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 »

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.

Accelerate: Collaborating for Sustainability Conference

The Natural Step Canada is excited to announce the 2nd annual Accelerate: Collaborating for Sustainability Conference, taking place on June 5-6, 2014, at the Evergreen Brick Works in Toronto, Ontario.

This conference will offer a unique opportunity to deepen learning about collaboration from experts and practitioners, to experience collaboration by creating connections with other change agents, and to seed new collaborative initiatives. Click here for details.

RECODE launches

The Foundation is pleased to launch RECODE, an initiative dedicated to catalyzing social innovation and entrepreneurship in higher education across the country. RECODE is a call to social innovation—to redesign public institutions from the inside out; to disrupt business as usual; to found and grow new social enterprises; to create partnerships across institutional and sectoral boundaries—in short, to ‘recode’ our culture’s operating systems in order to achieve a more just, sustainable and beautiful world.

RECODE will operate at two levels. At the community and campus level, it will support the establishment or advancement of social innovation ‘zones’. At the national level, it will encourage a culture of open collaboration among colleges, universities and other stakeholders, through the creation of a national network.

RECODE’s purpose is to apply the tools and resources of social innovation, social entrepreneurship and impact investing to solving our most pressing societal challenges. We hope that it will strengthen universities’ and colleges’ roles as active drivers of social progress, and provide additional support to the generation that will lead our society in 5, 10 and 20 years from now.

A webinar will take place on Tuesday May 13th at 12pm. To learn more about the initiative click here.

Tides Top Ten

Each year, Tides Canada honours ten of Canada’s most innovative social change efforts – communities, organizations, or individuals that inspire people to take action, think in new ways and make the world a better place.
We are pleased to announce that Innoweave, as well as Foundation grantees, Dechinta and Food Matters Manitoba, have been selected as part of the 2013 Tides Top Ten list. Congratulations to the other recipients, and thank you to Tides Canada for recognizing the work of Innoweave, Dechinta and Food Matters Manitoba!

Launch of Cities for People website

Cities for People, a new Foundation initiative has recently launched their website. It aims to explore the question: How can we enhance social, ecological and economic well-being and help civic cultures thrive?

Cities For People sees every city as an invitation. An invitation for interaction, innovation, change, inclusion, learning, love and growth. An invitation to think beyond the way things are and have always been, and come up with new ways to make where we live, support how we would like to live.

The goal is to empower change and help foster the sort of multi-level transformation and ideological shift that is required to help cities embrace the needs of their populations and come up with ways to meet them.

Visit the website here.

Social Innovation Learning Session

The Foundation has launched its Social Innovation Learning Program, a series of retreat-style gatherings designed to support the continued development of organizations through the formation of a peer-supported learning community. From 2004-2007, the Foundation regularly convened selected grantees to share strategies, experiences and challenges, draw inspiration from one another, and to learn from invited experts. This format has recently been revived with a group of 8 grantees.

The first in a series of three gatherings was held in late February, at the Hotel Premières Nations in Wendake (Quebec), where participants discovered links between diverse areas of work and learned about common strategies for scaling their efforts. As we have heard from grantees in the past, taking a pause can be rejuvenating, and this event proved to be beneficial in terms of stepping back from the day-to-day operational demands to focus on collaborative learning.