Category: Civic Leadership

Oct 02 2013

vitalsignscoverYes, we’re getting some of the big things right, but Toronto is also facing big challenges. This could be the short summary of the Toronto’s Vital Signs Report 2013 released by the Toronto Community Foundation on October 1.

For many of us who live in this city, it doesn’t come as a surprise that The Economist ranked Toronto as the fourth most liveable city out of 140 from around the world; or that we have the lowest rate of police-reported crime among Canada’s top 33 metro areas. It is a good place to live – with many parks, cultural activities, and clean beaches.

But we cannot ignore the warning signs.

In particular, the report highlights the following:

  • Youth face dismal job prospects. In 2012, the Toronto youth unemployment rate averaged 20.75%, and for recent immigrant youth in Canada less than 5 years, it was 29%.
  • More than one million Torontonians live in low-income neighbourhoods and the polarization of wealth and poverty is deepening. Parts of Toronto experienced an even more pronounced shift. In 1970, 96% of Scarborough neighbourhoods were middle-income. Today, they account for only 13.6%.
  • One in 8 households in the Toronto Region (12.5%) experienced food insecurity in 2011. The growing problem of food insecurity – running out of food, compromising quality or quantity or even going days without meals – has complex causes, but is primarily rooted in lack of money to buy food.
  • Food insecurity remains a challenge as food bank usage in Toronto is still close to a million visits this past year. There is a particular challenge in Toronto’s inner suburbs where usage increased 38% from 2008.
  • The Toronto Region still ranks as “severely” unaffordable in a survey of 337 housing markets. A standard two-storey house in the Toronto Region averaged $640,500 at the end of 2012, requiring a qualifying household income of over $130,000. 62% of a median household income would need to be spent on housing costs. 30% is considered affordable.
  • These changes are especially challenging for Toronto’s population of seniors (65 +). This population is projected to grow by one-third – from 376,570 in 2011 (14.4% of the total population) to almost half a million (17% of the total population) by 2031.

So, what should be done?

The Toronto Star in its editorial, “Toronto needs strong leadership to stop its decline,” writes:

Toronto and the province need a more aggressive approach to combating youth unemployment, to speeding up job-creating infrastructure projects including affordable housing and transit, and to encouraging cash-hoarding businesses to invest. Without dynamic and creative leadership no city can prosper.

At the report release, Rahul Bhardwaj, President & CEO of the Toronto Community Foundation, challenged the attendees to move Toronto forward in five areas:

  1. Ensure connectivity between neighbourhoods
    While we are a city of unique neighbourhoods, we have to look at them as a network of neighbourhoods. Over the long term we all rise or fall on the strength of the network. Thinking and acting like a network is key to Toronto’s future success. This also means to have public transit that works and connects.
  2. Have an affordable housing strategy
    We need to find new ways to encourage private participation in affordable housing development so that the supply of affordable housing is meeting the needs of households who currently face low vacancy rates, high rents and stagnating incomes.
  3. Create more public space
    While there are close 1,600 parks for residents to enjoy, more most be done to ensure equitable and affordable access to public space – so vital to building strong and healthy neighbourhoods.
  4. Put a dent in our youth unemployment
    We have to do better to connect Toronto’s young people to jobs. We need to look at other places, including Germany’s apprenticeship model, to figure out what could work here and get a commitment from all levels of government, employers, community colleges and others to find a solution.
  5. Build the Toronto Brand
    To remain an attractive place to live, work and visit, we have to clearly understand and communicate who we are as a city and what we stand for.

While none of the solutions will come easy, and will require collaboration by all sectors, we have no choice but to act.

The Toronto Star editorial concludes:

As [foundation chair John MacIntyre and CEO Rahul Bhardwaj] write, Toronto needs change, a reboot. The status quo isn’t an option. “The real peril lies in staying the course,” they point out. Granted, no city can solve every economic problem on its own, without buy-in from higher levels of government. But the creative thinking can begin here, where the people live and work.

The Vital Signs report should be a call to action for those who recognize that we need to keep building this city. In the run-up to next year’s municipal election, we have a lot to talk about.



Markus Stadelmann-Elder is Communications Director at Maytree.

Sep 25 2013

managing diverse workforceThe Ontario Securities Commission (OSC) is consulting the public on a proposal to require some companies to disclose the number of women on their boards and in senior management. Efforts to encourage and increase the number of qualified women on corporate boards and senior management are welcome and needed. But they are not enough. Read Maytree’s response and submit your own written comments to the OSC by October 4, 2013. The OSC will post all comments on its website.

Below is the Maytree response to OSC Staff Consultation Paper 58-401.

Dear Secretary,

Efforts to encourage and increase the number of qualified women on corporate boards and senior management are welcome and needed. But they are not enough.

Ontario is a highly diverse province and any initiative that aims to reap the rewards of this diversity must broaden its definition beyond gender to include visible minorities and other under-represented groups.

We need a broader view of diversity in governance

As you write in your consultation paper, “decision-making benefits from a diversity of opinions and viewpoint. This diversity is enhanced when leadership roles are filled with individuals who have different professional experience… and individual qualities and attributes such as gender, age, ethnicity and cultural background.” (p.3)

In addition to better decision-making, diverse leadership can also bring links to new local and international markets, customers, talent pipelines and supply chains. In other words, companies that are confident and competent in diversity improve their business.

Ontario’s population is highly diverse. Visible minorities make up 26% of Ontario’s population. Immigrants make up 29% of the provincial population, and Aboriginals make up a further 2%. One-fifth of Ontarians are 20-34 years old; 16% of Ontarians live with a disability. And according to a recent poll, 5% of Canadians identify themselves as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender (LGBT).

Yet, we do not see corporate boards taking advantage of this diversity. In 2011, in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) – where nearly half the population are visible minorities – only 4.2% of corporate board members are visible minorities.

Women are not the only group underrepresented in the ranks of corporate leadership. In any consideration of diversity in leadership, we must look at a wider range of underrepresented groups. To do otherwise would not only institutionalize the idea of diversity as gender, it would also set a precedent for other institutions who are beginning to act on diversity in governance. Using an expansive and progressive definition of diversity, on the other hand, will accelerate movement towards a system that capitalizes on the full range of talent in Ontario’s population.

Public support for greater diversity

A recent poll of GTA residents by Nanos Research shows that most want to see a more balanced representation in their leadership. Further, residents recognize the benefits that diverse leadership brings. They link diversity to economic and social prosperity, and so welcome it.

Our experience demonstrates that when presented with the right tools, forward-thinking organizations will start to diversify their governance boards. For example, Maytree’s DiverseCity onBoard project matches public and non-profit boards with qualified candidates from visible minority and underrepresented immigrant communities. The project won a United Nations-BMW Group award for intercultural innovation in 2011 and is now being replicated in cities across Canada and internationally.

Investors, too, care about diversity. In the United States, companies report on the composition of their board using an open definition of “diversity.” Yet, as the consultation paper points out, “investors have made it clear that they are particularly interested in board policies regarding gender, racial and ethnic diversity” (p.10, emphasis added). We are certain that Canadian investors will feel the same way.

Rather than wait, only to undergo similar, lengthy processes for other demographic groups in the near future, we must act now.

Ontario should move to the forefront

Other jurisdictions are already taking a broader view of diversity. Australia, a country with a similar social composition and similarly-sized economy as Canada, has chosen to require companies to establish a policy on diversity, which includes gender, age, ethnicity and cultural background. Similarly, the European Commission’s approach is to consider diversity broadly, rather than gender alone.

It is not enough for Ontario to merely catch up to other jurisdictions and our demographic reality in a piecemeal fashion. In many ways, Ontario is already ahead on issues of diversity. For example, Ontario and Canada are leaders in welcoming and integrating new immigrants into our communities. But we are falling behind by failing to ensure that our diversity is expressed in our leadership.

We need clear action to encourage corporate boards to make use of the full spectrum of diverse talent that Ontarians bring to their businesses.

We urge the OSC to expand its current consideration to include visible minorities and other underrepresented groups, and to help move Ontario to the forefront of diversity in governance.


Alan Broadbent

Ratna Omidvar



Bonnie Mah is Policy and Communications Officer at Maytree.

Jul 22 2013

Politics often gets a bad rap. Many Canadians see politics as something that other people do and not really relevant to our day-to-day lives. Samara’s latest Democracy Report, “Political Participation Beyond the Ballot Box,” confirms that fewer Canadians are now participating in formal politics, including joining or donating to political parties, and even voting.

samara_key_messageBut when we have 60 people coming out to a weekend session at a School4Civics workshop, there is clearly interest in becoming more actively involved.

Consider this:

  • While 55% of us volunteer our time, only 10% volunteer in an election.
  • While 84% donate money to a charity or nonprofit, only 10% donate to political candidates or parties.
  • While 58% are active in a group or association, only 10% are members of political parties.

Being politically active matters

People who are involved in politics also tend to be involved and active in their communities – be it volunteering or organizing a community event, among others.

But, for many, participating in politics automatically means joining a party which can be seen as a very partisan decision. This makes it difficult for people who are community-involved to make that transition. There needs to be a more thoughtful way to sell participation than “wear the team colours.” Parties need to figure out a new pitch and new means to get more of those people, who are already active and engaged in other ways, involved in formal politics.

Community-involved people shouldn’t fear being seen as partisan

Many people often have trouble choosing a particular party because they share a set of values that are associated with more than one party. They don’t want to risk being perceived as a partisan that can no longer be trusted. But, the more they are exposed to politics, the more they’ll see that a lot of effective community leaders are actually active in elections and can see this as a legitimate way to make change.

Party members in Canadian democracy have a huge amount of political power. They vote on the nomination of candidates, who may or may not become a representative in government. Party members are the ones filtering their neighbours’ choice for who’s going to run and represent everyone in a riding. They have the political power of shaping party leadership, party platforms and policies, etc.

That’s a significant reason to become a member of a political party. It can be a difficult choice, especially for community-involved people, but it ultimately results in a great deal more influence and power in the formal political process.

Formal engagement isn’t your only option

There are many ways that people can be politically active outside of formal engagement. Samara identified 20 activities across five broad categories: Online Discussion, Off-line Discussion, Activism, Civic Engagement and Formal Engagement.


Over the next few weeks, I will explore Samara’s report and what it means for our work and audience. Through School4Civics, we’re working directly with diverse leaders interested in becoming part of the formal part of political engagement. We will also explore other forms of political engagement, and how anyone, from youth to newcomers who aren’t yet Canadian citizens, can, should and need to get involved.



Alejandra Bravo is Manager, Leadership and Learning at Maytree.

Jun 20 2013

Recently, we had to say goodbye to Tony Coombes and Betsy Martin. Their passing leaves a great hole in Canada’s innovative and committed nation building communities. We remember them for who they were, the work they did, the inspiration they provided and the legacy they leave us.

tony-coombesTony Coombes

Tony Coombes died June 10. An architect and planner, Tony was the founding executive director of The Neptis Foundation. Neptis was founded by Martha Shuttleworth, Tony’s former wife, with the objective to combat sprawl and support sustainable growth in urban regions.

Tony realized that no effective planning was possible without a comprehensive understanding of the natural and built inventory. He knew that in the Toronto region particularly, there was insufficient mapping of that inventory, and one of the great projects of Neptis was to produce it. With his long experience, Tony knew what was needed, and Neptis made it happen.

Without this fundamental platform, Ontario would not have been able to produce Places to Grow, The Greenbelt legislation, and Metrolinx, the regional transportation plan. Together, they form a triumvirate that exists in few other regions of the world, and which will create benefits for generations to come.

Neptis stands as one of the great pieces of Canadian philanthropy, and Tony was a principal architect of that.

Tony was a friend of Maytree, and its sister organization The Institute on Municipal Finance and Governance.

Betsy Martin photoBetsy Martin

Betsy Martin died June 4. She had long professional associations with Community Foundations of Canada and various individual community foundations in Canada. In that capacity, she was instrumental in developing many key programs and activities as the community foundation movement grew and matured.

One such program was Vital Signs, now a signature for community foundations in Canada and elsewhere. Vital Signs was developed jointly by the Laidlaw Foundation along with Maytree and its sister organization Ideas That Matter (ITM). It is an indicators project that charts the health of communities on a range of issues. Laidlaw, Maytree and ITM knew they were not likely the ideal long-term home for Vital Signs, but that community foundations were.

Betsy clearly saw it as well, and because of her excellent relationships and skills was able to usher Vital Signs into the Toronto Community Foundation and into the wider community foundation network. As those reports come out annually in communities across Canada, we can pause for a moment and thank Betsy for being the vital link.


Alan Broadbent is Chairman and Founder of Maytree, and Chairman and CEO of Avana Capital Corporation.

Mar 22 2013

by Paul Born, Tamarack – An Institute for Community Engagement

Over the past 10 years Tamarack has grown to become a mature and active force for community change in Canada and beyond. We have built the nation’s largest learning community for collaborative leaders (more than 10,000 learners) and also the largest network of cities (39) who are working together to reduce poverty. More than 203,000 Canadians are less poor because of the impact of this network.

Building upon this solid foundation, in 2012 Tamarack took a dramatic turn. Going forward we will focus all of our attention on building Learning Communities for social change. We want to be deliberate about creating large scale change. We believe that when leaders learn together – building a common agenda and then sharing their insights, experiences and resources for social change with one another – we can accelerate the impact of this work. Tamarack’s role is to facilitate this co-generative process of learning and change. We will primarily do this through online and face-to-face learning activities.

This month’s issue of Engage! is our 2012 Annual Report Edition. In it we offer you an overview of our three distinct but inter-related Learning Communities. Each article includes a series of links that will enable you to go directly to specific places on our four Online Learning web sites to find more detailed information and enable you to further explore topics of particular interest. We also welcome your feedback and encourage you to share your own ideas and stories about the work of this Institute.

We are proud of Tamarack’s solid foundation and excited about what the future holds. We welcome you to join us in building a connected force for social change.

Learn More:


Feb 15 2013

by Paul Born, Tamarack – An Institute for Community Engagement

Collective Impact – defined as “the commitment of a group of actors from different sectors to a common agenda for solving a complex social problem” – is an approach that’s gaining considerable momentum. This is due in no small part to the excellent work of John Kania and his colleagues at FSG Social Impact Consultants who have written a series of articles about it – including Collective Impact (PDF) and Channeling Change: Making Collective Impact Work (PDF) - published in the Stanford Social Innovation Review.

The underlying premise of Collective Impact is that no single organization can create large-scale, lasting change on complex social issues when they work alone. Strong organizations are necessary but not sufficient for achieving impact. Instead, large-scale social change requires a collaborative approach that involves those in government, civil society, and the business sector coordinating their efforts and working together around clearly defined goals.

This premise was central to the approach that Tamarack embraced more than a decade ago when we partnered with The J.W. McConnell Family Foundation and the Caledon Institute for Social Policy to champion Vibrant Communities (VC), a pan-Canadian action-learning initiative which supported and explored promising local solutions for poverty-reduction. VC’s first phase – from 2002 to 2012 – provided concrete evidence and a rich body of learning that affirms that significant progress can be made to alleviate the complex issue of poverty using a place-based, multi-sector, collective impact approach.

One of the unexpected benefits of FSG’s recent focus on Collective Impact is that it has served as a rallying point for a host of different organizations doing work in this way to find, learn from and collaborate with one another to accelerate the effectiveness of collective impact work. This was noted in a recent blog on the FSG website which observed, “People around the world, who were doing Collective Impact independently, have discovered that they are part of a community. Until now, they had no consistent way to describe their approach, no examples of success to substantiate their belief that this was a better way to work, no ability to learn from the thousands of others who were engaged in similar efforts without knowing it. All of a sudden, the experience that each person was slowly building up in isolation has become a field in which knowledge can grow exponentially. The name has helped foster a movement.”

I am excited to announce that FSG and Tamarack are now collaborating to accelerate capacity-build and knowledge dissemination in the emerging field of Collective Impact. On April 16-18 we will be co-hosting Champions for Change: Leading a Backbone Organization for Collective Impact in Toronto. This dynamic learning experience has been designed to provide leaders of Backbone Support Organizations with the knowledge, skills and resources they need to successfully fulfil their central role. With support from Maytree and The J.W. McConnell Family Foundation, this event will also highlight some inspiring Canadian examples of collective impact in action.

Providing effective “backbone support” is identified as one of the five critical conditions for collective impact. Backbone organizations play a complex, behind-the-scenes role in the success of these collective impact initiatives. In fact, the effectiveness with which a backbone organization fulfills its role often determines the success or failure of the collective impact initiative as a whole.

The role of the backbone organization spans six major activities:

  • guiding vision and strategy;
  • supporting aligned activities;
  • establishing shared measurements;
  • building public will;
  • advancing policy change; and
  • mobilizing funding.

The backbone organization essentially keeps the collaborative on track and moves it forward.  Fulfilling this role requires a diversity of skills and is essential to maintain alignment across the partners.

If you are a leader of a backbone support organization or collaborative roundtable within a collective impact initiative, your participation at this event will contribute to the richness of this unique learning opportunity as we work together to grow the capacity in this emerging – and promising – field of community innovation.

We hope you can join us!

Related Links:


Jan 17 2013

by Mark Cabaj, Tamarack – An Institute for Community Engagement

The idea of “policy change” pops up regularly nowadays in Pathways for Changeconversations where people are doing whatever they can to dramatically strengthen their communities. They share a sense that public policies – e.g. income security policy for seniors, policies designed to manage the pace of oil sands development, regulations that determine what drugs are covered (or not) by public health plans – can yield the deep, broad and durable results people desire.

Yet for all the increased focus on changing public policies, many advocates are unclear about precisely how to go about it. In her resource, Pathways for Change, Sharon Stochowiak helps de-mystify the policy change process by laying out six common theories or pathways for policy change. These include:

  • Large Leap Theory – Like seismic shifts, significant changes in policies occur when the right contextual conditions are in place (e.g., the battery of new policies and regulations to reduce the practice of drinking and driving that emerged in response to pressure for action by police services, politicians and the courts).
  • Coalition Theory – Policy change happens through the coordinated activity of a range of individuals with the same core policy brief (e.g. When a coalition of agencies encouraging a city to adopt an urban food policy).
  • Policy Windows – Policy changes occur when advocates are able to effectively define a problem, possible solutions, and/or shape or take advantage of the contextual factors that encourage “action” on the problem (e.g. the recent “window” to regulate gun ownership in the United States that emerged after the horrible incidents of gun violence).
  • Messaging & Frameworks – Policies change when advocates frame or present issues and policy options in a way that reflects the worldview and preferences of decision-makers (e.g. encouraging a Provincial Government concerned about a tight labour market to support the policies that strengthen early learning and care programs as way to encourage more parents to participate in the workforce).
  • Power Politics (Power Elites Theory) – Policy changes are more apt to occur when advocates develop relationships and work with those in positions of power and influence (e.g. working with oil and gas companies to develop policies that balance resource development and environmental sustainability).
  • Grassroots (Community Organizing Theory) – Policy change happens when those people directly affected by an issue work together to address that issue, including pressuring decision-makers to change specific policies (e.g. residents of an inner-city neighborhood organizing to pressure a municipality to change a policy that encourages suburban traffic to move quickly (and dangerously) through their streets).

For each theory, Stochowiak provides a short account of its underlying assumptions, a visual account of the typical activities and outcomes related to the theory, and some points on the practical applications of the theory by advocates.

The six theories laid out in this brief are not comprehensive (there are more ways to change policies than these six) nor are they mutually exclusive (they can be woven together). However, they are helpful to advocates of policy change in a variety of ways:

  • They sharpen a group’s thinking about which approach best suits their particular context and guides their planning once they settle on what they feel may work.
  • They can be used to help communicate their overall approach to others who would want to understand – and perhaps support – their work.
  • They offer a framework to monitor and evaluate their policy change activities and outcomes.

Changing policies is a tricky and unpredictable business. Stochowiak makes the compelling case that having a good theory of change can make the enterprise more robust, manageable and improve advocates’ probabilities of success. And in the high stakes game of community-building, where every little bit helps, the document Pathways for Change is a welcome resource for would-be change makers.

Related links:


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Dec 05 2012

The City of Toronto launched its 2013 budget process on November 29. In this post, you will find information about how to get involved, the key dates, and useful news articles and resources.

Want to make your voice heard?

  • Sign up to make a deputation to the Budget committee on December 10 and 11. You can sign up now by adding your name to the deputation list and/or submit a written deputation at or by calling 416-338-5851.

Useful news articles

Useful resources

1. City of Toronto Budget documents

Latest information

Operating Budget

Capital Budget

 2. Additional information from the community

Social Planning Toronto (SPT)

Commitment 2 Community

Wellesley Institute

Canadian Centre for Policy Alternative

3. Key dates

  • November 29, 2012: Budget Committee Launch
  • December 3-6, 2012: Budget Committee Review – 2013 Capital and Operating Budgets
  • December 10 & 11, 2012: Budget Committee Public Hearings
  • December 12 & 17, 2012: Budget Committee Wrap-Up
  • January 8, 2013: Budget Committee Final Wrap-Up
  • January 10, 2013: Special Executive Committee considers 2013 Capital and Operating Budgets
  • January 15-17, 2013: City Council considers 2013 Capital and Operating Budgets



Alejandra Bravo is Manager, Leadership and Learning at Maytree.

Aug 14 2012

by Sylvia Cheuy, Tamarack – An Institute for Community Engagement

When Barack Obama, a community developer by training, became the President of the United States, he created The White House Council on Community Solutions to advance collective impact in communities. Earlier this month, the Council released its final paper, Community Solutions for Opportunity Youth, a fascinating report with solid recommendations for how communities can be more effective at “putting every young person on a clear path to economic opportunity.”

A representative from the Council, Paul Schmitz, will join us as a key thought-leader at the Communities Collaborating Institute 2012: Innovating Together.

Today, 6.7 million American 16-to-24-year olds – roughly 1 in 6 in this age group – are disconnected from both school and jobs. Research shows that connecting young people to the labour market early is critical for shaping their skills, attitudes, and outlook on life. It also impacts far beyond youth themselves. Research by Columbia University/Queens College, CUNY found that in 2011 U.S. taxpayers shouldered more than $93 billion to compensate for lost taxes and the direct costs to support disconnected youth, and that amount will grow to more than $1.6 trillion over their lifetime.

The Council’s report reflects conversations with more than 350 youth and community leaders across the country and confirms that youth have energy and aspirations. They recognize their responsibility to develop solutions with local leaders that improve their lives, benefit their communities, and help youth nationwide. To acknowledge their untapped potential, the Council chose to refer to this population as Opportunity Youth.

Speaking about the White House Council and its focus on youth, Patty Stonesifer, Chair of the White House Council, said, “Across the country, citizens and local leaders are combining their resources to achieve needle-moving change on a range of complex issues – from reducing violence to increasing graduation rates – and changing what’s possible for their communities. By applying the same focus and discipline toward supporting opportunity youth, we can dramatically change the trajectory of their lives, as well as our economy and society.”

The Council identified some key principles and recommendations that Canadian youth and community leaders can also benefit from.

Three fundamental principles were identified as central to effectively address the needs of opportunity youth:

  1. Young people are key to the solution – Opportunity youth have informed views of what works for them and their peers.
  2. All sectors must unite to address the challenge - To see dramatic, measurable progress, families, communities, schools, employers, nonprofits, and the government must pull together in the same direction to provide the diverse range of services needed.
  3. Policies and funding must be data-driven – Policy and funding decisions need to be guided by accurate data about opportunity youth and effective interventions to ensure the most effective use of limited funding.

The Council’s recommendations focus on four key strategies to significantly reduce the number of opportunity youth and make even more substantial progress toward putting all young people on a path to prosperity. The four strategies are:

  1. Drive the development of cross-sector community collaboratives – These collaboratives use a common approach and embody a core set of characteristics to solve a range of social issues, including supporting opportunity youth.
  2. Create shared national responsibility and accountability for opportunity youth – Coordinate and share rigorous data to shine a national spotlight on who these young people are, what they need, and what they are capable of doing.
  3. Engage youth as leaders in the solution – This ensures that relevant, high quality, and increasingly effective programs and resources for opportunity youth are being created and supported.
  4. Build more robust on-ramps for employment for opportunity youth – These initiatives need to be designed to meet the needs of communities and young people by linking education and training to local jobs.

At a summit hosted by the Council to release this report, several national organizations announced new collaborative initiatives to support the report’s strategies. Two include:

  • The Spark Opportunity Challenge – a crowd-sourcing competition for young people to propose their own visionary, yet viable solutions to create jobs, build and enhance skills, and bring about real change for opportunity youth.
  • The Aspen Forum for Community Solutions & the Opportunity Youth Incentive Fund will spotlight communities that are successfully pulling together to move the needle on a community challenge, providing national and local leaders with the knowledge, tools and resources needed to launch a successful needle-moving collaborative, especially those focused on reconnecting opportunity youth to school and work.

With an emphasis on what’s possible through collaboration and the value of community-led solutions, the Council believes that implementing its recommendations will lower the number of opportunity youth by a minimum of ten percent. This, they acknowledge, “will lead to significant progress toward putting all of our young people on a path to prosperity.”

The Council’s participation on our recent Communities Collaborating Institute shows how ideas know no borders and sharing innovative, community-led initiatives benefits us all.

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Jul 17 2012

“Social innovation is both a destination – the resolution of complex social and environmental challenges – and a process – devising new approaches that engage all stakeholders, leveraging their competencies and creativity to design novel solutions.”

- Tim Brodhead, 2011

By Al Etmanski (writing for Tamarack – An Institute for Community Engagement)

Social innovation: What is it? Why is it currently garnering such interest? And what’s needed to enable it to flourish? These are among the many questions explored by the BC Social Innovation Council (originally known as the BC Advisory Council on Social Entrepreneurship). The Council’s final report, Action Plan Recommendations to Maximize Social Innovation in British Columbia (PDF), culminates a comprehensive province-wide process with a set of recommendations and suggested framework to enable social innovation to flourish in British Columbia. The Council and its work also inspire others in the growing field of social innovation.

What is Social Innovation?

The Council’s discussion paper, Together: Respecting Our Future (PDF), defined social innovations as “ideas, products, services, processes, statutes, resources, protocols, and technologies that solve a social problem while generating new social relationships, partnerships, collaborations, connections and financing.” It also acknowledges that, around the world, social innovation has emerged as a “frame of reference for action to address existing and emerging social, financial and environmental challenges.”

In an earlier discussion paper, Taking Care (PDF), the Council stated that social innovation is beyond the scope of a single idea, organization or program, and means being intentional about:

  • Cultivating and supporting new approaches that work;
  • Aligning existing expertise and experience in new ways;
  • Using the expertise and resources of all sectors (business, community and government);
  • Adopting an entrepreneurial, business oriented approach to achieving social impact; and
  • Linking innovations with structural, institutional and systemic change.

Social Innovation: Why Now?

Interest in social innovation has grown, in part, from the awareness that our society’s traditional approaches to addressing complex social issues, are neither sustainable nor responsible. Traditional social safety nets are reaching their limit, and yet the programs they support are not getting the results we want and need. At the same time, changes in the economy are challenging us to find new ways to pay for, deliver and transform the public services. It is clear that transformation is needed; but how that transformation should look is far from clear: there are no simple solutions.

The Council’s social innovation process included dialogue sessions with diverse stakeholders focused on what could be put in place to enhance and increase citizens’ capacity to take care of each other in the future. The key question for this work was: How can we use social innovation (and its corresponding tools of social enterprise, social media, open source, smart collaborative networks, and social finance) to enable a resilient British Columbia in 2020?

Supporting Social Innovation to Flourish

The Council’s unique composition of tri-sector co-chairs, elected official and public service blend, political leadership and a spirit of non-partisanship had never before been tried in BC. In a recent blog, I as one of the Council’s three co-chairs (from the business, government and community sectors) used an Emily Carr quote to describe the Council’s structure: “perfectly ordered disorder, designed with helter skelter magnificence.” 

From the outset the Council was committed to modelling the spirit and value of working collaboratively by bridging faulty assumptions, traditional boundaries, misunderstandings and past grievances. This has given us a common appreciation for our challenges. And I believe that this approach is one of the reasons the Council’s recommendations already have momentum behind them – with alliances, resources and commitments coalescing around most of the recommendations.

The job to shepherd the Council’s recommendation to implementation has been handed to a newly created successor, Partners for Social Impact. This group will welcome additional individuals, groups, institutions and companies to this work and will no longer be advisory to government. Instead the BC government is committed to join other members as an equal contributing partner.  British Columbia now has the opportunity to make something magnificent of the Council’s perfectly ordered disorder.

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