Where the Magic Happens: Highlights from SIX

Key learnings from places of vulnerability, emergence & gratitude
C/O Komal Minhas for KoMedia

C/O Komal Minhas for KoMedia

During the close of the seventh annual SIX Summer School, 150 bright-eyed participants chatted excitedly in a room overlooking Vancouver’s False Creek, a scenic inlet separating downtown Vancouver from the shores of Vanier Park and Fairview. The organizers shared their final words. Six ambassadors — participants chosen to witness key themes — offered concluding insights on empathy, empowerment, courage, beauty, power and love, and generations. The room’s energy was almost palpable. Things were coming to a close.

As the coordinator of the Summer School and Social Innovation Week Vancouver, I had the opportunity to offer my own final words. The thoughts I shared were those of boundless gratitude. I admitted that the largest event I could recall organizing was my twenty-fourth birthday party. The jump from local social planner to lead coordinator of an international conference was not part of the career plan. And yet the faith my supervisors placed in me opened up the opportunity for me to dive into something completely unknown. As I stood overlooking the crowd, knowing that my team had co-piloted this event to success, I felt deeply humbled.

A month following, my sentiment of thankfulness is the same. In this post, I offer four of my personal highlights from the global conference and the week’s flurry of concurrent social innovation events.

Creating the Conditions for Social Innovation
C/O Komal Minhas for KoMedia

C/O Komal Minhas for KoMedia

Our visionary maestro, Al Etmanski, guided the SIX organizing team on a journey to “get social innovation into Canada’s water supply.” Al, along with Tim Draimin and Cheryl Rose, perceived the global SIX Summer School as a unique opportunity for Canada – our nation’s time had come.

The SIX Summer School created the conditions for an international group of radical doers and thinkers to convene with local and regional changemakers. From government and activist organizations through to businesses and foundations, Canadians of all stripes participated in SIX, gaining new connections and insights. It was through intentionally linking local Canadians with global practitioners that some of the greatest value of SIX and Social Innovation Week was realized.

Vulnerability is the secret sauce

In the early days of developing the conference program, the Canadian team was bent on creating something different. Our team had the privilege of attending numerous conferences and we knew we didn’t want to simply create a container for the same conversations. We wanted to shake things up! We wanted people to feel a little uncomfortable. That is where the magic happens…

Where the magic happensAlthough the conference program had three themes – society, sector and self – “the self was our secret sauce,” as BCPSI partner Ken Gauthier identified.

During the first full day of SIX, participants were welcomed with the local traditions of the Musqueam People, involving a purifying cedar brushing ceremony and evocative song and dance. The opening plenary was a deep exploration into vulnerability, led by two of Canada’s leading social innovation thinkers, Frances Westley and Vickie Cammack. The visceral cultural experience and thought-provoking morning dialogue were designed to open participants’ hearts and minds to vulnerability. Empathy, humility, and honesty with oneself lay the groundwork for understanding how to make change.

“If we are afraid of our desert places then we become more afraid of the vulnerability outside ourselves — of the other” – Frances Westley 

Putting Faith in Emergence

In order to execute on Al’s grand vision for SIX Summer School Vancouver and Social Innovation Week Vancouver, I had to put great faith in my team, our 22 partner organizations, my own abilities, and the elusive magic that is emergence. I believe emergence is about letting go of control and expectations and allowing ideas and actions to happen organically. When you make room for people to animate a space, you empower them to create something awesome – truly awe-inspiring. It was our team’s responsibility to highlight the opportunities of SIX for innovative organizations, embrace ambiguity, and allow the cultural norms of our partners to inform the week’s direction.

Boundless Gratitude

Most importantly, what stays with me is the gratefulness I feel for working with so many incredible people. Our partner organizations could not have been more creative, thoughtful, positive and driven to make Social Innovation Week the success that it was.

C/O Komal Minhas for KoMedia

C/O Komal Minhas for KoMedia

As I move on from my role, I will reflect fondly on the time when hundreds of Canadian and international leaders came together to celebrate social change. Now, more than ever, I believe that we can learn more together by learning from one another. Together we can start to understand where to leap next.

Who organizes SIX Summer Schools?

Since 2007, each Summer School has been co-organized by the global partner, Social Innovation Exchange, and a local in-country partner. This year, there were two local partners – BC Partners for Social Impact (#BCPSI) and Social Innovation Generation (SiG), representing British Columbia and Canada respectively.

On seeking, sharing and systems change

If there’s one sentiment I have expressed a number of times over the past 2 weeks, it is gratitude. SiG and our partners have been metaphorically swimming in inspiring stories told by Canadian indigenous leaders and stories told of social lab interventions that are positively transforming lives in different parts of the world, while building relationships with a host of change-makers that are in equal measure genius and humble. The only hard thing about all this goodness is choosing where to begin to make sense of all of the learning, translate the stories of successful change-making to a Canadian context, and offer some resources to adapt the best pieces of  work.

Thanks to the kickoff event of Social Innovation Canada 2014 featuring Dana Shen, Director of Family by Family from South Australia, I feel confident in offering a place to start. SiG has taken a look at Family by Family before — as early as 2011 — courtesy of the co-designer of the model, Sarah Schulman of InWithForward. Hearing about it again from Dana meant a deeper dive into the model and hearing about its impact and adaptation over time.

Here is a quick summary of what Family by Family does (I’ll leave it to Dana herself to explain it in full on video):

In 2010, The Australia Centre for Social Innovation (TACSI) asked the South Australian government what they wanted to focus on in terms of better social service outcomes. The government asked for an intervention to bring down the high numbers of children in the formal protection system. TACSI, working with Sarah Schulman and Chris Vanstone, developed a peer-to-peer solution that looks astonishingly simple on the surface: families who have come through tough times mentor families experiencing tough times. Or in the words of Family by Family, sharing families mentor seeking families.

Watch Dana explain how getting to this solution was a learning experience in collaboration between unusual partners, in trust-building and in adaptation:

Family by Family: Australian social innovation in action – MaRS Global Leadership from MaRS Discovery District on Vimeo.

Following this MaRS Global Leadership presentation, Dana joined SiG and 160+ participants at SIX Vancouver, May 27-29, where we were privileged to hear an opening discussion between Dr. Frances Westley and Tyze Founder, Vickie Cammack. The conversation focused on the effects of culture on our spirits, our organizations and our society. In many ways I feel the key to Family by Family’s success was in taking the time to understand the culture it was entering – that of families experiencing difficult times and why change was so difficult to achieve.

The result of TACSI engaging with community in the design and prototyping of Family by Family was an equally deep impact on the so-called experts charged with delivering the program. Dana spoke to the benefits of Family by Family for the culture inside the public sector in South Australia, those delivering the program at Family by Family and the broader TACSI design team. So profound has been the impact, that TACSI and the government are looking for ways to scale the model.

During Frances and Vickie’s discussion, the conversation turned to a desire to understand resilience and vulnerability more deeply. Being open to exploring our own vulnerability also opens up opportunities to see and understand others. As Frances reflected, if you can’t touch the vulnerability in yourself, you can’t touch it in others either. And the result is that our fear of the “other” increases. We don’t have to look far to see fear guiding many interactions across cultures in the world.

Six Day 1 Musqueam Welcome and Interview with Frances Westley 125

Photo Credit: Komal Minhas for KoMedia

Following the discussion, Dana reflected on our shared journey — on the fact that we are all in this world together; that we all want similar things. As Allyson Hewitt said at the end of Dana’s MaRS presentation, we are always sharing and seeking change. And it’s not a one-way street.

The Family by Family program has seen sharing families — those willing to volunteer time to support those experiencing tough times — become seeking families themselves. These times of vulnerability are to be expected and need not be permanent. As a community acting together and understanding each other more deeply, we can become more resilient. Vickie Cammack may refer to this as a recognition of our interdependence. The Family by Family model is supporting a strengthening in community resilience. As seeking families achieve their goals, they increase their ability to share their experience and learning with others. At scale, the impact is a sea-change — this increased resilience enables the flow of resources, both personal and community, towards systemic change. We all seek support and understanding at different times in our lives. Being awake to this is not to be stuck, but to be open to others. In a second post about Social Innovation Canada 2014, I will explore what it means to know our own fears and desires better, as well as those of others with whom we experience conflict, thanks to the wonderful contribution of David Diamond at SIX Vancouver. The ability to understand others through understanding ourselves is the result of a deepening empathy. SiG is so pleased to be co-presenting a conversation with Bill Drayton, Founder of Ashoka, on June 19th at MaRS. Bill has turned his extensive experience towards supporting and promoting entrepreneurs fostering empathy in our world. You can see details on that event here.

Witnessing Care: Innovating for Caregivers at SIX 2014

Last week, the annual SIX Summer School was held in North America for the first time, bringing together leading social innovation thinkers, practitioners, grassroots activists, and policy makers from over 20 countries to explore: How can we increase our impact? Shifting cultures, changing systems and preparing for surprise. 

SIX Vancouver 2014 was a three-day journey into culture shift and the spirit and humanity of social innovation. Day 1 and 2  were curated to dive deep into our spirit and our sector experiences, while Day 3 prepared us to surface with fresh perspectives and consider: how can we ‘grow change’ in society and nurture the conditions for social innovation?

To capture the depth and collective wisdom of this journey, six Witnesses were chosen to reflect on and give testimony to the powerful undercurrents of SIX Vancouver: power & love, empathy, generations, courage, beauty, and empowerment. Honouring the oral tradition of the Musqueam People, our hosts on Day 2, each Witness — or Listener — was responsible for listening for and witnessing the truth of his or her theme. 

In two poignant blog posts this week, a seventh witness surfaced: Donna Thomson — an author, activist, and mother — witnessed and listened for care during the Summer School and testifies to care in her writings on SIX:

June 1: Innovating for Caregivers at The SIX Vancouver Summer School

Innovating for Caregivers at The SIX Vancouver Summer School

Innovating for Caregivers at The SIX Vancouver Summer School

The place of care in social change was a theme that ran through every discussion and workshop and we were nudged to think about care through the cultural lens of Canada’s First Nations…” In her first post, Donna reflects on the paradox of ‘real life’ versus ‘real work’ that emerged on Day 2: care is often seen as part of ‘real life,’ but not ‘real work’ — and as a result, can be edged out of our ‘real lives.’ Driven by the fear of our own vulnerability, we might dismiss the vulnerability of others, devalue care, and forget that love and care are both the impetus and guides for social innovation. Read on.

They cannot scare me with their empty spaces
Between stars – on stars where no human race is.
I have it in me so much nearer home
To scare myself with my own desert places.

— Robert Frost

(cited by Frances Westley, Opening Address, May 28, SIX Vancouver)

June 4: Powerful Lessons Learned

Innovating for Caregivers at the SIX Summer School - Powerful Lessons Learned

Innovating for Caregivers at the SIX Summer School – Powerful Lessons Learned

I learned that we must forge a movement to place power in the language of caregiving…” In her second post, Donna draws on the experiences of leading change lab and solutions lab practitioners, who led a session on “Experimenting with Enemies and Strangers.” The session leaders focused on the immeasurable potential and value of collectively co-creating new social realities and solutions — a process that requires balancing love with power, or as Donna shares, empowering the language of care with strength against silence or dismissal.  In her reflection, Donna calls on caregivers to use the fire of love to light a powerful torch for collective creation, nurtured through care. Read on. 

Preparing for Surprise: Social Innovation Week Vancouver

THE WEAVE: LOCAL, NATIONAL and INTERNATIONAL 

“It’s a coming together of local and global social innovators, and an invitation to Vancouverites and visitors to join in exploring solutions for a better world. It’s a series of gatherings and conversations that aim to inspire the changemaker in all of us” – The Tyee Presents

Social Innovation Week is a coming together — a weaving together of the momentum and energies around social innovation and social enterprise in British Columbia, across Canada, and globally.

SIW-Partners-Vertical-140507-300dpiIt is the cornerstone of Social Innovation Canada, a national movement of events, collaboration and connection across five cities during May and June.

Hosted by BC Partners for Social Impact, in collaboration with over 20 organizations from across sectors and continents, Social Innovation Week Vancouver (#SIweekVan) is curated to inspire and explore the humanity of social innovation: culture, community, care, creativity.

The week (May 26-30) is a celebration of both place and space — a convergence around British Columbia’s social change and innovation drive and a convergence of global innovators and activists in Vancouver.

B.C. has always prided ourselves on our ability to tackle challenges. The whole rise of social enterprise over the last 20 years had a really serious impetus here on the West Coast, particularly in Vancouver” – Al Etmanski, BC Partners for Social Impact [The Tyee Presents: Social Innovation Week]

THE WEFT

“We are responsible, of course, for ourselves. But, as Emmanuel Levinas insists, if we are to claim a full and proper humanity, we must claim responsibility for the other” — Roger Silverstone, Media and Morality: On the Rise of the Mediapolis

The common thread bringing Social Innovation Week together – the soul of the week – is reflection and introspection on culture, culture shift, and narratives of care. As a curated series, the Week will be an immersive, reflexive, and learning experience, inviting each of us to consider the human spirit of social innovation — and our own roles as changemakers, community members, supporters, allies…people.

These themes are at the heart of the international conference, taking place in North America for the first time, in the middle of #SIweekVan: SIX Summer School 2014. An annual event, SIX (#SIXvan14) brings together leading social innovation thinkers and practitioners, grassroots activists, and policy makers from around the world to explore some of the key issues facing the social innovation field. This year, SIX will explore: How can we increase our impact? Shifting cultures, changing systems and preparing for surprise. 

THE WARF

I hope the average British Columbian would appreciate the ingenuity and creativity that has existed in this province for thousands of years — that has never gone away” — Al Etmanski [The Tyee Presents: Social Innovation Week]

The ideas that will enliven the experience and thinking of Social Innovation Week touch on our connectedness — to each other, to our communities, to ourselves, to the present and to the past — such as…

humility & generosity • vulnerability & resilience • assumptions & beliefs • power of narrative • collaboration • cross-generational dialogue  • love & power • hospitality • inspiration & engagement • belonging & tradition • creativity • performance • community

…and the tensions, resonance and dynamics between them.

The Spirit of Haida Gwaii by Bill Reid

The Spirit of Haida Gwaii: The Jade Canoe by Bill Reid.   Collection of the Vancouver Airport Authority (YVR), Vancouver, Canada. Photo: Tony Hisgett

“Here we are at last, a long way from Haida Gwaii, not too sure where we are or where we’re going, still squabbling and vying for position in the boat, but somehow managing to appear to be heading in some direction; at least the paddles are together, and the man in the middle seems to have some vision of what is to come…”

- The Spirit of Haida Gwaii: The Jade Canoe by Bill Reid. Collection of the Vancouver Airport Authority (YVR), Vancouver, Canada. Photo: Tony Hisgett

SI-Week-Banner-140423 (1)

THE FABRIC:

SOCIAL CONNECTEDNESS

The Week culminates on Friday May 30th with Connect Vancouver, a day of free, family-friendly fun featuring an Ideas Jam and Urban Outdoor Festival. The Ideas Jam will be a space for Vancouverites and visitors to work through tough questions in order to re-imagine:

  • business
  • sustainability
  • schools
  • belonging
  • sharing
  • arts
  • policy
  • generational equality

The capstone of the week will be the Urban Outdoor Festival, presented by Gen Why Media and CityStudio – an evening celebrating the integration of culture, creativity, ingenuity and social innovation, where we reimagine social connectedness in an outdoor evening of conversation, celebration, public art, an urban fire and music in Vanier Park.

Check out the full event listing for #SIweekVan + The Tyee Presents Feature.
May 26-30, 2014
Join the learning and celebration. Come together!