Reciprocity Builds Possibility – The Canada to UK Social Innovation Immersion

The Canada to UK Social Innovation Immersion, April 17-21, 2023 

What begins with a shared experience motivated by connection and learning becomes the seeds of transformation for what follows.   


SI Canada, Community Foundations of Canada, and RSA Canada came together in January to design the Canada to UK Social Innovation Immersion because of a shared understanding that an immersive experience of learning and connection contributes to the conditions for systemic change. 

And then in April, the Canada to UK Social Innovation Immersion saw 50 Canadians travel together for five days of exploring, learning and imagining futures where equality for people and the regeneration of our planet can be achieved. The immense enthusiasm and response to this opportunity from people across Canada is a testament to our collective curiosity and openness to engage with new ideas, and to deepen our relationships as colleagues and collaborators dedicated to the mighty journey of systems change!  

Why did we go to London? The UK is one of the world’s oldest and most developed social innovation ecosystems, with a broad range of ventures, numerous applied social innovations across all sectors, and a breadth of intermediary and capacity-building institutions, as well as embedded public policies. We were curious to gain insights and lessons from decades of significant public and private investment and to learn how the UK’s history and current efforts could influence Canada’s next stages of social innovation.

The five days were focused on topics related to social innovation, social finance, community wealth building, social entrepreneurship and philanthropy. We met with leaders who were part of the surge of investment in the mid-2000’s during Prime Minister Tony Blair’s creation of the Office of Social Enterprise. The session speakers shared the real challenges social finance pioneers faced in order to align capital for investment into social enterprises. These challenges included: meeting investor and public policy expectations, the need for investment readiness supports for social purpose organizations, and centering processes that valued community wisdom and diverse voices. Such an honest reflection from our speakers provided insights and learning for us all. 

It was very clear that the Canadian delegation brought perspectives and experiences that our counterparts in the UK could truly benefit from too. This began with sharing the clarity achieved when centering diverse and lived experiences and how bringing an understanding of intersectionality to problem solving will lead to better fit solutions.   

Inspiring UK examples of social impact included community wealth building initiatives such as the ones shared by Imandeep Kaur, co-founder and director of Civic Square. Imandeep brought forward the perspective that communities are often infantilized and assumed that they cannot understand what they need and how to go about it. We also heard from senior data analyst Adam Almeida of Common Wealth, which is a not-for-profit organisation founded on the insights that ownership is the structuring force in our economy and that current relations of property and power are social in origin — and therefore can and must be reimagined. The Coin Street Building we visited is an excellent example of community wealth building- it is a social enterprise working in Waterloo and North Southwark, London that was developed through citizen action from a derelict site in 1984 and transformed into a vibrant, diverse and welcoming place for people to live, work and play.

Other sessions brought forward critical reflections on the role of philanthropy. After decades of traditional approaches, the philanthropy sector has been disrupted by social movements (e.g., Black Lives Matter, Me Too, Occupy, Climate Emergency, etc.), COVID, and the generational change of wealth holders. Combined with new thinking about how social and systems change happens, 21st century philanthropic leadership is co-creating new strategies for how philanthropy shares power and supports transformational change.  These themes were discussed in a session with Derek Bardowell, author of Giving Back, How to Do Good Better, where he shared his reimagining of philanthropy through a reparative lens while exploring themes of Black imagination and solidarity. We were pleased to include in this session Katie Miller, who is a Canadian currently based in London with Mission 44, and a member of Canada’s Social Innovation Advisory Council.  

With 50 speakers – 68 if you include moderators and delegate speakers – a dozen panels, evening events and loads of discussion and debate at the pubs into the night, we are very much looking forward to sharing more highlights through future blogs and a report back to the sector. 

It was significant to note that the delegation felt the deep and lasting impacts of British colonialism by being in the heart of it, and the impacts are still present in the places and spaces where we met. An important grounding for all of us was the role of ceremony and the honouring of different ways of knowing. We began the immersion at Body & Soul Charity, with a tobacco ceremony that was shared with us by Diane Roussin, of Winnipeg Boldness and proud member of the Skownan First Nation, and Victoria Grant – Teme-Augama Anishnabai Kway who is a strong community advocate. Together they brought us into a relationship with one another and in turn the tobacco was shared with the UK speakers inviting them to be in relationship with all of us. As well, we were gifted with shared practices and insights from Elders such as Anan Lololi, a food sovereignty advocate, and Amanuel Melles, Network for the Advancement of Black Communities. We were also fortunate to have with us the voices of three young adults (Mariapaz Cardenas Castro, Jaiya Varshney, and Christine He), whose emerging leadership brought forward welcome clarity and hope. These voices, alongside the incredible breadth and depth of experience from the whole delegation and the speakers, motivates us to be bold in a shared vision of how we can apply social innovation approaches for Canada’s future and the many nations, and living beings we share this land with.   

A special thank you to the generous gifts both in-kind and financial that have supported 50 delegates to have this experience. In particular, SI Canada would like to recognize the creativity and commitment shared by our  collaborators, Community Foundations of Canada and RSA Canada; it was so great to share this journey with you. And we couldn’t have travelled far without those that provided financial support: Suncor Energy Foundation, Middlebrook Corporation, The Ontario Trillium Foundation, and an anonymous contribution. 

We are looking forward to continue sharing further insights and lessons in the coming months and open opportunities for those interested in learning more about the topics shared during the Canada to UK Social Innovation Immersion. 


– Jo Reynolds, SI Canada Senior Director Partnerships and Development


Related Stories