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Canada’s edge is in inclusive innovation

Canada’s edge is in inclusive innovation

Learn why Stephen Huddart thinks the future of innovation is inclusive, in this foreword to our new article series generously supported by the McConnell Foundation and Power Corporation of Canada
January 31, 2019
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Stephen Huddart is the President and CEO of The McConnell Foundation. The McConnell Foundation is a funder of the Brookfield Institute’s “Building Inclusion into Canada’s Innovation Economy” article series

1. Why the future of innovation is inclusive

Few would disagree that innovation serves as an engine of economic growth, productivity and competitiveness. Today, however, we must address the possibility that the conditions that enable such growth may be overtaken by social conflict and climate-related disaster. Thus, innovation’s focus and orientation must become inclusive of both community well-being and the ecological health of the planet.

The capital, ingenuity and commitment required to transition from growth that is overwhelming earth’s life support systems, towards an equitable and sustainable economy are not to be found in government, the private sector or civil society alone, but in a grand projet involving all sectors of society.

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To address complex problems like growing inequality, food insecurity, and increasing burnout in the helping professions, we need to complement technological, financial and scientific research with social innovation — new ideas, strategies and organizational arrangements that better meet social needs.

A growing gap between innovation in the service of narrow economic interests and the greater public good is discernible in many fields. As Richard Florida warns with respect to innovation and cities:

The link between innovation and segregation is not just a consequence of inequality per se, but of the way we increasingly sort into different geographies by knowledge, education, occupation, and income.

Divorcing innovation’s dividends from social context is dividing us and eroding public trust: according to the 2017 Edelman Trust Barometer, 40% of Canadians now believe that ‘people like me are denied access to the education and opportunities we need to get ahead.’ 61% ‘do not have confidence that our current leaders will be able to successfully address our country’s challenges’ and 80% agree that ‘the elites who run our institutions are out of touch with regular people.’

To address complex problems like growing inequality, food insecurity, and increasing burnout in the helping professions, we need to complement technological, financial and scientific research with social innovation — new ideas, strategies and organizational arrangements that better meet social needs.

Social innovation is coming of age in Canada, and comes with its own toolkit — including social R&D informed by solutions labs and service design; systems mapping; social procurement policies; social enterprise incubators; impact investing; learning and collaboration platforms; and data-driven evidence about what works.

2. Why the future of social is innovation

Social innovation is about creating better outcomes: Community Food Centres replace conventional food banks and improve nutrition, belonging and social justice in low-income communities. JUMP Math uses group rote learning to enable every student to succeed at math. SNAP is an evidence-based cognitive behavioural program that teaches self-control and problem-solving skills to children struggling with conduct disorders. Winnipeg Boldness, an Indigenous social lab, has incubated a doula initiative that promises to reduce the number of children taken into state care.

The field is now evolving to integrate grantmaking with other forms of investment, including loan guarantees, low-interest loans and hybrid capital stacks, and from individual initiatives like those mentioned above to platforms that integrate the efforts of multiple actors in ‘partnership ecosystems’. Innoweave provides social innovation training to hundreds of charities and non-profits using web-based modules combined with in-person coaching. CCEDNet, the Canadian Community Economic Development Network, supports social entrepreneurs. Future Cities Canada, based at Evergreen Brickworks, is building a network of urban innovation hubs — like Montreal’s Maison de l’innovation sociale, which repurposes empty public buildings to host civic incubators. The SVX, a kind of social stock market, raises capital for enterprises that integrate environmental and social ends with financial returns. The Indigenous Innovation Initiative, a partnership among Grand Challenges Canada, McConnell and Johnson and Johnson, is an Indigenous-governed and operated platform for sourcing and scaling innovative solutions to issues like youth mental health and food security. Social Innovation Canada, a new non-profit founded and led by the Centre for Social Innovation, is mapping and connecting the disparate and diverse components of Canada’s social innovation ecosystem.

Despite such successes, social innovators and social entrepreneurs have struggled with access to growth capital, a cumbersome regulatory environment, and lack of recognition by business and scientific innovation support programs.

These barriers were addressed by the federal government’s Social Innovation and Social Finance Co-Creation Steering Group established in June 2017. It included representatives of the community, philanthropic, financial, academic, labour and public sectors (including the author.) In August of this year, ESDC Minister Jean-Yves Duclos released the group’s report, Inclusive Innovation: New Partnerships and New Ideas for Stronger Communities. One of its 12 recommendations — that government create a Social Finance Fund — was announced in the Fall Economic Statement. The fund will deploy $755 million in repayable capital over 10 years, and will be accompanied by a $50-million Investment Readiness granting fund to prepare social sector organizations to invest capital in addressing community priorities. The goal is to leverage government’s contribution to create a $2 billion fund. The federal government also announced a permanent civil society advisory to the Canada Revenue Agency, which relates to (though is more narrow than) the Steering Group’s recommendation to create a permanent multi-sectoral Social Innovation Council to advise the government on a range of issues. Work is underway on the other 10 recommendations, covering such issues as social procurement, an enabling regulatory and policy environment, evidence and knowledge sharing, and cross sector capacity building.

Other governments are getting involved too. Saskatchewan’s Hub Model, which integrates the work of several human service ministries and community agencies, is driving down crime rates using coordinated service interventions informed by advanced data analytics that adhere to adaptable privacy protocols.

As part of the Future Cities Canada initiative, Evergreen and Open North, a leading open source technology non-profit, are set to deliver the Smart City Community Support Program, bringing data utilization capability to cities across Canada.

This is Canada’s opportunity to not only address its own issues — social inclusion, community well-being, the future of work, affordable housing and health care, food security, and reconciliation — but in doing so, to serve as an example at a global scale.

3. Co-creating the future

As new partnerships, networks and platforms come into being, social innovation is set to expand beyond its Cinderella role to enable societal shifts at the speed and scale necessary to reach the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

This is Canada’s opportunity to not only address its own issues — social inclusion, community well-being, the future of work, affordable housing and health care, food security, and reconciliation — but in doing so, to serve as an example at a global scale.

Although governments across the country are beginning to recognize that innovation and inclusion can and should go hand in hand, innovation policy has tended to focus more narrowly on innovation as an engine of economic growth. While important, this focus can miss the value of innovation as an engine for social and environmental change, as well as the need to weave equity and inclusion goals into innovation policies to better distribute their benefits.

The Brookfield Institute’s “Building Inclusion into Canada’s Innovation Economy” article series is a welcome challenge to leaders from all sectors and walks of life to think about innovation differently – to innovate how we innovate.

For media enquiries, please contact Coralie D’Souza, Director of Communications, Events + Community Relations at the Brookfield Institute for Innovation + Entrepreneurship.