Catalyzing Social and Environmental Change: a conversation with Andrea Nemtin

Social Impact Advisors podcast interview with Andrea Nemtin, Executive Director of Social Innovation Canada. The full interview is here.

Summary of their conversation: What is Social Innovation the concept?

Frances Westley (2008): An initiative, product, process or program that profoundly changes the basic routines, resource and authority flows or beliefs of any social system.

  1. Its an intentional approach
  2. Works with a systems lens
  3. Uses human centred design

We’re seeing a shift in how we are addressing systemic racism. The Network for the Advancement of Black Communities, , out of $100 given in grants by 40 leading Canadian foundations , less than 30 cents made it to Black organizations. Out of this came the Foundation for Black Communities. They asked for portion of capital of philanthropic capital of foundations, asking for 3.5% of the foundation’s endowment. Raised $3 million, and then federal government stepped in and added $200 million to start a foundation.

  1. Problem definition
  2. Ideation
  3. Prototyping
  4. Implementation
  5. Scale

Community led fishing co-op of Fogo Island (Newfoundland and Labrador) as a reaction to economic and technical changes in fishing practices. They first built up their social capital via film making. Creating a fishing co-op to respond to the challenges.

Social Innovation Canada

Social innovation was being practiced in an informal network across Canada for many years. The Social Innovation Generation (SIG), was a thought leader around innovation in Canada. In 2017 SIG closed. How could SIG legacy continue, that is ‘sunset’ SIG without losing all the work? What does the transition look like? Idea was a social innovation network across Canada. Social Innovation Canada was born. It’s a collaboration between 6 different organizations across Canada.

Social Innovation democratises by bringing on board artists and musicians

Practices around social innovation need to involve others. Who is going to be impacted by the activities? In what way? Are they in the room? The issue of inclusivity becomes top of mind. We need art, spoken word artists, movement artists, musicians, activists to catalyze innovation and change. Different people are needed to name the problem. Artists and musicians engage and speak through a different way of knowing and seeing.

Priorities of Social Innovation Canada moving forward

Key pillars of work: Supporting individuals and organizations with tools, resources, knowledge and opportunities and networks to create change in communities and at a systems level.

National convening, focused on how can we come together to create a more inclusive social innovation sector. This will lead us to supporting a more inclusive economy. Support folks who enter field of innovation, with a focus on practitioners.

Networking, connecting to each other, communities of practice. Indigenous innovation, community of practice on next economy. Being connective tissue, weaving in and out, connecting, supporting initiatives, being little pieces of social capital, amplifying stories.

Aligning for action. How do we align folks across Canada, social entrepreneurs, practitioners, corporates, government, align to come together to solve complex problems. For example there was a lab led by CSI on financialization of housing.

Story Telling: Making sure voices are being heard and people’s work is being promoted.

Recovery from COVID Crisis

Emerging out of COVID: growing interest in community wealth. How to transition communities to be more autonomous, prosperous, focused on local ownership, local procurement? There has emerged a new incarnation of community development work. It is the coming together of social finance, social procurement and social capital. How do we support and encourage and nurture social capital of communities? The important factor is once infrastructure dollars are shifted into the community, is it strong enough to retain those dollars, grow them and keep them in the community?

The biggest challenge around addressing complex problems is this current need for instant outputs, the demand for quantitative proof that change is happening, when really, we need to keep our eye on outcomes, and its complex.

Institutionalizing Empathy

We have shifted our relationship with each other, our communities, with government, the role of government, the corporate role, the safety net, the need for government has shifted. I hope within individuals, and corporate and government world, we start to institutionalize empathy, policies to reflect empathy e.g., to create space for wellness days and to implement the circular economy act.

Communities have been differentially impacted by COVID and it points to a universal vulnerability that means we need to raise our empathy for one another and which needs to be reflected in policies and practices.

We need to take an approach that is human centred to lessen the suffering and displacement that will happen during the transition to a New Economy. Some industries will be rendered obsolete. A human-centred approach relies on the fact that humans are capable of change and are adaptable and resilient.

Call to Action

Michael MacMillan the co-founder of the Samara Centre for Democracy, said “I want people to demand more.” People need to feel entitled to ask for what they need. It’s only through collective action that we can achieve change. And change is possible. We’ve seen so many things made possible that were previously said to be impossible, so the impossible happens.

Randy Terada
Centre for Social Innovation Annex
720 Bathurst St.

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