Fingers crossed that Bob Dylan was right

You don't need a weather man to know which way the wind blows.

On Friday October 1st the winds across Canada were blowing social innovation.  Relative to previous public references and announcements Friday's wind was a hurricane.  Three high profile Canadian references to social enterprise and social innovation in one day. 

Here they are. 

First on Friday morning the re-designed Globe and Mail led with a front page editorial, Building Up Everyday Heroes.  They recommended  more government support for social enterprises led by 'gritty, talented individuals.'  Quoting the 'Big Society' (as opposed to big government and big business) agenda of the new UK Prime Minister, David Cameron the Globe observed, government has to stop turning, 'able and capable individuals into passive recipients of state help.'

For example, governments need to open more public services to charities and social enterprises – the organizations that bring in revenues, even running profitable enterprises, and then channel the surplus back to the community. Already social entrepreneurs are encouraging democratic participation and teaching math to struggling teens. They need every opportunity to expand their work.

Second, later Friday morning, Canada's new Governor General, David Johnston was installed. Two of the three pillars of his mandate will be: innovation and learning; and the related, philanthropy and volunteerism.

We want to be the Smart and Caring Nation; a society that innovates, embraces its talent and uses the knowledge of each of its citizens to improve the human condition for all.  (Courtesy of the Vancouver Sun you can read all his speech here.)
Governor General Johnston is the former President of the University of Waterloo and has demonstrated his commitment to innovation.  With the encouragement of Tim Brodhead, President and CEO of the JW McConnell Family Foundation, our new GG recruited Dr. Frances Westley to become the JW McConnell Chair in Social Innovation at the University of Waterloo. Frances is a renowned scholar and consultant in the area of social innovation.    
While Johnston was President at Waterloo, the Centre for International Governance and Innovation, the Waterloo Institute for Complexity and Innovation and the Institute for Innovation Research were also established. 

Third late Friday morning west coast time, BC's Premier Gordon Campbell announced his commitment to establish a Social Innovation Forum.

…one of our strengths is we have some of the most socially innovative non-profits anywhere in the world right here in British Columbia. They go to other parts of the world to tell them how to solve some of their problems.
So we're going to launch a new social innovation model. We're going to provide for new ways that we can encourage volunteers.
Tapping into the creativity of our volunteer community, of our non-profit community, will give us the opportunity to solve some of the most vexing problems we have, from homelessness to addiction services to literacy. And we can actually find new models that will pay for results, not for good intentions but for good results. 

This is the green light a number of social purpose businesses, creative public servants and social entrepreneurs have been waiting for.   A BC Government commitment will put the wind under our collective sails and sales.

Seven years ago Tim Brodhead and Frances Westley decided to do what they could to revive the creative talents and practices of civil society.  Existing social problems were proving resistent to existing solutions.  They wanted to create a culture of continuous social innovation to tackle our toughest social and environmental challenges.  After a two year exploration and study led by Vickie Cammack and me, the JW McConnell Family Foundation financed the establishment of Social Innovation Generation (SiG).  SiG's mandate is to establish the conditions for proven social innovation to have impact durability and scale.  Last Friday's announcements are a testament to Tim and Frances' foresight and McConnell's commitment.

After several decades in the social change business you learn to appreciate the subtle signals that herald a shift in direction. There's no need to cross our fingers Bob!  With some high powered help, the social innovation wind is definitely blowing in favour of individual and organizational creativity,  a changing role for government to support innovation, and a new social purpose model for business. 

Solution based advocates – take heart from these announcements.  And use them to advance your innovative agenda.  Don't hesitate to mention them to your local newspaper Editor, your favourite elected official or Cabinet Minister or to rally your colleagues and potential allies. I intend to!


(1) For a vintage Bob Dylan clip from the movie, Dont Look Back (yes, that's how it was spelt) singing his famous weather man line from Subterranean Home Sick Blues click here.  How many remember seeing it when it first came out in 1967? I can.

(2) Frances Westley's book, Getting to Maybe  (co-written with Brenda Zimmerman and Michael Quinn Patton) remains the best primer on social innovation anywhere.

(3) Tim Brodhead's article, Don't Let a Good Crisis Go to Waste, which I profiled earlier this year can be accessed here.

(4) You can access the full text of Premier Gordon Campbell's keynote speech to the Union of BC Municipalities here.  The social innovation reference is toward the end.




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  1. Donnathomson

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