using parabolic mirrors (a natural for a glassmaker). Xaquixe’s design and research lead Salvador Pulido Arroyo says they hope to be entirely self-sufficient in energy in three years.

Xaquixe has created an allied nonprofit that will be providing technical training to local glassmaker artisans in how to self-reliantly adopt cooking oil energy technology and also adopt design adaptations to improve the efficiency of their ovens. Originally Xaquixe set up shop in Oaxaca because the local mescal liquor industry had no locally-sourced glass bottle fabrication.

Another start-up social innovation in Oaxaca is working with artisanal producers to build their own brands, allowing them to retain a much greater share of the final retail price of their products.

The physical setting of Catapulta alternated between the San Pablo Cultural Centre, a magnificently rehabilitated colonial building operated by a foundation and La Calera, a reclaimed and re-purposed brick factory that is now a “centre for social innovation, culture and art.”

La Calera creates an intersection for felicitous new discoveries. One example is the experience of a hip-hop artist, who described to me how he came to La Calera to teach hip-hop, discovered social innovation and turned his talents to creating a very successful arts program working with both at-risk youth and incarcerated youth at the local prison. He is now confronting the challenge of scaling his proven program to other prisons across Mexico.

One of the most avant garde initiatives presented at Catapulta was FactoryX, an incubator seeking to reinvent how business operates to ensure it is aligned with society’s best interests:

“FactoryX is a radical new experiment that aims to change the way organizations relate to society. By launching companies in a completely new way, we (a group of experienced entrepreneurs and builders) seek to solve systemic problems in the ecosystem via direct experimentation, learning, and sharing.”

The genius behind it is a social entrepreneur who is a successful alumnus of Yahoo and Google, Tom Chi.

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CatapultaFest connects and supports the growing local ecosystem of social innovators, like those involved with Oaxaca’s Impact Hub and SVX Mexico. It sees itself connecting the local with the global in ways that accelerate social innovation and embed the movement within the needs and cultural aspirations of Mexico.

What’s the creation story behind every social innovation?

SiG Note: This article was originally published on The Melting Pot Website.  It has been cross-posted with permission from the author.

Disruption AheadSocial innovators are often the disrupters, the ones who swim against the tide and question the status quo.  We may find them uncomfortable and challenging, but these people are also inspiring, determined and resilient.

Take the ‘Social Innovator personality test.’ How many of these needed core skills and qualities do you have?

Making connections * causing disruptions * having persistence and a critical mindset * clarity of vision * courage of your convictions * an ability to learn and reflect * to take risks and experiment * question results * have focus, but also openness * and, of course – the ability to “sell.”

During 2014, The Melting Pot initiated a collaborative enquiry process into social innovation and how it might flourish in Scotland.

Gatherings took place from Inverness to Edinburgh. Using ‘The Art of Hosting’ participatory processes, we dived into understanding the cultural conditions that help or hinder people, communities and organisations of all sizes who have a passion for creating solutions to our pressing eco-social challenges.

You can read more about our findings here. For fun, here are the recommendations turned on their head.  

How to kill social innovation in 5 easy steps!

First – spot those disrupters and put them down – go on, tell them their mad ideas won’t work.  These non-conformers who wish to do something different are a nuisance with their radical notions. Their dreams are too big, too complex.  They don’t know what they’re doing and it will certainly never make any money!

Second – don’t assist those disruptors, or offer them a chance to collaborate. Keep yourself to yourself.  Don’t move out of your comfort zone, talk to, or help anyone!  Don’t go out of your way to make connections or introductions, you might catch something – like a scary new proposition…

Third – seek out the answers to our societal problems from another place, somewhere like London, New York or Shanghai. Those disruptive ideas under your nose, on your doorstep, the ones that take account of the cultural fit can’t be any good, can they? And anyway, it’s more fun to go on international jollies (sorry, I mean learning journeys).

Forth – never accept anyone else’s wisdom, or seek to learn form them. What do they know anyway? There’s no point taking time out of your busy schedule to reflect on your learning – you’ve just got to keep doing – at all costs.

Fifth – work from your bedroom, alone – you can’t afford anywhere nice and professional to work anyway, not on what is invested into the social innovation pipeline. Yes we need jobs, but they can only be produced from companies that focus on economic growth, not social capital.

Now forget all that. For social innovation to thrive in Scotland, we must create a culture to:

  1. Encourage – literally lend courage and support to – those seeking to address inequality, those who are questioning the status quo, creating disruption and taking risks.
  2. Foster connections, creativity and the generation of ideas amongst innovators in all sectors.  Enabling genuine participation and collaboration across sectors releases socially innovative ideas.
  3. Cultivate local solutions where social innovators can work with communities to define and co-design solutions within their community context.
  4. Create safe places and spaces for learning, reflection and sharing all the stories: the successes, the tricky moments, the failures, the highs and the lows of experience.
  5. Invest in social innovation – provide the physical resources to enable social innovators to work with focus, purpose, determination and persistence. 

Melting PotThe Melting Pot would like to thank the Scottish Government for commissioning this work, so that our policy makers can better harness our people’s talents, energy and ideas to make Scotland flourish.

Find out more about The Melting Pot, Scotland’s Centre for Social Innovation, and our Social Innovation Incubation Award programme (all disrupters please apply!).

Systems as people, not structures

SiG Note: This blog is the first response blog to the newly launched Building Ecosystems for Systems Change: How do we collaborate to create ecosystems that support innovation for systems change? A report and reflection, based on Session 22 of the Unusual Suspects Festival.

Further response blogs are welcome. Please email: kelsey@sigeneration.ca if you have written, or wish to write, a response or think-piece.

The best way to understand a system is to look at it from the point of view of people who want to subvert it” — Joseph Schumpeter

Provocative? Perhaps. But I think this is as good a place to start as any when we talk about building ecosystems for social change.  And of course we should ask: why do people try to subvert systems in the first place?

Building Ecosystems for Systems Change

Summary Graphic || How do we collaborate to create ecosystems that support innovation for systems change?

Systems represent complex structures developed to carry out specific activities, perform particular duties, and at their best solve problems.  The bigger and more intricate they are, the more complex they tend to be.  Swirls of interrelated and interdependent elements, components, entities, factors, members, and parts immediately spring to mind.  The report’s assessment of the purpose in building ecosystems for systems change is very clear: encouraging collaboration to create a space that supports innovation.  You would be hard pressed to find many who disagreed this was a positive purpose to serve.

My personal apprehension derives from the very obvious challenges of how you go about actually building such an ecosystem.  As we all know (whether we live by it or not is another matter), diversity in people, perspectives, expertise, ideas, skills, and experience makes fertile ground for innovation.  So when the report asserts that ‘without diversity, the ecosystem collapses,’ I would go further and argue that without diversity, the ecosystem never really gets going.  And the dangers of acting on the urgency to do something, anything runs the risk of the ‘deliberate intentionality’ creating systems that happen to and for people rather than with them, as the report rightly warns against.

This is precisely why the conversation around how we identify, engage, and work alongside unusual suspects, has to drastically change gear.  We almost have to get back to basics and ask ourselves questions such as: “How can I identify everyone who may be affected by a particular problem and get them involved in solving it?”

Granted, this is easier said than done, but now more than ever is the time to craft new, creative, and engaging ways to connect different actors at varying scales, who can influence a range of external conditions (the report cites cultural, fiscal, political, temporal, and physical).  Our combined and connected influences then create enabling environments for innovation to take root as a first step towards systems change.

RAGE IS CRITICAL. IT SURE IS.

The other point I wanted to very briefly touch upon was this fantastic notion of rage as a driver for social change.  History suggests this couldn’t be truer.  In 1964, when Fanny Lou Hamer said: “I am sick and tired of being sick and tired,” unknowing of the context, one could quite easily be forgiven for thinking that this was merely one woman’s trite expression of frustration at the mundane struggles of life as we all know it.  My point is that rage often comes from an uncomfortable place that shapes our motives and objectives for affecting change.  Jon Hugget’s estimation that “rage is what gets us to do good things (it can also get us to do bad things), but if the rage isn’t there, we aren’t getting anywhere” may be true, but it does beg the question: how do you direct rage for good rather than retribution, particularly when feelings of rage may stem from being unequal players within a system?

This is probably too big and complex a question to combat here – and definitely warrants its own blog piece! But the success of collaborating to innovate systems change will be strongly dependent on making meaningful attempts to understand the complex and challenging make-up of our coalition of actors and unusual suspects, in order to co-create the right spaces and platforms for new thinking, cultures, and practice.  And that is not a bad place to start at all.

Building Ecosystems For Systems Change [CoverPage]

Download the report

BUILDING ECOSYSTEMS FOR SYSTEMS CHANGE

How do we collaborate to create ecosystems that support innovation for systems change?

This report is a reflection on the Unusual Suspects Festival 2014: Session 22, a session co-hosted by Social Innovation Generation (SiG) National and Oxfam.

It was prepared by Social Innovation Generation (SiG) National on behalf of the collaboration.

Social Prosperity Wood Buffalo – Seeding a Social Innovation Ecosystem

Can a cross-sector partnership, that bridges the gaps between corporate, academic, public and social profit entities — with their different cultures, values and perspectives — foster a lasting ecosystem of social innovation in a region known internationally for its reliance on oil extraction?

This was an unusual partnership in an unsuspected place.  Starting in 2009-2010, the Suncor Energy Foundation (SEF), the University of Waterloo (UW), the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo (RMWB) and the United Way of Fort McMurray came together to build the capacity of the not-for-profit sector (renamed the social profit sector) in the Wood Buffalo region and create the preconditions for a culture of social innovation that would long outlast the project itself.

11UW001_ProjectID_tagThis partnership is the Social Prosperity Wood Buffalo (SPWB) project, which has sought to take advantage of the complimentary strengths of reflection and action to build an ecosystem for social innovation in Wood Buffalo, within the social profit sector. Five years on, the project is winding down and taking stock of how much a lasting ecosystem for social innovation has developed.

SPWB began in part with the ideas presented in Getting to Maybe (2006), which guided much of the project’s work with the community.  Some of the most powerful ideas that practitioners in Wood Buffalo have embraced include:

  • the importance of grasping the whole system;
  • the value of developmental evaluation to inform decision-making and ongoing work, and;
  • the importance of social entrepreneurship, linking ideas to power and windows of opportunity.

Through workshops, learning events, resources and reports, SPWB gave its social profit partners the opportunity – sometimes even described as ‘permission’ by participants – to look above their foxholes, to pause, to take stock, to talk, to reconsider, and to celebrate.  This space was also a place for participants to explore the murky adjacent possible and create new partnerships and programs to serve the community.

While SPWB looked to Getting to Maybe, as well as the growing academic analysis and next practice of social innovation coming out of the University of Waterloo, Social Innovation Generation, Tamarack, Innoweave and other groups, this project has always been at its core community driven.  Surveys and brainstorming conversations allowed community partners to identify their priorities, while on-going questionnaires and reports allowed these partners to hold the SPWB team accountable over time.

It took a long time – several years in some cases – for SPWB to earn the trust of its social profit partners, highlighting the importance of long time commitments for projects that seek to support social innovation.  This time invested was not time wasted however, as it made the hard conversations about wicked problems possible.

A constant focus on trust building and community voice also built a sense of community ownership around the outcomes related to SPWB interventions – whatever SPWB did, it did walking alongside community partners.  SPWB acted as an incubator and backbone — convening meetings, acting as note taker and reporting back, doing research and communicating results — which allowed its partners to explore new partnerships, test out new initiatives, and take risks.  Some of the successful risks included the creation of shared space for social profits; a new arts council; a new, amalgamated capacity building organization called, FuseSocial (from Capacity Wood Buffalo, Leadership Wood Buffalo and SectorLink); and the annual Heart of Wood Buffalo Leadership Awards.

FuseSocial Wood Buffalo Strategy Roadmap

FuseSocial Wood Buffalo Strategy Roadmap

As this phase of the SPWB project ends, is the interest in social innovation it has supported in Wood Buffalo sustainable? Has it created that rich ecosystem for social innovation that will last for generations?  There is definitely increased awareness and knowledge of social innovation and complexity, and an increased use of developmental evaluation, and the social profit sector is more valued by the public and private sectors, as well as more confident in themselves.

This success has conversely translated into a concern, however, among SPWB’s social profit partners about what will happen when their champion of process passes the torch to the community.  Will the sector still have the depth of research? Will there still be safe spaces, where competition for resources and clients is left at the door?  Is the embrace of social innovation thinking deep enough that it is the new norm?

These questions are yet unanswered.  Although some will be addressed as the project members define the tangible elements of SPWB’s immediate legacy (who takes over what, where do resources go), with others, only time will tell. One challenge will be the ongoing clash between standing still (making ‘reflective practice a centrepiece of action,’[1]) and the inherent action-oriented focus of the social profit sector in Wood Buffalo.  While many organizations, at several scales, embraced the value of grounding themselves in evidence and asking probing questions, very few of SPWB’s community partners wanted to pause.  Learning and reflection were valued as long as they were paired with moving the conversation forward or could be tied to organizational goals.  Thinking always had to be paired with action.

Rather than resolve this dilemma, perhaps there is a space to manage or embrace what seems like an insurmountable tension between action and thinking.  Future projects could embrace the fierce interest in doing, while still maintaining the value associated with standing still.  New approaches such as social innovation change labs have certainly embraced research to drive meaningful, deep exploration and possible action – what possibilities lie in these emergent processes?



[1] Frances Westley, Brenda Zimmerman and Michael Quinn Patton, Getting to Maybe (2006) p. 89