Don’t Forget the Other Social Innovators

Canada’s federal government seems to have forgotten the other social innovators. They are not the only jurisdiction doing so. These forgotten practitioners are the ones who everyday, everywhere invent themselves out of adversity. They are the original hackers whose solutions may be worthy of spreading further. Who don’t use the language of innovation. Who don’t know which doorstep to camp out on to await the next funding cycle. Who usually don’t incorporate. Who aren’t imagined as part of the social innovation ecosystem.

The bulk of my experience is grounded in the world of disability. Most of the innovations that we now take for granted in that world emerged from the ingenuity and love of individuals, their families and supporters faced with the daily challenges of a world not designed for them. Those people are no different than the omnipresent, caring efforts by “artisans of the common good” who creatively respond to poverty, abuse, violence, climate change, habitat protection and so on. Their collective efforts are in the water supply. Perhaps that is why they are seldom seen or appreciated. And are taken for granted.

One glaring example of this oversight is happening with the Social Innovation and Social Finance strategy of the Canadian government. The following statement from their website bothers me to the point that this post may become a rant.This strategy will provide better support for community organizations working to achieve positive solutions to persistent social problems, including those facing vulnerable populations.”

Why just community organizations? Why not citizens and their networks, associations and clubs?

Why not treat so called vulnerable populations as actors not objects? What about their resilience? Their insights? Their solutions?

One way to correct this oversight by our well intentioned government is to change the framing from:

“Canada needs more innovation, particularly more innovations at scale,” to “Let’s magnify and illuminate everyone’s innovative efforts.”

The statement “everyone already is a change maker” is closer to the truth than is being imagined. And everyone responds positively to being seen as part of something bigger than themselves.

If social innovation is to “create better outcomes”, “solve complex challenges” and ‘improve community well being,” it must include and nurture the ingenuity, ambition and audacity of people at the grassroots. There are millions of efforts small and big, but mostly small, that happen daily in laundromats, kitchens, gardens, neighbourhoods, online networks, blog communities, book groups and other assemblies. No collection of not-for-profit organizations, government institutions and businesses should address social and economic challenges without them.

The social innovation breakthrough I’d like to see is a genuine “partnership” between these formal institutions and the caring, “love in action,” of passionate ordinaries. And not through more sophisticated ethnographic research, labs or appropriation of their stories. And certainly not by creating another award for volunteerism. There are more dignified ways to respect their pursuit of justice.

Fingers crossed the creative caring people on the government’s steering group can steer the strategy in that direction.


Need more convincing? Have a look at the quotes below. Most are taken from the SPARKS! COLLECTION.

They are best read while listening to Christa Couture and her song, Alone in This. Isn’t her music remarkable? Do support her talent. And maybe have a look at her Bio here and here. She has had “a long and complex relationship with grief.” Her creativity is not a coincidence.

We cannot build the Canada of the future without all Canadians. Creating a truly inclusive dialogue means all of us positioning ourselves as learners, rather than as masters downloading our knowledge to others. ~ Nadia Duguay

There are so many people who keep our democracy moving in private and never get recognized. How and why someone gets involved shouldn’t be a state secret—it should be a state celebration. ~ Rick Mercer

If history is, as I believe, a feast, the flavour comes from its people. ~ Margaret MacMillan

It is time for fresh thinking and bold actions. We must unleash the creativity and resourcefulness of Canadians in all parts of society so that we can tackle the complex and interrelated challenges of the 21st century. ~ Tim Brodhead

I’ve traveled enough to realize there are brilliant people in every community who know solutions. They don’t need saviours, they need allies. ~ Wab Kinew

Activism is not about embracing a famous person who makes an album about a situation. It’s about facing hard truths that may make you feel uncomfortable. ~ Candy Palmater

Love doesn’t mean doing extraordinary or heroic things. It means knowing how to do ordinary things with tenderness. ~ Jean Vanier

We can do this, the world is still ripening every one of us — even the bad guys, even the guys we don’t like. Babies, elders, bozos and angels — we’re all ripening, is what I think. ~ Buffy Sainte-Marie

A sociocultural landslide is not about the few boulders loosened down a gorge, it is about the millions of stones that sweep down like a tide and transfigure the landscape. In the end, as compelling and inspirational as single, scaled solutions can be, it’s not just about the few—it’s about the many. ~ Gord Tulloch

We may not be big but we’re small. ~ Stuart McLean 

“Without having grassroots and youth really participate and come forward with their own ideas, you can try as much as you want as a government, it won’t work. ~Philanthropists Sima Sharifi and husband Arnold Witzig who just donated $60 M to the Arctic Inspiration Prize

Everything depends on everything else. ~ Haida Wisdom

Nothing in the universe ever grew from the outside in. ~ Richard Wagamese


“Saving” Ryan

Ken Dryden’s Tips for Changing the Rules of Your Game

Artisans for the Common Good

The Role of Containers, Hacks and Metaphors in Social Change

The World Needs More of You

A Bystanders’s Guide to Civility in a Time of Rage

First Leap, Bold; Second Leap, Wild

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One Comment

  1. Donna Thomson

    Again from the disability community: the government response to the funding of home health and social care is the same. Money goes to agencies, not directly to families. A day programme (with a years long waiting list) is not what people need now, they need cash. And they know how to spend it effectively and efficiently for whatever they need most in order to live in the community. It’s about maximizing individual choice and personal wellbeing. In the context of disability, families are the passionate ordinaries. Government programmes that have run direct funding to individuals programmes (in Ontario, Special Services at Home, for example) have had record success in terms of wellbeing and value for dollar outcomes. Let’s look at the success of those direct funding programmes and use them as a template for enabling the creative solution-making of innovators in their kitchens, gardens and neighbourhoods.

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