Einstein famously said that you can’t find new answers by simply asking the old questions. Social innovation is the process of developing new approaches, perceptions or programs that meet social needs. Studies have shown that most innovation takes place “at the margins”, where people are struggling to find solutions to real problems.

Communities are centres of innovation, as entrepreneurial individuals and organizations deal with such intractable issues as homelessness, drugs, or early school leaving. Many potentially promising initiatives fail, however, for lack of recognition, testing, support and funding.

The Foundation’s interest in social innovation began by helping local initiatives develop their operations to reach more people and tackle broader issues, through a model we called “applied dissemination”. Working within complex, dynamic systems, it became clear that community organizations needed the skills to collaborate effectively with the business and public sectors. To move innovative ideas beyond the ‘pilot’ stage required long-term strategies, access to patient capital and an ability to engage with policymakers.

Together with a wide range of successful social entrepreneurs, the Foundation identified the need for a broader and more systematic effort to promote a culture of continuous social innovation in Canada which would embrace the public and private sectors, academe and community organizations.

In its initial phase, the Foundation made grants to a number of innovative individuals and organizations. These include:

  • including Roots of Empathy, JUMP, Santropol Roulant, PLAN Institute, the Framework Foundation, Fondation pour la promotion de la pédiatrie sociale and the Institute for Children Committing Offences, among others. Participants met in regular peer-learning sessions and a community of practice emerged. The use of the panarchy cycle offered a conceptual model to better understand the dynamics of social innovation.
  • In 2005, building on our experience with a range of social entrepreneurs developing new approaches to address entrenched social challenges the Foundation partnered with PLAN Institute for Caring Citizenship (Vancouver), the MaRS Discovery District (Toronto) and the University of Waterloo to launch Social Innovation Generation (SiG). SiG’s goal is to foster policies and practices that encourage, nurture and develop continuous innovation to make Canadian society more resilient, sustainable and creative. It represents the Foundation’s largest investment to date in efforts to seed a culture of Canadian social innovation.

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