What could a better equipped, better connected and more intentional social innovation network achieve?

The moment

People see Canada as a global leader in social innovation. They see a rich ecosystem creating solutions for a better world. They see communities of practitioners mobilizing to respond to pressing and complex challenges that cut across the country and across sectors. Growing from a proud history of collaboration, community economic development, cooperatives and more, a strong social innovation field has emerged filled with committed and passionate people.

We also know there is much more work for us to do to address issues ranging from climate change to reconciliation, from poverty to community resilience.


The landscape

There are ripples of opportunity and change in the social innovation field in Canada, such as:

  • New leaders, communities of practice, technologies, intermediaries, capacity-builders & fellowships are emerging;
  • The Ministry of Employment and Social Development Canada has convened a Social Innovation and Social Finance Strategy Co-Creation Steering Group. They are keenly aware of the opportunity to connect and support social innovators and are looking for leadership from the field;
  • Social Innovation Generation (SiG), which focused on fostering the “ecosystem” of social innovation in Canada, closed December 2017 and there is a wealth of content and relationships to leverage; 
  • The Centre for Social Innovation (CSI) founded a Social Innovation Institute, which is serving as a backbone to engage with networks and communities of practice across the country to understand the current and future needs of social innovation practitioners from across sectors 

The opportunity

With this shifting landscape and growing strength of the field, a critical opportunity and question has sprung to the surface:  Do we need a national social innovation network? If so what must it do?

If we’re going to do this, then we want to build on what already exists in the ecosystem and weave together an open, transparent, and action-driven network. Here’s some of our core thinking:

  • We think it should be designed to reveal the assets in our ecosystem and to connect practitioners with the people and resources they need to make real progress on our most complex challenges

  • We believe that an action-focused network will ground us in the real world and keep us relevant

  • We know that it will succeed if we co-create it together to meet the needs of all kinds of social innovators across the country

Our Emerging Values

In way there are two processes in play — understanding the feasibility, desirability and viability of a national social innovation network and developing insights into what it must do and how.

Already some important values have evolved (and continue to do so) that we feel it is important to share:

  • Open and Transparent to foster self-organization and impact
  • Permeable – meet people where they are at and ensure that people can get into and out of the system seamlessly
  • Build-on – weave together existing work – leverage what has already been invested in and recognize that aligning our collective self-interests may be challenging at first but that it ensures a much better likelihood of success
  • Integrate a sustainable model – practicing what we preach, the network will need to make a solid business case and ensure that we are not dependent on external funding over the long haul
  • Accessible Inclusion at our core – Social innovation is everyone’s business. Innovation happens at the periphery and everyone can be a part of the solution. The network will prioritize welcoming and orienting new people into the field from every background and walk of life
  • Power to the Periphery! Distribute benefit, work and resources to the most appropriate level
  • Enable and unlock – don’t attempt control!
  • Emergent – go where the energy is, go with what is moving and bias to leadership
  • Bias for Action - making stuff together to make this happen.
  • Practitioners at the centre – theoretical knowledge is awesome but this is for people swimming in it. That wisdom comes first. And helping that group is the point.
  • Hold the paradox – not all of this has to make sense right now, and not everyone has to agree, and some actions might be counter to each other. Forward motion and relationships matter most.