July 18th, 2014
Last week, the Foundation co-hosted  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 »
June 21st, 2014
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 www.dechinta.ca.
June 15th, 2014
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.
June 14th, 2014
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.
May 10th, 2014
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.