Launch of Canada’s Ecofiscal Commission

CEFC-brochureNovember 4th marked the launch of Canada’s Ecofiscal Commission and their inaugural report, Smart, Practical, Possible: Canadian options for greater economic and environmental prosperitywhich presents the case for smart, practical, and achievable policies and sets out a roadmap for the work the Commission will undertake over the next five years.

Canada’s Ecofiscal Commission, a Foundation grantee, was formed by some of Canada’s most prominent economic policy experts with the aim of modernizing fiscal systems across the country to achieve better economic and environmental outcomes for Canada.

To learn more, visit and join the conversation on Twitter @EcofiscalCanada #Ecofiscal.

Canada’s Ecofiscal Commission in the news:

Public Launch of RECODE

recode_box_solid_tagline_horizontal_yellow-on-blackRECODE, an initiative of the Foundation, created in collaboration with thought leaders and partners from the private, public, and not-for-profit sectors, was officially launched at the Social Finance Forum held in Toronto on November 6. RECODE is dedicated to catalyzing social innovation and social entrepreneurship in higher education across Canada.

In the initial phase of this multi-year initiative, fourteen colleges and universities across Canada have been awarded matching grants to encourage students to become social entrepreneurs, while contributing to Canada’s capacity for social innovation.

RECODE Round One Recipients include:
Cégep de Sherbrooke; University of Victoria, Camosun College, and Royal Roads University; Memorial University of Newfoundland; University of Guelph; École de technologie supérieure (ETS), Dawson College, and Cégep André-Laurendeau; OCAD University; Mount Royal University; Simon Fraser University; Ryerson University; University of British Columbia; University of New Brunswick; Georgian College; Wilfrid Laurier University; and Concordia University.

RECODE will:

  • Support the development of campus-level social innovation and social entrepreneurship ‘zones’, along with business, community and public sector partners.
  • Operate a national challenge and collaboration platform open to all post-secondary faculty and students in Canada.
  • Advance society’s ability to address social and environmental challenges through collaboration and innovation across disciplines, sectors and institutions.

Stephen Huddart, President and CEO of the J.W. McConnell Family Foundation, says, “RECODE builds on the Foundation’s long history of support for Canada’s post-secondary sector, and aims to strengthen support for students who want to work on creating new approaches to the challenges of our time. With partners like Intel, MaRS, CBSR, Purpose Capital, SecondMuse, and many others, we are lining up resources for ongoing investment in society’s ability to innovate at a critical time”.

Monica Contreras, Director of Operations at the Digital Media Research & Innovation Institute at OCAD University, one of the schools receiving funding, says: “It is a truly transformative opportunity for OCAD University to develop a global-leading Art & Design Social Innovation Zone that will benefit and be in the service of our students, and Canada’s post-secondary sector.”

Pierre Dumouchel, Director General of the École de technologie supérieure (ETS), another recipient of RECODE funding, adds: “RECODE is helping ETS lead the way in training 21st century engineers, ensuring that they move forward conscious of their environment and their own capacity to offer innovative solutions to the challenges of today and tomorrow.”

To learn more about the initiative please visit or join the conversation on Facebook (LetsRECODE) and Twitter @LetsRECODE #LetsRECODE.

RECODE press release


New Report: Building Sustainable Food Systems in Canada

On the occasion of World Food Day, a new report is drawing attention to the social and environmental challenges facing global food systems and the implications for Canadian investors of unsustainable practices by food companies.

The report, Building Sustainable Food Systems in Canada: A Role for Investors, was released by the Shareholder Association for Research & Education (SHARE), a leading Canadian responsible investment organization. The report was funded by Canadian philanthropic foundations including the J.W. McConnell Family Foundation.

Read the report.

Reflections on the 2014 Evaluation Roundtable

Last week, the Foundation co-hosted [1] the Evaluation Roundtable in Montreal. This Washington DC-based network of some 30 US and Canadian foundations meets every 18 months to study a case in philanthropic strategy and evaluation, and this time the subject was Social Innovation Generation (SiG), the Foundation’s seven-year partnership with the University of Waterloo, MaRS Discovery District and Plan Institute. Its purpose is to foster a culture of continuous social innovation in Canada.

By many measures, SiG is a success.  Through a happy convergence of intent and circumstance the term social innovation is in wider use, and the partners, along with SiG’s national office, have contributed individually and collectively to Canada’s ability to address complex and persistent systemic challenges. Examples include SiG’s role in introducing impact investing and social labs; the first Ministry of Social Innovation, in BC; teaching and research into the nature of systemic change; the introduction of new philanthropic platforms such as Innoweave; and many more.

To the surprise of some, the teaching case placed considerable emphasis on the first two years of the initiative, when it was not certain that success was possible, or that the initiative itself would continue. It was a period of confusion, doubt and conflict. So why dwell on it? As in science or business, innovation in philanthropy entails risk and occasional failure. Intelligent failure, as Ashley Good of Fail Forward referred to it at a workshop following the roundtable, requires honesty and humility – as well as patience and generosity towards ourselves and others as we learn failure’s lessons. Read the rest of this entry »

Dechinta in the news

The Dechinta Centre for Research and Learning—a Foundation grantee—was recently featured in the Globe and Mail article, Learning from the land in the North.

The article highlights Dechinta’s innovative and unconventional single-semester program, which is delivered in a remote, wilderness setting—a 20-minute ski-plane flight from Yellowknife. Placing equal weight on both academia and traditional, land-based learning, Dechinta supports Northern students to lead and achieve through a bush-based education experience.

To learn more about the Dechinta Centre for Research and Learning, visit

New report from SiG

Social Innovation Generation (SiG), in collaboration with KPMGVolans, and MaRS, recently published Breaking Through: How Corporate Social Innovation Creates Business Opportunity. The report looks at the positive power of business to drive the innovation needed to solve the growing social and environmental challenges on our plate.

For the full report, or to learn more about Corporate Social Innovation, click here.

Social Innovation Nation

Recent events suggest that the field of social innovation is maturing to the point where it is possible to envisage adaptive, evolutionary shifts in our social, economic, and environmental systems.

Consider: May 25-27, MaRS Solutions Lab (MSL) hosted Labs for Systems Change—the world’s first gathering of practitioners leading this type of work, with individuals from 30 countries. In her remarks to the gathering, Frances Westley— J.W. McConnell Chair in Social Innovation at the University of Waterloo—described how our understanding of psychology and group dynamics; design thinking; and complex adaptive systems theory—together with data analysis and computer modelling—affords us new ability to examine and improve institutional behaviour, and to generate testable solutions to wicked problems.

Meanwhile, May 26-30 was Social Innovation Week in Vancouver, produced by BC Partners for Social Impact and SiG. A public Ideas Jam and an academic conference were among several events surrounding the global Social Innovation Exchange, which Canada was hosting for the first time. The gathering was opened by BC’s Minister of Social Innovation—Canada’s first—who predicted that in five years every government will follow suit—crowdsourcing ideas, introducing hybrid corporate structures, employing new social finance measures, and supporting civic engagement in the search for solutions to our most pressing challenges.

With its recent announcement of a $1 billion endowment for social and cultural innovation, Alberta is also moving in this direction.

This is not just work for governments, corporations, philanthropic foundations, and community organizations. A recent blog by Joe Hsueh, of Foundation partner Second Muse, titled Why the Human Touch is Key to Unlocking System Change, quotes Peter Senge: “What is most systemic is most personal”. A reminder that change begins with ourselves—with shifts in our own habits, and our customary ways of seeing and dealing with others.

Stephen Huddart, President & CEO

Announcing the launch of the Banking on Change Fund

The J.W. McConnell Family Foundation is pleased to announce the upcoming launch of a new fund to support the transformational work of food banks across Canada. As part of the Foundation’s Sustainable Food Systems initiative, the Banking on Change Fund, launching June 16, targets food security at the community level, with a focus on the role of food banks in moving beyond emergency food aid towards an approach that meaningfully integrates healthy food procurement and civic engagement. In addition to grants of up to $50,000 over two years, Banking on Change grantees will receive funding for professional development and opportunities to participate in a variety of learning activities.

Visit our website for fund updates and announcements.

SSIR’s Summer Issue: Strategic Philanthropy for a Complex World

Strategic Philanthropy for a Complex World, a recent article from the summer issue of Stanford’s Social Innovation Review, highlights the Foundation’s practice of embracing emergent strategy in developing initiatives and programs. Quoting the Foundation’s Director of Programs and Operations, John Cawley:

“The first thing is not to assume that we alone are going to have a plan. It’s going to be co-created by the people we’re bringing around the table. It is much more nerve-racking but ultimately more interesting when you co-create strategy.”

The article emphasizes that to solve today’s complex social problems, foundations need to shift from the prevailing model of strategic philanthropy that attempts to predict outcomes, to an emergent model that better fits the realities of creating social change in a complex world.

Read the full article here.

New Social Finance Tool

Last year’s Food Farms Fish and Finance Forum catalyzed the creation of Starting Point, a learning resource aimed at providing investors, entrepreneurs, decision-makers and community leaders in the food, farming and fishing sector with an overview of social finance—a tool for solving community-based problems. The Starting Point Module was recently launched by the MaRS Centre for Impact Investing, FarmStart and the
Ecology Action Centre.

The Foundation has also been collaborating with Christie Young of FarmStart on a strategic landscape analysis of the financing needs and opportunities of the sustainable food, fish and farming sectors in Canada. We aim to use the results of this analysis to inform the Foundation’s investment decisions and to share our learning with funders and other relevant stakeholders.