Ottawa Throne Speech – Faint hope or Beacon for Social Innovation?

Wednesday's Federal Government Throne Speech ( ) contained a few paragraphs of 'social innovation' language for the first time.  This is a welcome political blessing to the social entrepreneurs inside and outside government.  I have reprinted the Throne Speech excerpt at the end of this post but the words and phrases will be familiar to those who have been tilling the social innovation, social enterprise, social finance soil in Canada for the past 5 years. As I read the text I note an acknowledgment of: Canadian communities as incubators of creativity; the importance of working across sectors and boundaries; reducing red tape so that government can support local creativity; and providing expertise to scale up good ideas. Finally, the Throne Speech ends with a commitment to partner with innovative charities and forward thinking businesses to tackle social problems.

That's music to my ears.  What is not there is specific use of the word social as in social innovation or social finance.  This is an important clue.  The Throne Speech is revealing the language Government is comfortable with.

Many of us have been writing, speaking and doing this kind of work for some time now.  We know Canada abounds with creative solutions to address existing and emerging social challenges.  And there is enough critical mass to recognize that this emerging sector needs an infrastructure of support.  Every creative idea shouldn't have to reinvent the template.  We can become more efficient.  That's where Government can assist – first, to get out of the way i.e. remove unnecessary bureaucracy.  Incidentally Thursday's Budget does exactly that by proposing to reduce the administrative complexity of disbursement quotas for charities.; and second, to enable more innovation i.e. to respond with flexibility and timeliness to the good ideas that the community is producing.

My wish list for next steps would include:

1) Creating a fund to support young social entrepreneurs in Canada to develop their ideas; to test them out and to scale them up.  The young people I meet in Canada overflow with insight, energy and creative ideas. By definition they think expansively, are comfortable working with all sectors, across all boundaries and are driven by results. It's time for baby boomers like myself to either step aside or share the stage with a younger generation who are ready and able.

2) Building on the model developing in Toronto at MaRS and in Waterloo at the Accelerator Centre/Communitech where business entrepreneurs and social entrepreneurs share expertise, cross pollinate and attract financial resources to scale up proven solutions.  Imagine a chain of these cluster/hubs across Canada bringing social, business, government, health, academic, technological and environmental innovators together?

3) Providing tax incentives to investors to provide capital to social enterprises.  This would include the development of a 'hybrid', social/business governance structure able to receive these types of equity investment.

Some may look at the Throne Speech as mere rhetoric. In my experience the moments of profound change usually arrive unannounced, without trumpets blaring. In the words of TS Eliot, 'not with a bang but a whimper'.

I know our forward looking civil servants will now be focused on putting substance behind these remarks. Now is not the time for skepticism or mistrust. Let's embrace the opportunity. Let's build a broad, non-partisan, multi-party, community led agenda to tackle the challenges of the 21st century.

Throne Speech excerpt:

Just as we know that parents are in the best position to make decisions for their families, the best solutions to the diverse challenges confronting Canada’s communities are often found locally. Every day, the power of innovation is seen at work in communities across this country, as citizens, businesses and charitable groups join forces to tackle local problems.

Too often, however, grassroots efforts are hobbled by red tape. Too often, local solutions are denied access to government assistance because they do not fit the bureaucratic definition of the problem. Too often, the efforts of communities falter not on account of a lack of effort or heart, but because of a lack of expertise to turn good ideas into reality.

Our Government will take steps to support communities in their efforts to tackle local challenges.

  • It will look to innovative charities and forward-thinking private-sector companies to partner on new approaches to many social challenges.
  • To recognize the enormous contribution volunteers make to Canada, our Government will also establish a prime ministerial award for volunteerism.

For more details on a social innovation agenda for Canada see my recent blog on Tim Brodhead:

To access the work of my colleagues at Social Innovation Generation see:

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