Introduction to 'Notes of a Newcomer' Blog Series
About 'Notes of a Newcomer': The 'Notes of a Newcomer' project began in late 2008 and is both an investigation into social innovation at the local level and an exploration of Waterloo Region specifically. Told through the experiences of a young person newly arrived in the region, it was also an opportunity for SiG@Waterloo to build, and build upon, its relationships in the local community. As a result of the exploration, a book was published consisting of a series of interviews with community members. Through the ‘Notes of a Newcomer’ Blog Series, we hope to share these stories with you. In the first blog of the series, we bring you the short introduction where Clara, the author, outlines the project in more detail, introduces herself, and describes her first experiences of making a life in Waterloo Region.
Author: Clara Bird
Wednesday, September 24th, 2008
It is warm for a fall day. Except for a slight change of colour in the leaves, it could be August, even July. From my balcony at 51 Mansion Street, I can see my neighbour Bill working on his house. In the time since we moved in, he has replaced most of the windows on the house and is now a good way through the construction of his porch. He promises to have Ola and me over for a beer once he has completed it. I think his offer is genuine. Bill is like that. While he is working away, a steady stream of people come by to visit. One day I noticed him unloading several coolers from his truck. When I inquired as to their contents, he told me he was distributing his family’s sausages to friends and neighbours. I know little of Bill’s history but recognize in his kind manner to me, and his interaction with others, that he is generous and open—exemplary of the community he calls his own. The simple fact of being his neighbour grants Ola and me some membership, too.
I arrived in Kitchener in January of last year. I had visited several times during the fall to see my parents, who had recently relocated here from Montreal. Circumstances conspired and Ola and I found ourselves taking up residence here, albeit somewhat ambivalently. I am from Montreal and Ola is from London in the UK. We are used to the “big city.” But we were both unemployed and this area seemed full of opportunities. So we moved. It was a snowy winter, and for the first few months Ola and I took refuge in our apartment on Schneider Ave, creeping out occasionally to the Shortstop on the corner, or to the Boathouse, when we needed life and company. Ola was working as a researcher for the University, and I was working on contract for Tamarack, editing a manuscript. I had made acquaintances through my search for work, but we had few peers and no friends. We were often on our own and spent much of our free time visiting friends in other places. Consequently, Kitchener-Waterloo seemed like a lonely place. We were aware of a strong community, but remained outside it.
“SiG@Waterloo is the academic node of a larger national initiative, Social innovation Generation, established to investigate and support social innovation across Canada”
In March, I was given the opportunity to work for SiG@Waterloo. They were looking for someone to do a short contract and I was available and eager. My task has been to write a piece about the community where SiG has taken up residence. SiG@Waterloo is the academic node of a larger national initiative, Social Innovation Generation, established to investigate and support social innovation across Canada. Located within the University of Waterloo, this node’s chief goal is to explore, research and facilitate greater understanding of how and when social innovation occurs. Unlike some of the other nodes, SiG@Waterloo is not site specific, but aims instead to be an intellectual hub for generating ideas. That said, there is a recognition that novel approaches to solving social challenges cannot happen in a bubble. For academic ideas to have impact, they must have input from, and contribute to, the larger community. As such, SiG@ Waterloo collaborates on local initiatives that leverage and enhance the talents and creativity latent in this community. SiG’s local goals focus on deepening the understanding of social innovation in this region and strengthening capacity through sharing resources.
So, SiG wants to better understand the qualities that make this community thrive, as well as the challenges that hold it back. Further, understanding these processes provides important insights more generally into what characteristics make communities innovative. Given Waterloo Region’s national and increasingly international reputation for invention and entrepreneurship in various sectors, understanding SiG@Waterloo’s new home may be particularly revealing to those interested in social innovation.
"The purpose of this story, then, is threefold. From SiG’s perspective, it is an attempt to get to know its neighbours and to acquaint its neighbours with this institute concerned with social innovation; it is also an investigation of how social innovation operates at a community level. Additionally, and rather inadvertently, it is my own story; that of a young, educated, rather creative and quite socially aware newcomer to Waterloo."
In the end, this last perspective has come to shape the story. I set out to get to know this community for SiG through a series of interviews with people involved with and committed to social innovation. With each interview, I became better acquainted with the people and places that make up this community, and in turn, with my own place within it. I have chosen to convey my findings in a narrative that invites you to listen in on my conversations and to share in my own process of exploration and understanding. I recognize that I can only barely begin to fully understand the history and culture of this region. I am new here, having little familiarity but also very few expectations. However, I came to believe that this “newness” grants me a fresh and valuable perspective. Moreover, it puts me in a similar position to so many others, people like me who have recently arrived in this region and are trying to make a home here.
So, in June of 2008, armed with the two refrains that this community associates with itself—“we are a community of firsts”, and “we are a big small town”— I began a journey. Looking back on this experience, I feel excited and ready to share my story with you. I hope you enjoy it! And I hope that this new story about this community can offer to you some measure of the insights that it has given to me.
If you are interested in obtaining a hardcopy of the book, please contact the SiG office at 1-519-888-4567, Ext. 32525 or email@example.com