An Expanding Circle

There are many people playing different roles in this process. Here are five key ways that people are currently involved: 

Drivers: social innovators from across the country desirous of national cross-cutting supports or connectivity for social innovators and organizations.

Stewards: the volunteer "Guardian Group" that includes social innovators with deep roots in AB, ON, BC and QC social innovation communities, who will be advising the feasibility study. 

Host: the newly formed Social Innovation Institute, a project of the Centre for Social Innovation, with an emerging mandate to serve the field.

Funding partner: The McConnell Foundation is funding the 9-month feasibility study that’s providing the core support for the exploration.

Core team: Saralyn Hodgkin, Tonya Surman, Geraldine Cahill, Kelsey Spitz and Darcy Riddell who will be managing the execution of the feasibility study. 

We want to keep growing the circle of people involved this process and will be reaching out through multiple channels to invite and welcome more people to join. Please spread the word about this page, encourage people to give feedback through the upcoming survey, and email us at to get more involved.

Initial Guardian Group

The role of the Guardian Group is to advise the exploration process. The current Guardian Group, identified below, was formed after an initial retreat that brought together thirty social innovators from across the country in September. While the initial group reflects some of the geographic, gender and language diversity that we need, we know that this is just a start.  If we are to proceed with a network, we know that there are many voices missing from this table. We'd love to expand this group and better reflect and benefit from the diversity of the social innovation community across Canada. If you're interested, or know someone that we should talk to, please email 

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Ben Weinlick

Ben is driven by the desire to help people and community get better at navigating complex challenges together. He is the founder of Think Jar Collective, co-founder of MyCompass Planning and a senior leader at Skills Society leading Social Innovation R&D. Ben regularly trains organizations and facilitates human centred design lab explorations around complex issues for the public sector, non-profits and community. For his work striving to lead systems change in human service organizations over the last 15 years he has received some awards including the MacEwan University distinguished alumni award, the Government of Alberta Community Disability Service Sector Leadership Award and the Avenue Top 40 under 40 award.

@thinkjar_ @weinbenlick  |

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Geraldine Cahill

Geraldine Cahill is currently supporting the exploration of this national social innovation network and the launch of a social solutions and scaling platform for Canada. She is co-author of Social Innovation Generation: Fostering a Canadian Ecosystem for Systems Change, published in November 2017. She joined Social Innovation Generation (SIG) in 2009 as communications coordinator, leading communications efforts across the partnership and later managing programs and partnerships for the SIG national office.


Heather Laird

Chief, Strategic Partnerships, Digital Collaboration @ Treasury Board Secretariat, Government of Canada

Whether working at the grassroots or the government, Heather helps people influence the systems that affect them most. Currently building partnerships with the Government of Canada, she previously worked with the Ontario Nonprofit Network organizing with sector leaders to make policy and systems change to strengthen nonprofits, and with McGill University to support lawyers and social workers across the Middle East. She is active as board member of Volunteer Alberta, a steering member of Powered by Data, a co-founder of the River Valley Free School, a core organizer of Spark! Canadian Social Innovation Exchange, and an advisor to other government and nonprofit groups. In 2010 she co-founded Connect the Sector to bring together generations in the nonprofit sector. Heather has completed an honour's BA at McGill University and a masters' diploma in social innovation from the University of Waterloo. Find her walking Edmonton's river valley, singing poorly but with love, every chance she gets.


Darcy Riddell

Darcy Riddell is Director of Strategic Learning with the McConnell Foundation, where she is responsible for developing strategic learning processes that support initiatives with a wide range of social and environmental goals from Reconciliation to healthy food systems to innovative cities to climate change solutions. Over the last 20 years she has played diverse roles as a strategist, convener, campaigner and facilitator to advance social change and sustainability. She has worked across sectors with non-profits, environmental advocacy organizations, foundations, business, labour, universities and government, bringing a potent mix of strategy, transformative process design and systems thinking to generate innovation. She has a PhD in Social and Ecological Sustainability focused on disruptive innovation in the Great Bear Rainforest and Boreal Forest Agreements, and specifically on the roles individuals can play in transformative change.  She has published on evaluation, systems change strategies and scaling up, out and deep. Darcy co-designed and teaches in a Certificate in Social Innovation at SFU in Vancouver, where she lives with her two children.


Mark Cabaj

Mark is President of the consulting company From Here to There and an Associate of Tamarack - An Institute for Community Engagement. Mark has first-hand knowledge of using evaluation as a policy maker, philanthropist, and activist, and has played a big role in promoting the merging practice of developmental evaluation in Canada.

Mark is currently focused on how diverse organizations and communities work together to tackle complex issues, on social innovation as a "sub-scene" of community change work, and on strategic learning and evaluation. While studying the Solidarity movement in Krakow, Poland, in mid-1989, Mark experienced a variety of tumultuous events that signalled the end of communism in Eastern Europe. He stayed to experience the rebirth of the region and worked as an Investment Advisor in Poland's Foreign Investment Agency, the Foreign Assistance Coordinator for Grants in the new Ministry of Privatization, and the Mission Coordinator for the creation of the United Nations Development Program's first regional economic development initiative in Eastern Europe.


Patrick Dubé

Après une maîtrise en anthropologie et des études doctorales sur la théorie de la complexité, Patrick Dubé débute une carrière de chercheur dans le secteur médical. À partir de 2006, il accompagne les organisations dans le développement de leurs pratiques créatives et innovantes.  De 2011 à 2017, il co-dirige le département de recherche à la Société des arts technologiques (SAT). En 2013, Il fonde également Umvelt Service Design, une firme conseil spécialisée en innovation ouverte, à l’origine de plusieurs projets collaboratifs impliquant des PME, des organismes communautaires et des territoires. Au cours des dernières années, il a contribué à l’émergence d’une communauté de Living Labs au Québec. Il est aujourd'hui impliqué dans le développement de réseaux de pratiques en innovation sociale et dans le développement des villes intelligentes et inclusives à l’échelle du pays. Il agit notamment à titre de codirecteur de la MIS Maison de l’innovation sociale, un organisme voué au développement des capacités en innovation sociale et émergence d'entrepreneurs sociaux sur le territoire du Québec.


Tonya Surman

Tonya Surman is a prolific social entrepreneur. Her clients: people and planet. She is best known as the co-founder and leader the Centre for Social Innovation, a pioneer in the coworking and social enterprise movements that has catalyzed more than 100 world-changing initiatives. She has developed collaborative governance models that have facilitated the success of high-impact movements, and pioneered social finance models that have raised millions for projects that needed everything from four to seven digits to grow.