Grassroots social innovation in Manitoba

“I’m just very interested in driving an Indigenous agenda forward, in terms of how do we support changemakers in our region to do the change that we know needs to happen, and how are we doing that from an Indigenous value-based lens, how do we get resourcing for that, and how do we hold that up to the other regions…as an example?”
—Diane Roussin, Winnipeg Boldness

Kalen Taylor and Art Ladd both run trades-based social enterprises in Winnipeg, Manitoba. The social innovation work they do is grassroots, primarily hiring and training individuals with barriers to employment for construction work. Diane Roussin works at a different end of the social innovation space, currently acting as a project manager at Winnipeg Boldness, an initiative launched to explore new ideas for addressing early childhood outcomes. Together this team is working to further Social Innovation Canada’s mission in Manitoba.

Indigenous leadership

“There’s a ton of innovation work happening in Winnipeg, the most interesting parts of that work are (those) coming out of Indigenous communities, solving and addressing really deep-seeded problems within the entire city,” says Kalen. “I think that’s the real strength of Winnipeg in the social innovation sector Canada-wide.”

This acknowledgement of Indigenous innovation is really what is driving most of the initiatives the Manitoba team has decided to embark on; “We were really interested in focusing the work of this node primarily on supporting Indigenous leadership in the social innovation sector. The work that is really driving all of us is that.”

A large part of that work meant finding young, emerging, Indigenous leaders and inviting them to be part of a newly-formed Indigenous governance group—an inspiring collection of changemakers that have been meeting regularly for four months now. These visionary thinkers are working on some of the most exciting social innovation projects from around the province, together addressing a diverse and wide-reaching set of vital issues.

Currently the Indigenous Governance Group’s members include Rodney Contois from The Meechim Project, a Indigenous-led food sovereignty initiative and self-sustaining farm in northern Manitoba; Levi Foy, a drag performer, CBC Future 40 finalist, and coordinator of “Like That” at Winnipeg’s Sunshine House, a low-barrier program that provides much-needed space for people exploring gender and/or sexual identity; James Favel, co-founder of Bear Clan Patrol, a boots-on-the-ground, volunteer solution to the complex problem of inner city safety and security; and Johnny Meikle, a Restorative Justice Community Organizer.

How do we connect them?

“We’ve got this all-star team, and they’re really helping us co-create the model we want to carry forward, with the goal of really serving people like them,” Kalen explains. “How do we resource them? How do we connect them? How do we connect them to each other?”

To answer these fundamental questions at the core of Social Innovation Canada’s mission, the team in Manitoba has also been organizing what they call a “challenge mapping exercise,” furthering dialogue about why it is deeply important to foster Indigenous leadership, and then asking those leaders what they need to make that growth happen. About fifteen of these interviews have happened so far, with a goal of twenty-five in the new year.

“We’re just starting to work with the data coming out of the challenge mapping, and our goal in the next couple of months is to hash out what a comprehensive support system looks like for young, emerging Indigenous folks in the sector. How can we resource it, and how can we build it?”

Turning to old values and practices

Of course, this work is not without its challenges. Like many of their colleagues across the country, Kalen, Art, and Diane often find resistance to the typical, opaque language of social innovation—and with good reason. Part of their role moving forward is to build and evolve the conversation around those who participate.

“We had to really pull back, I think, and go back to some very plain language,” Diane explains. “We’re all trying to make change, and we’re all doing good work trying to make change, we recognize barriers to people’s success.”

“A lot of this ‘innovation’ is really—from what I heard from an Indigenous community perspective—turning to really old values and really old ways of working,” Kalen adds. “We’re talking about breaking down barriers. We’re talking about being in relationships instead of sitting in silos. We’re talking about listening to community knowledge.”

“None of that is actually that innovative. We’ve just been listening to the wrong people.”


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