About Geraldine Cahill

Manager, Programs and Partnerships, SiG National

Social Innovation 2021

Social Innovation 2021 

Social innovations are any disruptions to situations where traditional markets aren't providing what people need. The covid-19 pandemic was a great example of this.This was a time when social innovations were required to help people who were very vulnerable and some of the biggest innovations help communicate facts, provide things like telehealth services, and provide social innovations for entertainment.

Biggest Changes

The biggest changes had to do with focusing on distance based access to Mental Health Services, consultations, and entertainment.  These things went hand-in-hand as people were at home with no good access to reliable information, so certain social Innovations provide solutions like virtual assistants and chatbots so that people could get official government information when they needed it, practical advice on different psychological health measures or physical preventative health measures, or simply crisis management. 

  1. Facts were more easily available thanks to a social enterprise in Colombia.
  2. Telehealth was made available in the North African and Middle Eastern regions to provide simplified medical information including things like consultations with doctors and access to Medical news as well as medical glossaries.
  3. Dedicated coronavirus hotlines were made available that connected individuals to certified doctors and places like Jordan.
  4. Innovations like Dimagi provided pro bono subscriptions for mobile data platforms to handle community-based screening.
  5. Crisis Text Line served as a confidential non-profit text based organization that was available in the United States, Canada, and the UK for people who needed support from an online counselor, needed help with abuse, or things like suicide.
  6. Free commercial promotions were provided for online sites as well as no strings attached entertainment from top movie and game manufacturers to keep people engaged and improve mental health while under quarantine. 

Telehealth Services allowed people in many countries to get simplified medical information in a language they understood. This social Innovation provided medical articles as well as a dedicated section for health questions and answers. Coronavirus hot lines were created so that individuals experiencing symptoms similar to coronavirus or those who simply had general concerns could make a quick call and get a medical assessment to ease their worries.  Other innovations focus on prioritizing mental health and well-being. In addition to entertainment sources, certain crisis text hotlines provided free and confidential support and intervention. 24 hours a day, individuals could use the services to connect with help in the event that they were under quarantine with an abuser, or they needed help with child abuse, or domestic violence. Even then, these resources were made available to people who were simply depressed or looking for entertainment value, or some sort of social connection during a quarantine situation where they were otherwise limited.

Social Innovation During COVID Times  

social innovation

Tangentially, there were lots of social innovations at the same time, primarily things that provided people with entertainment and socialization from a distance so that any level of quarantine wouldn't negatively impact mental health and psychological well-being. Online sites even offered things like free bonuses.  These free bonuses served as a way to keep people engaged regularly and to give them the opportunity to interact online more often even if they were strapped for cash. Similar social Innovations included free commercial promotions for online websites so that companies didn't have to mark it as heavily or invest as much money in reaching people who needed their entertainment value the most. Entertainment was provided with no strings attached particularly when it came to releasing theatrical performances, Broadway shows, music concerts, or movies directly to an online platform that everyone could reach instead of charging people for it or having to miss out on the cultural opportunity because of quarantine.   

Each of these life-changing social Innovations during 2021 and 2020 offered opportunities for people to get the services they need no matter where they lived, to find information relevant to their situation and whatever language they preferred, and to get access to valuable entertainment that helps improve mental health during a very long, 2-year lock down for many people. Gaming and entertainment as well as video streaming rose significantly during the covid lockdown as many people sought a new form of entertainment to fill the multiple extra hours they had on their hands because of downsizing, lost jobs, or simply a lack of commuting freeing up multiple hours every day. These social innovations proved invaluable for people of all ages, across all nations, giving access to online gaming opportunities in conjunction with online health answers and social support of text messaging.

 

A disruptive Conversation with Al Etmanski

“Impact – Six Patterns to Spread Your Social Innovation”

Keita Demming works in the space of Applied Innovation and hosts a popular podcast series called: Disruptive Conversations – among other things. In his podcast he unpacks how people who are working to disrupt a sector or system think.

The following podcast features SiG Director, Al Etmanski. Al is a serial social entrepreneur, and author of the book Impact: Six Patterns to Spread Your Social Innovation. In this podcast, Al shares many insights on his years of working to change the system of care for people with disabilities. Al proposed and led the campaign to establish the world’s only disability savings plan – the RDSP. He is an Ashoka Fellow, and a faculty member of John McKnight’s Asset Based Community Development Institute (ABCD). He has been awarded the Order of Canada and the Order of British Columbia. In this podcast episode, he provides wonderful insights from his years of experience on how we disrupt sectors or systems.

Each week Keita interviews a disruptor: someone working to disrupt a sector or system. You can subscribe to his series in various ways and listen to more of his interviews here.

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A disruptive conversation with Cheryl Rose


Keita Demming works in the space of Applied Innovation but when I met him he was working with our SiG@Waterloo colleagues at WISIR. Much of our time together was spent evaluating the SiG Knowledge Hub. Since then, Keita has gone on to complete a PhD in Workplace Learning and Social Change and to kickstart a popular podcast series called: Disruptive Conversations – among other things. In his podcast he unpacks how people who are working to disrupt a sector or system think.

The following podcast features SiG Director, Cheryl Rose. Cheryl is a Senior Fellow with The J.W. McConnell Family Foundation and has spent many years working to support social change agents through education and training that helps them to have more impact.

In this episode, Cheryl shares a wealth of knowledge in how we can think about changing systems and sectors. Having been a mentor and coach to many disruptors, she reminds us to hold a systems lens or a complexity lens when thinking about generating change. For her, generating change is about accepting the honest complexity of our world. What are the implications of confronting honest complexity? With this question, she reminds us that change takes a long time and takes significant investments of resources. In the conversation, she stresses that resources are not just related to money, but are also connected to the social capital we invest in the problems we seek to solve.

Each week Keita interviews a disruptor: someone working to disrupt a sector or system. You can subscribe to his series in various ways and listen to more of his interviews here.

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What happened to the map?

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

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

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

What is our criteria?

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

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

How can you contribute?

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

  • Check the database

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

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

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

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

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

  • Share the work of others

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

Who holds the keys to this project?

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

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

Will you update the map?

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

2016 – Looking back, Looking Forward

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

– In 2016, we published three reports!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What was on our bookshelves this year?

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

And what was on our desks?

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

Who we’ll be watching in 2017?

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

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

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

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

Happy Holidays,

SiG Team

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Making Indigenous histories and futures visible

The YVR Art Foundation is a nonprofit, charitable organization founded in 1993 by the Vancouver Airport Authority to foster the development and enhancement of BC First Nations art and artists. The First Nations of British Columbia have artistic traditions that have been part of their fabric of life for millennia. While these traditions are not unique to BC, the Vancouver Airport is one of the only public authorities that has decided to dedicate space and championship to the celebration of local Indigenous art and craftsmanship. 

jade canoe

Bill Reid -The Jade Canoe at Vancouver International Airport 

Last week, some 4,000km away at Toronto’s YWCA, dedicating and creating intentional space to celebrate Indigenous culture was the heart of a public discussion convened by Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam about Truth and Reconciliation in an urban context.

The panelists included Susan Blight, an artist and activist; Sam Kloetstra, Youth Coordinator, Toronto Indigenous Health Advisory Circle; Sarah Midanik, Executive Director, Native Women’s Resource Centre; and Andre Morriseau, Director, Awards and Stakeholder Relations, Canadian Council for Aboriginal Businesses (CCAB). 

One of the most cited critiques of Toronto’s city planning during the discussion was the lack of intentional place-making for Indigenous peoples. Many suggestions were offered: renaming streets and waters, a multi-functional space/community centre to re/learn culture, a centre for Indigenous Social Innovation, a dedicated district – akin to Chinatown, Little India etc, and an Office of Indigenous Affairs within City Hall.

Sam Kloetstra recently moved to Toronto and Kristyn accidentally introduced him as having just moved to Canada. As Sam pointed out, what’s interesting about the mistake is that, “Not every Indigenous person identifies as being Canadian, but every Indigenous person I’ve met identifies as being Torontonian.” This knowledge is a wake-up call for the City of Toronto. So, how to step up its game?

North American Indigenous Games

North American Indigenous Games

The North American Indigenous Games (NAIGs) will come to Toronto in 2017 – the same year the Invictus Games will be held in Toronto, which Prince Harry announced last year with Prime Minister Trudeau and Premier Wynne in attendance. In contrast, few people have heard about the North American Indigenous Games, which have been held since 1990. These kinds of events can help raise the profile of Indigenous leadership. Similarly, Andre Morriseau spoke of a missed opportunity to build on the success of the Toronto-based 2015 Pan Am Games by creating a living asset of Indigenous experience, athleticism and culture in Toronto. Amplifying the profile of the NAIG’s is a very achievable way to learn from that missed opportunity.

Still, there are some inspiring rogue and entrepreneurial examples of place-making and place-keeping out there that others can build on. Susan Blight and Hayden King took to the streets a few years back, making stickers with Ojibway translations of Toronto street names that they plastered over the English signs, beginning with Queen Street, or Ogimaa Mikana. What began as a political action became a full scale billboard project.

First Story app

First Story app

There’s also the work of First Story. Since 1995,  First Story Toronto, (formerly The Toronto Native Community History Project), within the Native Canadian Centre of Toronto, has been engaged in researching and preserving the Indigenous history of Toronto with the goal of building awareness of and pride in the long Indigenous presence and contributions to the city. They have created a handy mobile phone app (via itunes and google) and you can take self-guided tours of the city, learning about Indigenous heritage and communities in Toronto.

Naturally, in addition to place-making efforts, citizens themselves need a culture shift. Education systems can play a role in this and many are making strides to introduce new curricula. But on the streets and in our every day, how do we foster better relationships with each other? I think it was Andre that remarked, “If you don’t have a dog, do you talk to anyone in the park?”

While making things visible may be the easier first step, actually allowing oneself to be uncomfortable in not knowing how to demonstrate your willingness, to work on Reconciliation is the harder part. Chad Lubelsky from McConnell’s RECODE project wrote recently:

A key challenge therefore is to not rush into solutions, but to live with the tension that resetting relationships will require everyone — Indigenous and non-Indigenous — to change, and to change together. Change happens in concert and takes time; perhaps more time than we’d like…These tensions will create discomfort, and increasing our discomfort might be an indicator that we are making progress. It’s hard work that will only get harder.

There is so much more for us to talk about and action together – in urban environments and in rural communities. There is much that people don’t know. For the participants in last week’s discussion, all seemed to agree that a physical and official commitment by the City of Toronto to reflect Indigenous life is important. Yet all would also agree that we can’t stop there. As a Globe and Mail article published just yesterday outlines: “There is a danger that these gestures become mere performance rather than actively helping to repatriate indigenous land and life.”

The City can move forward with many of the suggestions raised during the discussion, but while they work through official channels, we must all continue our own journey along this difficult but hopeful path.

On wattle trees and maple leaves

In two days from now, I fly out to Vancouver to begin a whirlwind tour with two of the brightest Australian social innovation leaders. I dare say, two of the brightest social innovation leaders, period.

The Australian Centre for Social Innovation (TACSI) was created 7 years ago and since that time, has led the practice of social innovation in Australia, developing on-the-ground solutions such as Family-by- Family and Weavers, building capability in the practice, skills and conditions for social innovation, and initiating tough debates about how we might shift outcomes in relation to some of our most challenging social issues.

SiG is both happy and fortunate to welcome its CEO, Carolyn Curtis and Ingrid Burkett, Director of Learning and Systems Innovation to Canada and I am even more fortunate to host their tour through Vancouver, Victoria, Edmonton, Winnipeg, Ottawa, Montreal and Toronto.

This tour is a learning opportunity for both countries. While wattle trees and maple leaves share few attributes, the two nation’s social and political systems share many. We have vast social and environmental resources and talented people but are stuck on those thorny problems where solutions seem to elude us – inter-generational poverty, systemic violence, poor mental health, unfair distribution of wealth.

TACSI has made some significant in-roads over their first few years, particularly in the area of family preservation and restoration. This is important. As Canadian media has reported, (and here and here) and service agencies know well, far too many children are being removed from their families due to overwhelming challenges and being placed in unsustainable situations that often present more problems than they resolve. Not to mention that loss of resiliency that comes with the break-up of families, no matter what their size or constitution.

tacsi family restoration project

Throughout their time in Canada, TACSI will meet with elected officials, public servants, non-profit leaders, social lab practitioners and professional service designers to hear about Canadian efforts to address similar social problems. In Vancouver, we’ll be meeting with the team developing the Healthy City Strategy, City Studio students and the teams who developed Kudoz and Well-Ahead.

In Victoria we’ll meet with public servants who are instrumental in the delivery of new service approaches. Similar meetings with public service innovation teams will take place in Edmonton, Ottawa and Toronto. In Edmonton we’ll also meet with the people involved in SDX – as they describe themselves – “a watering hole where multiple sectors can come together, learn together, and act together.”

In Winnipeg, Carolyn and Ingrid will meet with the United Way Winnipeg and stakeholders involved in their poverty reduction strategy. The brilliant folks at the Winnipeg Boldness Project will also host us and a learning community to discuss Indigenous Innovation and whole systems change.

Arriving in Ottawa next, we shall split up and meet with government innovation teams, meet the awesome reverse mentors at Hub Ottawa and finish the day with the National Association of Friendship Centres, The Circle on Indigenous Philanthropy, Community Foundations of Canada and Media Style.

Next on the tour will be Montreal where we will hear the exciting plans of Amplify Montreal – a collaboration between Montreal organizations and citizens focused on making Montreal more innovative, inclusive and resilient. The TACSI folks also get a chance to meet some outstanding social entrepreneurs and philanthropic leaders at the McConnell Foundation, before heading to Toronto.

At their last stop, Carolyn and Ingrid will be part of a terrific panel discussion at the Centre for Social Innovation (CSI), featuring Canadian innovators from the MaRS Solutions Lab as well as CSI itself. Together, we will talk about how change happens and how we can create a culture and the political, business and social will to focus innovation on positive social and environmental outcomes.

It’s a full 10 days, no?!

I’ll be recording insights throughout the journey via video with Carolyn and Ingrid. What are they learning? What are they hearing? What were some of the big a-ha’s from the various people they met? Let me know if you have any questions!

It’s going to be a hugely significant journey for both Australia and Canada and we will share all we can with you along the way. Watch this space! And our Twitter and Facebook pages for updates throughout the tour.

Remaking a Living: A shared journey of social innovation

This blog can only do so much to share the inspiring journey of the Remaking a Living Project. If you would like to learn more about their journey, process, and  recommendations, please visit the Remaking a Living website and the project blog. All images were provided by the Remaking a Living Project unless indicated otherwise.

Our world is filled with complexity that cannot be grasped merely by way of numbers or facts.

A prime example is the unemployment rate – a widely cited statistic that fails to tell the whole story of those who find themselves not currently working; it only counts those who have looked for work in the past four weeks.

So where do the rest get counted? Statistics Canada refers to people who want to be working but have given up, over the short term or the long term, as ‘discouraged workers’ and considers them outside the work force, rather than ‘unemployed.’ These are the people that the Remaking a Living project sought to understand. They wanted to hear from the people who aren’t in the news and don’t make it to, or find success at, the employment centre. Mostly, they wanted to know:

How can we best assist those who have been marginalized in the labour force, so they can participate in the economy on their own terms?
Natalie Napier hard at work. Image provided by the Remaking a Living project.

Natalie Napier hard at work during the summer.

The process began last summer in Peterborough, which often ranks as the municipality with the highest unemployment rate in Canada. Natalie Napier, from the Community Opportunity & Innovation Network (COIN), led a small team to explore this question with coaching from InWithForward (IWF), an organization that works all over the world to re-design social services from the perspective of the people who use them, and financial support from the Atkinson Foundation, United Way of Peterborough, and the Community Foundation of Greater Peterborough.

Last month, I had the pleasure of sitting down with Natalie Napier to chat about Remaking a Living:

KG: How did you become involved in this project and what were you doing at COIN prior to this?

NN: I have been at COIN for five years – it all started with an internship. These days my title is Lead Specialist in Innovation Projects. I was getting exposure to the innovation lab model, and I liked the idea of people from all parts of a system coming together to develop more holistic solutions, but in practice the innovation lab seemed to be geared to more privileged members of systems and the last thing I wanted was to carry out a project in which we learn about people experiencing a problem from other people.

KG: This kind of work is – for many- a completely new approach. What inspired the project?

NN: We were inspired by the Atkinson Foundation’s Decent Work Fund that asked, “What is decent work?”. COIN works with people who are marginalized from the workforce, sometimes people who have never had a job. I wanted to explore this question, but I didn’t want to get a grant and have none of the funding reach the very people I was hoping to help. Atkinson put us in touch with IWF.

KG: How did IWF become involved as a coach? I believe this is the first time they coached someone within an organization to conduct the work alone.

NN: The great thing about IWF is that they are always willing to think “How can this be done differently?”. COIN was excited about the potential, but as a small organization – even with our incredible partners – we were not in the position to hire IWF the usual way and they had other projects still in progress. Eventually we came to a solution: I would manage the project with a team and IWF would coach me, mostly remotely.

KG: I understand that Remaking a Living staged various interactions, which I was fascinated by. How did you come up with unique ways to approach people?

Watermelon Trading Post. Image provided by the Remaking a Living Project.

Watermelon Trading Post.

NN: IWF taught us to think of each interaction as a design brief. In one of the interactions, we wanted to get out of the city and talk to people who could tell us first hand about the experience of rural long term unemployment. A contact suggested a food cupboard based out of a church and the organizers of this food cupboard gave us some parametres, mostly to reduce any sense of stigma users might feel. We had to be inside the Church at the back of the room in which people wait to be able to access food and supplies; people had to choose to go out of their way to talk to us. Our goal was to stand out, to be family-friendly, to offer something of value, and to make people feel comfortable enough to tell us their stories.

Throughout the summer the project staged various interactions to explore this question, like a makeshift sneaker cleaning station outside a shelter to understand the impact of peer networks. Image  was provided by the Remaking a Living Project.

Another interaction was a makeshift sneaker cleaning station outside of a community dinner to understand the impact of peer networks.

The staff also mentioned that fresh fruit wasn’t usually available so when watermelons went on sale, we recognized them as the great big, juicy props they are and came up with the Watermelon Trading Post. A central value behind this project has been reciprocity, so we always had something to offer.

KG: How did you adapt to going from working inside an office to interacting with people all the time?

NN: For me, this project was about designing programs outside of boardrooms and I saw getting ‘out there’ as part of the process. IWF’s coaching had prepared me for it, and I am outgoing, but it wasn’t always easy. The people who we were trying to approach are often under-stimulated and isolated since they don’t have workplace interactions or spending money for activities. We found that as long as we struck the right note, and had something to offer (a laugh, watermelon etc), people were happy to chat.

KG: What were the obstacles you encountered?

NN: This was an incredible learning experience, but when you are processing so much yourself, it can be hard to share it with others. I found it really challenging to describe this project and its potential outcome to our funders. We also had to adapt IWF’s process to our non-profit: for example, our board wondered whether our adventures into people’s homes would be covered under our insurance and health and safety policy.

The finished web product of the Remaking a Living project, with their prototyped solutions.

The finished website of the Remaking a Living project, with their proposed solutions.

KG: What lesson did you take away from this process?

NN: I took two lessons away from this process. The first is the incredible challenge of communicating the value of this work with any degree of complexity to anyone, including and especially to those within my own organization. This was one reason the website was so important to me. We worked really hard not just to explain, but to show what our work was about. I had many important conversations in which I wasn’t able to get the point across; words utterly failed me.

Anyone working in the social sector knows this work is challenging; we all get frustrated with the results of our work and admit that we need new approaches, but we all still have an investment in some of the status quo. When someone comes along and transmits a message about a different way of doing things, we can surprise ourselves by getting our backs up. I learned that I needed to connect emotionally, not just intellectually. I needed to invite more people on the journey with me, rather than just focusing on finding the right words.

The second lesson I learned was that organizational learning and change takes time. IWF is designed to move at the speed of light: to analyze and reinvent. It was exciting and invigorating to work with an organization that has that kind of energy. My organization, while small and relatively agile, is designed to provide the stability of inclusive, flexible programming to people who are marginalized. Those are two very different machines. I wanted to import some of that IWF magic to my own organization, but I met resistance. At the time, it felt like a brick wall that I could not get through, but I can see now that I was just pushing too hard. Opportunities to incorporate aspects of IWF’s Grounded Change approach seem to abound now.

We don’t recognize patience as a virtue in innovation nearly enough.

KG: Would you say there is an interest in trying new things within Peterborough’s philanthropic landscape?

Last November our Executive Director spoke at the Philanthropy Forum in Peterborough about Social Innovation - the appetite is there.

Last November, SiG ED, Tim Draimin, spoke at the Philanthropy Forum in Peterborough about social innovation – the appetite is there. Photo provided by the Community Foundation of Greater Peterborough.

NN: The very fact that all these partners within Peterborough’s social and philanthropic landscape funded our project, and that so many local organizations allowed us to come into their spaces, is evidence that there is an appetite for new things. There are several really great grassroots projects and programs cropping up in Peterborough. Smaller organizations are often able to innovate with a nimbleness and boldness that larger institutions lack until there is more evidence available.

 KG: Do you think you’ll try this approach again?

NN: While the Remaking a Living Project has not found traction with its proposed solution ideas, it is still early. There is a lot of interest in exploring different issues using a similar process. I am currently crafting another project with this approach, including all the lessons learned from our first go – particularly the need to incorporate partners into the process.

I can’t imagine that anything I do in the future won’t owe something to IWF’s work. I am an evangelist. I think everybody deserves to be a force in the definition of ‘problems’ and creation of solutions that are about their lives. I don’t think there are many situations in which we should work any other way. I can’t go back.

Debriefers

IWF suggested that the project assemble a team of people who would be sympathetic to the project, but not afraid to ask tough questions and make us see things from different angles. They assembled the debriefers from different sectors who would look at what they were doing, asked questions, offer practical advice, and barrier-bust.

 

What does Canada look like in 2067?

I first heard this question asked by the leadership team at MaRS’ Studio Y in Toronto in early 2015. It was the echo of a similar question posed in a 2015 Possible Canadas workshop convened by The J.W. McConnell Family Foundation and Reos Partners. It’s the kind of question that passionate young people get excited about answering.

Throughout my time with Social Innovation Generation (SiG), we have looked for ways to support the next generation of social change leaders. In hearing the question,“What does 2067 look like?”, and sensing the growing energy to spend time answering it, a cohort of youth leaders, youth-led organizations and SiG began exploring the development of a vision and how we could get there together.

Enter the 4Rs Youth Movement, Apathy is Boring, Studio Y and some graduates from the University of Waterloo Graduate Diploma in Social Innovation, with supportive energy from the McConnell Foundation and ImagiNation150. Together, these groups represented a wide range of experience, knowhow and action, from systems thinking to movement building to civic action to reconciliation and deep partnership.

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Photo: Renaud Philippe

Several of the early participants familiar with systems thinking wanted to put their research into action, so there was a lot of talk about committing to transformational change. Some of the Diploma graduates wanted to build on the work they had just completed for their program, while others were interested in keeping the focus very broad to allow for an emergent pathway forward.

With diverse directions on the table, instead of agreeing on a particular idea to collaborate on, we focused instead on agreeing on a common vision for 2067.

Waterloo graduate and collaborator, Derek Alton, called it finding our north star. It meant finding common language and agreement that could guide us for the next 50 years. No small task. We noodled around with language that would keep us all going when life inevitably throws curve balls. What could bring us back to centre when we travel down divergent roads or down rabbit holes?

This is where we landed:

In 2067, the diversity of Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples who share these lands are in an authentic and inclusive relationship with each other and with the natural environment.

Each word was carefully chosen. We wanted to acknowledge and include everyone. We wanted relationships between people to be authentic – meaningful, respectful, honest – and for equal respect to be shown to the natural environment.

Photo: Cheryl Rose

Photo: Cheryl Rose

Importantly, the words also built off those spoken by Jess Bolduc, who heads up the 4Rs Youth Movement and was part of our cohort from inception. She placed the language of our north star in an Indigenous context with particular attention to our relationship to the land.

Once we had agreed on the north star, we turned our attention to designing a pathway to get there. The subsequent months were pretty murky to say the least. There were many ideas and also several challenges to participation. Despite wanting to engage, some of the recent Diploma graduates felt the pinch to focus on other work. For some of the organizations involved, our joint project felt like a distraction from more pressing initiatives. While wanting to remain agnostic about and open to what the work would become, it was difficult for me to see the early energy dissipate.

And then there was a shift.

2015 was a big year in Canada for several reasons. The final report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission was released, including 94 Calls to Action. The first Indigenous Innovation Summit was held in Winnipeg. The federal election brought in a new government who immediately announced an inquiry into the deaths of murdered and missing Indigenous women and a commitment to answer the TRC calls.

In parallel, and in a much quieter setting, I was fortunate to be present for a convening organized by The J.W. McConnell Family Foundation, Canada Council and The Circle on Indigenous Philanthropy. It was a retreat for artists who had received funding for {Re}conciliation: a groundbreaking initiative to promote artistic collaborations that look to the past & future for new dialogues between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal peoples in Canada.

Following the retreat, and in recognition of the growing momentum of the 4Rs Youth Movement and the national energy around reconciliation, it suddenly made much more sense for our small team to focus our vision on Reconciliation. The 4Rs’ mission is to change the country by changing the relationship between Indigenous and non-Indigenous youth. Over the past year, 4Rs has developed a cross-cultural dialogue framework to articulate what they have learned about what is needed in a shared experience for young people to engage in dialogue that furthers respect, reciprocity, reconciliation, and relevance. This has been a crucial year in building shared capacity as young people to lead dialogue in ways that honour its complexity, and respect the vision of 4Rs to support the change that Indigenous and non-Indigenous youth want to see.

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Photo: www.4rsyouth.ca

By flowing with this energy, we thought we might uncover how we could make a unique and helpful contribution and nurture the rising tide. So we placed the 4Rs approach at the centre of our work. Rather than duplicate efforts, we are now working to amplify their outreach and produce a shared story of 18 months of dialogue and visioning with and by youth across the country. The journey story will be shared at a national gathering in November 2017.

It is an ambitious project and it has already provided many lessons for me.

The Federation for the Humanities and Social Sciences has been an early champion of our exploration and I’ve shared this blog with their community as well. The way forward will be strengthened by partnerships with more and different organizations and networks. I suspect the rest of the way to 2067 will be equally dependent on collaboration. Let’s see what we find out as we journey on.

Seeking! Post-Doctoral Fellowship in Social Innovation

The University of Waterloo’s Institute for Social Innovation and Resilience (WISIR) is offering a postdoctoral fellowship to start August 1, 2016 for one year. WISIR was founded as part of a national initiative funded by The J.W McConnell Family Foundation and is designed to build capacity for broad system change in Canada.

  • One year fulltime postdoctoral fellowship
  • $50,000 annual salary, office and administrative support provided
  • Supervision by Frances Westley, McConnell Chair in Social Innovation, and Dan McCarthy, Director of the Waterloo Institute for Social Innovation and Resilience (WISIR)

Currently, four specific areas of interest and commitment concerning WISIR are:

  1. The challenges of indigenous innovation and engagement,
  2. Capacity building in the social profit sector– particularly the development of the skills and mindsets required for addressing increasingly complex social-ecological problems,
  3. The integration of art and science in stimulating innovative and breakthrough approaches to linked social-ecological systems
  4. General theory of transformation and social innovation in linked social-ecological systems, with particular emphasis on historical cases.

The postdoctoral fellow will work primarily with Dr. Frances Westley, McConnell Chair in Social Innovation, and Dan McCarthy, Director of WISIR but will also have the opportunity to engage with a team of staff, faculty members  and graduate students attached to the SiG@Waterloo initiative.

The successful candidate can collaborate with researchers across campus in such interdisciplinary centres as the Waterloo Institute on Complexity and Innovation and the Centre for International Governance Innovation.  Qualified candidates must have a PhD (completed within the last five years), be familiar with complexity theory, social innovation theory and social-ecological transformation processes including such approaches as the Multi-Level Transition theories, and resilience theory approaches to adaptation and transformation. A strong research background and sound methodological training is a must. An ideal candidate will be interested in joining problem solving teams in writing proposals for research funding, leading teams researching social innovation, and collaborating on research articles for publication.

Review of applications will begin on July 11, 2016 and will continue until the position is filled. The position will start August 1, 2016

Please send curriculum vitae, one research paper and, two letters of reference with the subject line “Post-Doctoral Fellowship in Social Innovation” to: Nina Ripley, Office Coordinator at nmripley@uwaterloo.ca

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