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.

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.

Doing Good Better: Upping Canada’s Game with an R&D Engine

Canadians take great pride in our history of innovating for the public good. Today there are a wide range of people, projects, networks, and organizations working in the social impact space across diverse sectors – ranging from enterprises and social service agencies to schools and community foundations.

Innovations such as The Women’s Institute (1897), the Palliative Care Movement, Insite – North America’s only supervised injection site, Roots of Empathy, the Desjardins and Credit Union Movement, and the Registered Disability Savings Plan are Canadian social innovations in the public, private and not-for-profit sectors that have and are significantly improving outcomes around the world.

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Yet, it’s an uncomfortable fact that Canada’s many billions spent in social outcomes can produce better outcomes. Our contention is that while the social impact sector has always conducted research & development (R&D) and innovation to some degree, the scale and complexity of the challenges we face today mean we need to dramatically up our game.

What if Canadians embraced the value of R&D for

generating outstanding outcomes in social impact?

R&D for social impact could be far more intentional, connected, and supported. In that way, it would be much more accessible, widespread, celebrated, and most importantly, impactful.

What if we had a virtually accessible, distributed R&D function for the sector that everybody could share in and benefit from? This would an audacious opportunity for Canada as we near our country’s 150th birthday in 2017: we can create a breakthrough in the way that R&D is conceptualized, catalyzed, shared, incentivized, and made accessible for the world.

The functions of an R&D engine might be a range of possibilities, including catalyzing and incentivizing — as well as amplifying and sharing — new impactful processes, approaches, knowledge and models for the benefit of all. This might include:

  • helping to catalyze a national network of social innovation labs in communities;
  • designing a pro-active obsolescence management system for social programs and services; or, 
  • developing a financial incentive for NGOs to conduct R&D, similar to the Scientific Research & Experimental Development (SRED) tax credit available for the private sector.

R&D has shifted the paradigm of how new and relevant solutions get unleashed in sectors such as: automobile, life sciences, construction, and technology. Now imagine the benefits of robust national R&D resources and support systems for the immigrant settlement, or child & youth development, or senior care sectors.

Canada has yet to marshall required resources to develop a comprehensive networked R&D engine (our metaphor for Canada’s high octane social impact R&D function for the 21st century) that all sectors working to better the world can use. Not-for-profit leaders, passionate amateurs, social purpose entrepreneurs, public policy professionals, philanthropists, think tanks, front-line social service professionals, corporates, private and community foundations, and academic partners are often unable to access the appropriate resources to conduct R&D and innovate on an ongoing basis.

An R&D engine could help share knowledge, tools, platforms, innovation systems and supports to:
  • rigorously define problems;
  • generate hypotheses and conduct better experiments;
  • leverage big data in new ways being pioneered for the social sector by organizations like Data For Good and others;
  • access models and approaches from across the sector and beyond;
  • build and test prototypes;
  • assess which initiatives to scale or pivot;
  • share failures;
  • simulate solutions and scenarios;
  • design feedback loops for pro-active obsolescence management; and,
  • surface and share what works widely and accessibly.

Platforms like MaRS Solutions Lab, Alberta’s CoLab, Canada’s funding bodies’ knowledge mobilization networks (jointly funded by SSHRC, CIHR and NSERC), Ashoka Canada, the J.W. McConnell Family Foundation’s Social Innovation Fund and Innoweave, Tamarack’s Vibrant Communities, the global Impact Hub network (and home-grown domestic analogues like the Centre for Social Innovation and HiVE), BC Partners for Social Impact, CIFAR, Grand Challenges Canada, and the UK’s Nesta and What Works Network serve as helpful launch points.

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A sector-wide R&D engine would learn from, expand upon and complement existing platforms, and offer Canada the ability to actively foster process, product and systems innovation in a cohesive and networked way by better generating the right questions, challenging existing orthodoxies, launching grand challenge competitions, and catalyzing moonshots – practices, systems, tools or products that have the potential to become mainstream in 10 years.

Such an engine could:
  • catalyze, conduct, apply and evaluate R&D;
  • incentivize R&D;
  • build accessible R&D capacity, available to organizations and passionate amateurs;
  • strengthen purposeful cross-disciplinary and cross-generational collaboration;
  • scout, harvest and share R&D from across the sector and beyond; and,
  • celebrate and nurture a culture of inquiry.

More broadly, it could expand our collective understanding of how social and systems innovation takes place in Canada and how it can be accelerated. The engine could become a proof point demonstrating the power of R&D unleashed to do good better.

Why does R&D matter?

Canada is fortunate to have some remarkable social service systems. Unfortunately, many of them, conceived and deployed many decades ago, are struggling to renew themselves.  They aspire to evolve through continuous refinement to ensure they stay relevant for the growing complexity of Canadians’ needs in the 21st century. Think of challenges like fetal alcohol syndrome, increasingly unequal levels of educational attainment for different populations, child and youth mental health, an aging population, or retooling a curative health system into a preventative one. New R&D support tools like the Canadian Index of Wellbeing and the Social Progress Index can be used in local or national contexts to help orient public policy.

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While Canadian social impact organizations in the private, public and not-for-profit sectors have deep knowledge about the vulnerable populations they serve, they are often trapped in highly restrictive funding models that don’t value their strategic work as social impact innovators. They lack access to financial, knowledge, process and systems innovation resources — resources that would enable experimentation, innovation, cross-sector collaboration and multi-organization consortia to respond to new needs and to improve outcomes on longstanding social problems.

New insights and new tools are emerging. The last decade has produced an enormous suite of applicable new knowledge and tools. Think of the new methodologies and approaches, like social innovation labs, for designing enhanced social outcomes that derive from…

  • the application (and combination) of new hard and soft technologies (e.g. smart phones and apps);
  • new “nudge” insights or “social stickiness” (informed by the rapidly growing knowledge about human psychology and brain science); and, 
  • the range of ways that social innovation researchers (an academic field only several decades old) are beginning to crack the innovation code.

Many social service delivery systems, originally established and funded only to ameliorate symptoms, are itching to repurpose themselves and solve problems at their roots by using their accumulated experiential wisdom plus new innovation tools and insights to reinvent pathways to sustainable wellbeing.

Think of a microcosm of social delivery, the immigrant settlement community. Currently, it is a billion dollar industry on its own. Doesn’t it make sense to have a national centre of excellence supporting immigrant settlement service innovation?

Do we have an innovation system commensurate

with our public spend for social outcomes?

Looking down from 70,000 feet, Canada’s public spending on social outcomes (health, education and social policy) represents a whopping 17% of Canada’s GDP, or $338 billion (2014 estimate). Canada’s not-for-profit sector (including hospitals and universities) is calculated to be about 7% of GDP or $100.7 billion (2007). While there is some very sophisticated R&D in parts of the social impact sector, like health, there is a real thirst for R&D by leaders in others, like frontline community services.

Now imagine…

What if social impact organizations had access to an R&D function in the same way they have access to a finance or communications function? What if funders, donors, and grantmakers support, incentivize and even reward R&D? What if an R&D engine could help organizations with pro-active obsolescence management, so social services and programs are constantly renewed? What if we could invest in growing R&D capacity within organizations?

What if Canada led the world in achieving breakthroughs in homelessness, child and youth mental illness, community care, and other complex challenges as a result of a robust and integrated R&D function shared by social impact organizations across the country?

Author’s note: The authors would like to thank outside readers, listed below, for making important comments on earlier drafts of this blog. Of course, any errors or affirmations remain the responsibility of the authors. Thanks to: Maureen Fair, Zoe Fleming, Tatiana Fraser, Allyson Hewitt, Stephen Huddart, Indy Johar, Luc Lalande and Geraldine Cahill.

About the authors

Tim Draimin Photo smallTim Draimin, Executive Director of Social Innovation Generation (SiG), partners on collaborative cross-sector initiatives strengthening Canada’s social innovation ecosystem. He is a member of the scientific advisory board of Grand Challenges Canada and a senior adviser to MaRS Centre for Impact Investing.

unnamedVinod Rajasekaran is an engineer and cross-sector leader helping to enhance Canada’s impact infrastructure so we can do good better for the next 100 years. He works with The HUB, the world’s fastest-growing professional community and innovation platform for people working to better the world. Vinod is also involved in HUB’s incubation of Rideau Hall Foundation, which aims to catalyze and align ideas, people and resources to move the Canadian spirit forward.

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.

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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

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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

Bees, Trees and the Innovation Ecosystem

Sherri_Torjman bees and treesIf you ever have the good fortune to spend time with Tim Draimin, Executive Director of Social Innovation Generation National, you will learn a lot about social innovation − in Canada and abroad.

But you will also find out quickly that Tim is thinking about something that goes beyond innovation itself.  He is preoccupied with a notion called the “innovation ecosystem.”  You might wonder what on earth he is talking about.

Here is my interpretation.  Innovation represents a product, service, process or way of thinking that is qualitatively different from what is currently in place.  The innovation could be new or newly-applied.  The latter refers to something that has proven successful elsewhere and is now being applied to a new context or community.

The innovation ecosystem comprises all the actions you need to take to both sow and grow the innovation seeds.  A good idea − whether a product, service, process or new way of thinking − does not take hold just because it happens to be a good idea.  It needs to be planted in the right conditions and carefully cultivated to ensure it can take root and flourish.

bees meet trees

Report on how large social sector organisations can help to scale social innovation

Tim has recently read a report called When Bees Meet Trees: How large social sector organisations can help to scale social innovation.  The paper builds on earlier ideas that depicted bees as small organizations, individuals and groups that have the new ideas and are mobile, quick and able to cross-pollinate.  The trees, by contrast, are the big organizations − governments, companies and large not-for-profits − which are poor at creativity but generally good at implementation.  They have the resilience, roots and scale to make things happen.  Both the bees and the trees need each other.

 

While the ideas in this report may be interesting, they will not be applied unless they are disseminated, digested, discussed and debated.  Any innovation − including a new way of thinking − needs an innovation ecosystem in order to take hold.  This innovation ecosystem comprises of several components.

First, it is essential to identify the people who would have an interest in this product, service, process or new way of thinking.  Among them are those who are willing to go one step further and spread the word.  They may even be early adopters ready to apply the innovation to their own workplaces or communities.  There is a vital human resource component to the innovation ecosystem.

An innovative product, service, process or idea typically involves a variety of associated changes to take root.  When it comes to applying an idea, for example, it may be necessary to create new teams that work together in clusters rather than individually at desks.  Community locations, such as a coffee shop or neighbourhood hub, may replace a central office.  Virtual work spaces may be set up at home.  These are the physical space dimensions of the innovation ecosystem.

Before any new product, service, process or idea is introduced within an organization or community, there must be an assessment of who might be affected by the innovation and in what ways.  Innovation usually is ‘disruptive’ in that it implies a qualitative shift in how things are done.  While disruption is vital to innovation, it is important to try to minimize potential harms, such as job loss or exclusion from an essential service.  There is a key information component to the innovation ecosystem.

There are also legal dimensions to the innovation ecosystem to which innovators must pay attention.  It is possible that clients of a service may decide to launch a lawsuit, for example, if their benefits or supports are protected through legislation.  Employees may lodge a complaint or grievance if they feel that their contractual agreement has shifted fundamentally from its original signing.  While these possibilities should not necessarily block the innovation, change makers must be aware of the potential legal implications of their actions.

Of course, money is always a consideration.  How much will the innovation cost and from where will the funds come to support this new good, service, process or way of thinking?  Will they be redirected from another activity or program or will additional dollars have to be found?  Are there potentially new funders or sources of financing that might be tapped?  This is the financial component to the innovation ecosystem.

Finally, the policy component of the innovation ecosystem can help or hinder the application of a new product, service, process or idea.  For example, existing legislation may prevent non-profit organizations from raising new funds through profit-making activities.  Enabling policies, by contrast, could help open the door to new forms of financing.

At the end of the day, an innovation that has been applied well will probably be sustained over time.  If successful, other organizations and communities often want to apply it as well.  Sustainability and scaling are vital features of successful innovation.

No wonder Tim is obsessed with the innovation ecosystem.  Without it, innovation will likely not take hold.  For sure, it will not survive or go to scale.  Tim knows that it is imperative to create the conditions for success when the bees ultimately meet the trees.

Top Ten Takeaways from the Social Enterprise World Forum

Last month Calgary hosted the annual Social Enterprise World Forum. Here are Charmian Love and Tim Draimin’s top 10 takeaways from the conference.

1.   System Change. The Next Frontier.

While “entrepreneurship is about the creation of tangible value,” says the godmother of social entrepreneurship, Pamela Hartigan, “in the case of social entrepreneurship, it is about creating systems change.”

 2.   The Social Enterprise Movement Is Tax Status Agnostic.

Calgary was the sixth SEWF and the first to be tax status agnostic. For example, the competition for TRICO Foundation’s Enterprizes were open to for-profits and nonprofits. “Social entrepreneurship,” said Pamela Hartigan, “… is paving the way toward a much larger transformation of capitalism where the creation of positive social change through markets will be the key to success rather than the result of a special kind of business.” The corollary is that blended value can produce change regardless of its tax status. Ultimately the biggest impact of social enterprise will be its ability to help kick-start the shift from traditional capitalism to Capitalism 2.0, or what John Elkington calls Breakthrough Capitalism, or Umair Haque’s constructive capitalism.

pamela hartigan

Pamela Hartigan spoke at the Social Enterprise World Forum

3.   Heroes Welcome. Teams Required.

Not everyone can be a social entrepreneur, says Pamela Hartigan, if it doesn’t stand for “promoting disruptive business models” and transformational change that addresses root causes.  At the same time, visionaries require teams to make change. While Pamela highlighted that only a few are social entrepreneurs, many people can be involved in the entrepreneuring (Pamela’s term) efforts to make societal change happen.

4.   Disruptors Need Bridging and Receptive Innovators.

Al Etmanski, the co-founder of Planned Lifetime Advocacy Network (PLAN) and social entrepreneur behind the Registered Disability Savings Plan (RDSP), described entrepreneuring systems change roles slightly differently. He says that “it takes three distinct types of innovators or entrepreneurs to achieve broad systemic change: Disruptive, Bridging, and Receptive.” Al’s Disruptive Innovator is the social entrepreneur. Bridging Innovators excel in identifying big ideas and leveraging their connections, reputation and resources to make the value of the disruptive innovation clear to the system. Receptive Innovators are the institutional entrepreneurs or intrapreneurs, who are skilled at advancing the big idea throughout the system. All are required.

5.   Events Can Kick off the Conversation.

MaRS Centre for Impact Investing and TRICO capitalized on the unique character and size of SEWF by hosting a half-day lead-up event: Canada’s first gathering of impact investors. The event began with an update from Sir Ronald Cohen, video-conferenced in from Washington where he had just hosted the G-8 Impact Investing meeting. Also joining this landmark event were federal and provincial ministers and their delegations from across Canada who also attended Canada’s first-ever national social enterprise gathering by government policy makers.

6.   Labs, Labs, Labs.

It appears there is a huge push in Canada to develop labs to support multi-sector collaboration in solution generation and scale up.  How these activities happening across the provinces stay connected to each other – and learn from one another’s successes and failures – will be instrumental in making sure this movement transcends the fad-ism that some fear will consume their activities.

Stickynotes

The Social Enterprise World Forum hosted several Finance Solutions Labs that generated plenty of ideas

 7.   Top-down support from across party lines

From Federal Minister Jason Kenney to Ontario Minister Eric Hoskins to Alberta Premier Alison Redford, intergenerational and cross-party support signal growth for the social enterprise sector. Whether through an openness to explore addressing the needs of the sector through policy reform or through investment funds or tax credits for social enterprises – the bottom line is that very senior levels of government are watching and ready to do something different. The question will be how to make their interest leap from conceptual conversations to practical and pragmatic action.

8.   Community capitalism.

Dr. Wanda Wuttunee has devoted her research to understanding how Aboriginal values interact with capitalist values. Opening the conference alongside Dr. Ilse Treurnicht of MaRS and Mary Gordon of Roots of Empathy, Wuttunee asked attendees to reflect on the unique lens indigenous experience provides to enterprise and economic opportunities. The term “community capitalism” reflects her emphasis on the need for economic development to be in sync with Aboriginal communities. There are under-valued benefits in seeing the economy through this perspective.

9.   Resiliency Required.

The SEWF taking place in Calgary was a metaphor for the change needed. This is about resiliency and an ability to pick up when times get tough. This was most pointedly drilled home by the Mayor of Calgary indicating that only 52 days earlier the venue for the evening rodeo was under water due to mass city-wide flooding. As he pointed out, responsive community cohesion led to a quick recovery.

 10.   Value – for whom?

One of the most re-tweeted one-liners from Ilse Treurnicht, CEO of MaRS.  Harvard’s definition of innovation is invention with value.  But Ilse rightfully asks – “value for who?”  This is a powerful reframing of the role of innovation and how it must be leveraged as a force for good.

Taking the Seoul Train to the Sharing Economy Part III

Editor’s Note: The Sharing Economy is about a profound shift in consumer values from ownership to access. Together, entire communities and cities around the world are using network technologies to do more with less by renting, lending, swapping, bartering, gifting and sharing products on a scale never before possible. A wide variety of sharers are involved, from Tool Libraries and Maker Faires through to Car-shares and the open government movement. Organizations like Collaborative ConsumptionPeers and Shareable are working to foster the sharing economy. SiG believes that this movement is a force for social innovation and systems change. In this spirit, SiG will produce blogs and grow a knowledge base highlighting the people and concepts emerging out of the sharing economy.

Seoul LandscapeWith robust government support, South Korea is fast becoming one of the world’s most advanced sharing economies. In the course of one day criss-crossing Seoul’s vast metropolitan area by efficient public transit, I was able to visit three very different new sharing economy ventures that boast stories illustrating the value of the new national and municipal policies facilitating the growth of the sharing economy. Part I and II blogs highlighted my visit to Dream Bank and My Real Trip. In this final post on South Korea’s sharing economy, I offer my experience visiting Kozaza.

Kozaza

From suburban Pan-gyo, we headed by express bus to Bukchon, a unique neighbourhood “village” of Seoul that is peppered with royal palaces and shrines and a large number of Hanok traditional-style Korean houses. There we met Sanku Jo, a serial entrepreneur whose passion for protecting the Hanok heritage led him to start Kozaza.

KozazaKozaza is an online service that connects travellers with a trusted community of families offering unique accommodations throughout Korea. Kozaza sees its service built on the values of the sharing economy. Its social benefits are multiple: providing host families with a new source of income; assisting a city like Seoul to expand tourism without having to worry about its relatively limited stock of hotel beds; making it possible for people to share their homes, and increasing exposure to Korean culture and food.  Finally, with its current focus on shared Hanok accommodation, Korea’s slowly disappearing traditional houses, Kozaza hopes to rekindle interest and promote conservation of this increasingly scarce cultural resource.

As a start-up, Kozaza benefitted from a program of the national government that provided a 50% match on privately raised start-up funds. The Mayor of Seoul, Park Won-Soon, has also been an enthusiastic supporter. He personally stayed at Kozaza Hanok providing moral encouragement for Kozaza and what they do. In addition Seoul’s Sharing City program has promoted Kozaza by publicizing the service through city owned media platforms.

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The Kozaza team with Canadian guests

Kozaza’s founder and CEO, SanKu Jo, combined his love for Korea’s traditional Hanok homes with his commitment to the sharing economy. He visualizes the sharing economy as portending the shift from Web 2.0 to Life 2.0. For him, the sharing economy offers cost savings, improved environmental stewardship, and social capital building as people share their homes and culture. Sanku Jo thinks Kozaza has reinvented Airbnb to create a “Life Sharing Platform”. Going further, he thinks of “sharing as the new communication”. Sanku Jo, a student of the internet, spent over a decade in California’s Silicon Valley, is using SlideShare to share compelling resources on his vision of where the sharing economy is headed.

D.Camp, My Real Trip, and Kozaza all have analogues that sprang up earlier in other countries. Notwithstanding that, each of them has evolved a unique model reflecting the specific needs and culture of Seoul and Korea in order to create a valuable sharing economy offering. Good ideas, whether new or not, are quick to travel and just as quick to be adapted and improved.

IMG_2463Note: Thanks very much to April Rinne, from The Collaborative Lab, who introduced me to two Seoul members of TCL’s Global Curator Team, DaYe (Diane) Jung and Seokwon (ejang) Yang. They in turn connected me with our indispensable guide Seokjoon Choi. Seokjoon navigated us through Seoul with great aplomb.

Taking the Seoul Train to the Sharing Economy Part II

Editor’s Note: The Sharing Economy is about a profound shift in consumer values from ownership to access. Together, entire communities and cities around the world are using network technologies to do more with less by renting, lending, swapping, bartering, gifting and sharing products on a scale never before possible. A wide variety of sharers are involved, from Tool Libraries and Maker Faires through to Car-shares and the open government movement. Organizations like Collaborative ConsumptionPeers and Shareable are working to foster the sharing economy. SiG believes that this movement is a force for social innovation and systems change. In this spirit, SiG will produce blogs and grow a knowledge base highlighting the people and concepts emerging out of the sharing economy.

 

pan-gyo3Seoul is earning a reputation as one of the world’s most developed sharing economies. South Korean citizens and civil servants support the development of the sharing economy because it addresses issues inherent in high-density cities like overpopulation and housing shortages. In the course of one day criss-crossing Seoul’s vast metropolitan area by efficient public transit, I was able to visit three very different new sharing economy ventures that boast stories illustrating the value of the new national and municipal policies enabling the sharing economy. In Part I, I outlined the enabling government environment and my visit to Dream Bank. The second sharing economy venture, My Real Trip, is featured in this post and Kozaza will follow in Part III.

 

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My Real Trip

Having the benefit of an extensive and spectacularly well-organized subway system (the second most used in the world), I was able to travel rapidly many miles out to the new suburban innovation hub in Pan-gyo from the Seoul city center. Referred to as Pan-gyo Techno Valley (PTV), it is Korea’s bespoke answer to Silicon Valley. The government has facilitated the construction of block after block of gleaming new office towers, which by 2015 will support a population of 80,000 people and house the country’s leading hi tech ventures.

 

pan-gyo

Pan-gyo Techno Valley

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Korea’s Silicon Valley

 

I visited the brand new tower of NEOWIZ, a successful gaming company that is creating an incubation environment for new start-up technology ventures. There we met the co-founder of My Real Trip, Donggun Lee, a serial entrepreneur whose first venture was a successful crowdfunding platform.

My Real Trip, similar to Peek (an online portal connecting travellers to local curated travel experiences), allows Korean-speaking travellers access to a global network of guides in 130 cities around the world. Geared to the cultural interests of Asian travellers, a local actor in New York might act as a guide for a Broadway tour. Elsewhere, a guide in Vancouver provides a Caffeine Crawl of that city’s unique and diverse scene of coffee shops.

My Real Trip creates income opportunities for part-time guides and full-time guides allowing the guides to set their own rate and retain more income than they would if employed by a mainstream touring company.

 

MRT

Visiting My Real Trip Team

 

My Real Trip is in rapid growth mode, having started in mid-2012 it has already supported 5,800 travellers in 123 cities. It expects to reach 10,000 by the end of 2013. My Real Trip benefitted from six months free rent in the NEOWIZ tower ecosystem before becoming a paying tenant.

The emerging global network of sharing cities is accelerating people’s ability to ingeniously adapt to new forms of urban living while at the same time reducing their environmental footprint. Stay tuned for part III’s train to Kozaza sharing economy venture.

 

IMG_2463Note: Thanks very much to April Rinne, from The Collaborative Lab, who introduced me to two Seoul members of TCL’s Global Curator Team, DaYe (Diane) Jung and Seokwon (ejang) Yang. They in turn connected me with our indispensable guide Seokjoon Choi. Seokjoon navigated us through Seoul with great aplomb.

Taking the Seoul Train to the Sharing Economy Part I

Editor’s Note: The Sharing Economy is about a profound shift in consumer values from ownership to access. Together, entire communities and cities around the world are using network technologies to do more with less by renting, lending, swapping, bartering, gifting and sharing products on a scale never before possible. A wide variety of sharers are involved, from Tool Libraries and Maker Faires through to Car-shares and the open government movement. Organizations like Collaborative ConsumptionPeers and Shareable are working to foster the sharing economy. SiG believes that this movement is a force for social innovation and systems change. In this spirit, SiG will produce blogs and grow a knowledge base highlighting the people and concepts emerging out of the sharing economy.

 

IMG_2449Seoul is gaining recognition as one of the world’s most developed sharing economies.  Accounting for half of South Korea’s 50 million people, Seoul has become a unique launch pad, with the Mayor of Seoul, Park Won-Soon, working hard to promote the broader agenda of social innovation:

 

“As the mayor of Seoul, I have striven to create innovative ways of governing that are based on cooperation and collaboration. I have made a point of soliciting greater citizen input and getting citizens more directly involved in decision-making, fostering social enterprises that use innovative approaches to tackle social problems, and expanding collaboration between government, the market, and civil society.” (SSIR Summer 2013 insert Innovation for a Complex World entitled Forging Ahead with Cross-Sector Innovations)

 

Specifically, in 2012 Mayor Park created the Sharing City initiative as part of the Seoul Innovation Bureau’s goal to tackle social, economic and environmental problems in innovative ways. The city is supporting the start-up of new sharing companies and pioneering its own sharing programs (e.g. those range from making city facilities available in off-hours, to a car sharing service, and a program matching seniors who have a spare room with students needing accommodation.)

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Seoul City Hall

The national government of President Park Geun-hye (no relation to Park Won-Soon) has a signature policy to catalyse the “creative economy”. The Korea Herald summarises its goal as “creating new business opportunities, industries and jobs through the fusion of information and communication technology, culture and others realms.” President Park says the existing economic model cannot address high unemployment and widening economic inequalities.

By taking a day just before the start of Social Innovation Exchange’s 2013 Summer School in Seoul, I had a chance — together with Michael Lewkowitz, the founder of socialsca.pe — to visit several exciting sharing economy start-ups: Dream Bank, My Real Trip and Kozaza. Each boasts stories that illustrate the value of the new national and municipal policies enabling the sharing economy.

Dream Bank

In 2012, twenty South Korean banks came together, pooling nearly $75 million, to create and fund Dream Bank, a new foundation.  It was born out d.camp3of the preoccupation that current tough economic times meant that the economy was unable to generate sufficient employment opportunities, especially for young graduates entering the labour market. Dream Bank explains that it “was formed in order to nurture a successful startup community and consequently create high quality jobs through emerging enterprises.” In fact, Dream Bank hopes to help South Korea become Asia’s number one hub for the new economy.

D-CAMP LogoAs a first step, Dream Bank set up D.Camp in 2013 in Central Seoul (facing the spectacular Seolleung Park — a UNESCO World Heritage Site of two Royal Tombs). D.Camp is a 1,650 square metre, multi-storey, co-working space for young entrepreneurs. Those preparing to launch a new venture receive three months free rent and stay longer if they have made progress on their venture. Besides providing state of the art co-working space and dozens of monthly curated networking and educational opportunities in their large hall, D.Camp is also developing an online financing platform to connect ventures with investors. D.Camp is both a sharing economy platform and seeks to help strengthen ventures that feature collaboration and sharing business models. Dream Bank’s start-up Operation Manager, Seokwon (a.k.a. ejang) Yang who previously founded the co-working space CO-UP, is a well-known leader in the sharing economy space and a member of The Collaborative Lab’s Global Curator team.

d.camp2

D.Camp co-working space

Following my exploration of D.Camp, I made my way to another inventive sharing economy venture, My Real Trip, which will be featured in part II of this series on Seoul’s Sharing Economy.

In a field of rapid innovation, public policy can either slow the advance of disruptive innovations (e.g. New York City fining Airbnb) or help them take root and evolve like Seoul is doing. The sharing economy appears headed to become the most impactful vector for scaling social innovation in urban settings.

Author’s Note: Thanks very much to April Rinne, from The Collaborative Lab (TCL), who introduced me to two Seoul members of TCL’s Global Curator Team, DaYe (Diane) Jung and Seokwon (ejang) Yang. They in turn connected me with our indispensable guide Seokjoon Choi. Seokjoon navigated us through Seoul with great aplomb.

The Social Innovator’s Guide to Systems Thinking Part II: Rules for Innovators Leveraging Bigger Change

This is the second part of a blog series on systems thinking. In part I, Realizing the ultimate impact of community-based innovations,” I introduced the theory and core elements of systems thinking.

In Part II let’s begin with two questions: what can individuals and organizations do to be part of systemic change? And how can powerful institutions like governments be more part of the solution than the problem?

In Systems Innovation, Geoff Mulgan suggests two sets of answers.  The first: it is essential to ground individual change actions within the context of the “broader movement of change, and with a sense of the bigger picture.” For Mulgan “the ideal is to iterate between the big picture and small steps. Realism about power and knowledge can also help: if you have knowledge but not power then you need to find allies, and points of leverage. If you have power but lack knowledge you need to experiment and learn fast.”

The second: recognize and leverage the essential role of what I call the missing middle or what Mulgan calls intermediaries. In order to succeed, “the creation or mobilisation of intermediaries can be crucial, to articulate the direction of systemic change, and link big ideas to individual innovations. In retrospect this role was sometimes played by networks, clubs, think tanks and development agencies.”

The roles played by intermediaries can include: orchestrating advocacy campaigns; engaging critical stakeholders; demonstrating alternatives; and facilitating the required networks into power structures and changemaking communities. Some of these roles resemble those of “backbone” organizations in collective impact initiatives. Mulgan lays out a valuable chart for seeing the range of roles and their goals:

goal-actions_geoff

Joined-Up Innovation, Geoff Mulgan p. 21

Building the Enabling Systems-oriented Ecosystem

What would be elements of an ecosystem building approach for systems innovation that a government should focus on? Social Innovation Europe suggests seven:

1.    Developing a common vision around the need and potential for systems change
2.    Supporting greater experimentation
3.    Expanding rapid learning through open innovation platforms, greater transparency, and much more cross-sector collaboration
4.    Expanding incubation support systems and platforms to enable systems innovations
5.    Targeting capacity building focused on critical competencies
6.    Developing enabling conditions through funding instruments, regulation and legislation
7.    Growing networks connecting key stakeholders in order to spread and disseminate innovative practice and generally enable knowledge mobilization.

How imminent is a heightened focus on systems change? What conditions will prevail to shift us in that direction? Charles Leadbeater, in his essay in Systemic Innovation: A Discussion Series, says there are four main ingredients to the systems shifting process (that he calls “regime change”):

1.    Failure Stacks Up – The multiplying failures and frustrations with the current system
2.    Landscape Shifts – The landscape of the current regime shifts so much that it is left at odds with the world
3.    Alternatives Accumulate – Real alternatives start to grow, multiply in overlapping fashion
4.    New Technology Offers Accelerated Impact – “These new approaches are energized by the application of new technologies, which open up new possibilities for organizations, businesses and consumers. These rising new technologies add to the momentum and excitement for change.”

Alice Casey, from her vantage point in Nesta’s Public Service Innovation Lab, highlights two additional ingredients for people working on systems change at the community level. Her essay in the Discussion Series advocates for:

1.    Structures that value collaboration and that assist people escaping their narrow service silos to think and work together, and
2.   Relationships that enable power sharing by using an asset based approach and drawing on the tools of co-production that “help create collaborative and trusting relationships that give people the risk–friendly space they need to engage and behave in different ways.”

Systems Thinking Into the Water Supply

How do you see the issues you care about through a systems thinking lens? Does systems thinking have implications for how you imagine deepening your impact over the next decade? One of Canada’s social strategists extraordinaire, Al Etmanski, is fond of saying that we need to get “social innovation into the water supply”. For many years now he has applied his talents at the systems tilting end of the social innovation spectrum. How do we take Al’s lead to expand that essential “systems think and do”?

Related Links:

  • The indispensable desktop resource on systems thinking is the short book by Donnella Meadows, Thinking in Systems: A Primer (Chelsea Green Publishing, 2008). Donnella was a co-author of the 1972 watershed book Limits to Growth that was a catalyst for recognizing earth as a system with finite limits.
  • The SiG Knowledge Hub is replete with useful content including the sections on Systems Thinking (Dip into Systems Thinking, Dive in Systems Thinking)
  • The Social Enterprise World Forum, taking place in Calgary Oct 2 – 4, features an extensive line-up of systems thinkers and social innovators.
  • Nesta’s robust website contains two excellent 2013 PDFs on systems thinking: Systems Innovation and Systemic Innovation: A Discussion Series. The latter carries a contribution by Canadian Daniel Miller a St. John’s, NL-based independent researcher who has a web site Systemnovation dedicated to systems thinking.
  • The field of social innovation, design or change labs is developing across Canada. It offers a growing set of basic tools to assist organizations, businesses and governments in initiating practical multi-stakeholder processes to develop, prototype and scale systems-shifting innovations. SiG has just published a new map to those resources.

Editor’s note: this blog originally appeared in Tamarack’s Engage! newsletter on July 16, 2013. It has been cross-posted with permission.