Peter Nares is the founding Executive Director of SEDI (Social and Enterprise Development Innovations) whose mission is to reduce poverty by expanding social and economic opportunities for low income Canadians. He is the personification of a social innovator. Peter has made a number of significant advances on behalf of people who are poor including changing the narrative form income support to assisting people accumulate and learn to lever their financial assets. He was a major impetus behind the creation of the national Task Force on Financial Literacy which released its findings this week. Here is Peter's response What would you like to become more visible in 2011? You can also Download Becoming Visible - the complete collection of 58 essays.
I would like social innovation to gain more visibility in Canada in 2011. In my mind, social innovation means the development and market testing of new socially progressive ideas. However, this is easier said than done.
Right now there is a lot of noise about the economy. In fact, the economic noise pollution is so pervasive that little else gets on the radar. For non-economists and politicians this is a problem because it sucks up space, money and political energy. This leaves little room for anything non-economic like social progress, which is just as important as economic and environmental progress. I have spent enough time with planners to understand that the three areas are interrelated but in the myopic world of politics when push comes to shove, it becomes all about the economy and this has a broader dampening effect on hope, opportunity and prosperity, the bedrock ideals of social progress.
One of the antidotes is social innovation because it is a process that can effect substantive and positive change. It is a practice that is developing, but in spite of the best efforts of groups like ASHOKA, the work and its promise are largely invisible, especially in Canada. This limits its capacity to contribute to positive change and to take good ideas to scale. I would like that to change next year and this is why.
Conditions for low income Canadians are not improving. There are still too many poor people, many of them children. Wealth is increasingly owned and controlled by the top percentile of Canadians and the incomes of many Canadians are not keeping pace with inflation. As history has taught us, if left unchanged these conditions will lead to even more serious social and economic issues. Current social policy is inert and seemingly confined to tweaking the same old ineffective ideas that have been around for years (e.g. welfare). The last large-scale new social policy reform or innovation in this country was arguably the National Child Benefit in 1998. The next one will be the result of social innovation and we need it sooner rather than later.
For the unconvinced, you have to look no further than recent natural disasters to see the utility of social innovation. It is clear that in extreme conditions and when old systems and ideas fail, innovators (the good and the bad) fill the space. From an aid perspective the immediate need is for promising solutions that can work quickly. These situations enable risk and therefore innovation. Highly visible examples would include the straw houses now being built in Haiti and the modular home units championed by Brad Pitt in New Orleans after Katrina. Visibility clearly attracts ideas and capital, the underpinnings of social innovation.
Obviously we donʼt want a disaster to be the catalyst but increasing the visibility and capacity of social innovation will provide hope, opportunity and progress for Canadians. Why wouldnʼt we want it to be more visible to all?
Please share and distribute to your friends and through your various networks, websites etc. I think you will agree – these are too good to keep to ourselves.