Connecting Social Innovators in Ontario

“I think that what matters most is how we reveal the ecosystem to allow people to connect with one another so their initiatives can go toward long term change that puts people and planet first. That’s what Social Innovation Canada is trying to do.”

Based in Kingston, Ontario, Jo Reynolds is the region’s  Weaver for the Centre for Social Innovation.  They’ve spent this foundational year looking deeply into the province’s overall social innovation ecosystem, and has mapped initiatives that are actively working to shift approaches from housing, to child-care reform, to zero waste solutions, and many more.

Identifying community leaders

Jo reflects on the start of the year and where it has led, “After our first Social Innovation Circle in April that brought together a group from across the Province and Indigenous Territories, we recognized that in order to create transformational change we need to first be able to see ourselves in the systems that we live in.  This requires us to have brave conversations about our colonial systems and the ways that privilege and access are reinforced creating exclusion and missed opportunities for us all.” From this time in April, Jo saw the need to reduce the barriers for change makers to find one another and to take their next steps professionally and personally towards transformative systems change.

From here, Jo started to host “Social Innovation Circles”—vibrant, in-person and virtual gatherings that bring together a wide range of individuals doing the work of systems change. Jo creates a welcoming and productive space, one that allows change makers to share their knowledge and make vital, breakthrough connections that deepen our knowledge of how our systems can be receptive to emerging solutions.

A great example is the “Inclusive Economies Circle”, co-hosted with André Vashits of London’s Pillar Nonprofit Network.  André and Jo responded to an opportunity to connect people in organizations from southwestern and central Ontario with the goal to share approaches to at a wide variety of topics—from Community Benefit Agreements, to workplace integration, to employment social enterprise. They’ve shared information on worker cooperatives, to Participatory Cities, and approaches to community-owned wealth. They have learned about leakage studies from anchor institutions and infrastructure projects, furthering understanding of how much income is leaving smaller communities rather than staying inside them. “We became quite practical by looking at initiatives that have really made, or started to make a big difference,” Jo says of these discussions.

The real benefit of these circles extends far beyond the simple unpacking and sharing of knowledge. The long-term vision for Social Innovation Canada is the delicate task of relationship building, the effects of which are currently immeasurable. Jo has also found there’s enormous enthusiasm for creating the space for these kinds of in-depth group conversations, and that participants are grateful for the opportunity to step out of their day-to-day experiences to come together, reflect, and share important—and possibly groundbreaking—ideas.

People and planet first

“All across these regions, in every community, we have people who are working to support real long term change. Sometimes they’re working in small groups of four people, sometimes they are connected to organizations and are using the organization to advance change—that that could be the policy, it could be in a new initiatives, and it could be looking at ways to address some kind of stuck issue in their community. People are doing this everywhere, in every community, this huge effort.”

Put simply, the mission of Social Innovation Canada is to take good work that that puts people and planet first, and help it succeed. That means getting beyond jargon and opaque high level thinking, and striving for accessibility. That means keeping things simple, not getting too hung up on language, and actively facilitating a new perspective.

“I think it’s very important for people to to hopefully over time see themselves in this (work,)” Jo says. “In fact Social Innovation Canada—if we can get this right—should be everybody’s to use in a way that matters to them.”


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