Cheryl Rose, Director of Partnerships and Programs, Social Innovation Generation at the University of Waterloo
Apparently, you don’t often get 200 senior public servants out to an event on how to change the world; but earlier this month, that’s exactly what happened in our nation’s capital at the Social Innovation Knowledge Exchange hosted by the Public Policy Forum of Canada, and supported by the Social Innovation Generation (SiG) partnership. Numerous federal government departments and a wide variety of NGO’s from across Canada were represented in the audience and at the event exposition. All seemed interested in this topic and excited to learn more. There’s something encouraging!
Deputy Minister Michael Wernick (Indian and Northern Affairs) opened the event with a statement around the urgent need to find new ways of addressing the complex problems that we are facing in government and as a society. He stressed that we can’t be interested in ‘boutique’ programs or quick fixes, but that we must learn about, and work together for, real social innovation – change that has durability, impact and scale. Tim Draimin, SiG’s Executive Director, followed this with an overview of social innovation concepts and an explanation of why they matter. And he placed Canada’s interest and efforts in this field within the global context of national social innovation initiatives and the related social finance agendas. How does Canada fair as a socially innovative country and culture? Well, there are certainly nations, like the UK, which have invested much more in delving into this area and disseminating knowledge and practice; yet, to my mind, there are few that seem as thoughtful, precise, and historically ‘ripe’ with social innovation examples, as Canada; maybe, it could be that we demure Canadians may yet lead as major change-makers for our world. There’s something to think about!
Ian Shugart, Deptuy Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development Canada, spoke towards the end of the event to those gathered and assigned them each a task; he challenged them to return to their offices and, before they left to go to their homes and families, to write down 2 or 3 practical ways that they will, as soon as possible, act to continue the conversation about how to truly support social innovation in Canada. I offer the exact same challenge to everyone who reads this blog. There’s something to do. There’s lots to do.
Choosing just one thing for a wish to become more visible in 2011 is hard - there seems to be so much that begs to be revealed out there. So I asked myself to take the question out of my head, pull it in closer to my heart and listen. And suddenly, I realized the thread that runs through so many of my own hopes for this world; may passion become visible.
Passion seems to be a bit of an embarrassment to some these days and gets hidden away as not mature, not practical, not logical. I say it’s the core of any chance for change. I recognize it in others and I instinctively know it’s central to the beginning and the sustenance for all that we’re hoping is possible for our communities. I’m thinking of the young people I meet every day that hold a deep passion for a better world - may their passion be encouraged. I’m thinking of the hundreds of academics on university campuses who are passionate about thinking and working with others to help solve real problems – may their passion be celebrated.
I’m also thinking of the politicians who are passionate about helping change the status quo – may their passion be emboldened. I’m thinking of the corporate executives who see much more than the bottom line and hold a passion for new ways of thinking about ‘profit’ – may their passion be recognized. I’m thinking of all those who work creatively and passionately in our stretched social sector – may their passion be purposeful.
And I’m thinking of my own passion for meaningful social change. Just as it is for everyone from time to time, my passion succumbs to frustration, hopelessness, fear, and just plain weariness - may my passion, and yours, be kindled and burn clear and bright.
We live in a time when transformative change seems possible. Our passions, yours and mine, are beacons that light the way on these new paths we’re exploring. Keep passion alive in 2011; uncover it and let it shine!
This blog post originally appeared in Al Etmanski's publication, Becoming Visible 2011.For the complete series of Becoming Visible 2011, please visit Al's blog.
One of SiG@Waterloo's goals is to explore a variety of ways that we can support people to learn about how social change happens in the world. This gives us the opportunity to share the new knowledge and understandings that our research team is discovering, as well as point to fascinating examples that are highlighted in our expanding series of Canadian case studies. As part of reaching that education goal, we're beginning to launch some newly designed courses related to social innovation at the University of Waterloo.
Student interest has been very high and we've seen significant enrollment in the four courses that we've piloted so far. Frances Westley and Thomas Homer-Dixon have teamed up to offer a graduate level multi-disciplinary seminar course. Our two SiG faculty members are also very much involved; for example, this winter, Carin Holroyd is offering a course through Political Science on Social Entrepreneurship. And last Fall, Dan McCarthy led an undergraduate service-learning course through Environment which explored systems and complexity and the links between social and ecological resilience, all connected to real-world projects that the students got involved in to assist environmental organizations.
For the second year, I'm currently leading a small undergraduate course through the Faculty of Arts, called Leadership for Social Innovation. The students and I are exploring some of the social innovation concepts and models that help to understand how to connect strategy, design and action for social action that works! They're a terrific group of young leaders who have designed an intervention that they hope will connect the energy and resources of UW students to address some aspects of local hunger issues.
I think I can speak for all of our SiG faculty and staff, when I say that our work with students, and young people generally, is one of the most rewarding - and inspiring - parts of our work!