A New Era for Systems Innovation

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Written by Jo Reynolds, SI Canada Senior Director Partnerships and Development

Report Back: Canada to UK Social Innovation Immersion

The Canada to UK Social Innovation Immersion occurred in London, England, from April 17th to 21st, 2023. 

Fifty-two delegates from across the country participated in a unique opportunity to exchange ideas, strengthen relationships and engage in enriching discussions on applying social innovation to advance  systems change while creating social and cultural pathways between Canadian and UK innovation ecosystems.

When the organizers first came together, we valued that an immersive experience of learning and connection creates the conditions for relational systems thinking.  When people are together in an immersive experience, the flow of ideas and the exchange of hard lessons can build trust and encourage different ways of knowing that, in turn, strengthen the relational capital underpinning Canada’s distributed social innovation constituency.

Valued in an immersive experience is the opportunity to build relationships with UK-based organizations similarly engaged in the work of ecosystem capacity-building and systems change. This approach lends itself to designing learning exchanges that are sectorally mixed in makeup. Through experiences like this, community members, policymakers, leaders from foundations, and network organizations share an understanding of how stuck issues are interconnected and explore how existing systems either absorb change or create new pathways for solutions to flourish—fostering social innovation as a collaborative effort to address complexity. 

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The Immersion featured sessions on social finance, social enterprise, community wealth building, and philanthropy to accelerate more impactful social change in Canada by deepening knowledge (across sectors); about the UK experience and; the rapidly evolving role of philanthropy in future economies.

The delegates and speakers brought a breadth of experience that allowed for meaningful dialogue on the real challenges involved in shifting financial, economic, and social structures. The impacts of systemic racism, colonialism, and rigid purpose-built systems often mean progress is slow, and the status quo holds. However, the dialogue brought critical thought and practice into identifying ways to renew and recreate structures, processes, and mindsets toward an equitable and ecologically regenerative society. 

The Immersion was about connection and learning. What came out of it were many sparks of imagination of what is possible.  To quote Al Etmanski, “Designing policy or strategy without an imaginative sense of where you are going means your best efforts will land you toward the front of the status quo, but not ahead of it. Imagination enlightens strategy, policy, and programming and helps you break free of institutional thinking that leads you to piecemeal reform.”  The sparks of imagination and possibility, alongside a critical understanding of systemic power imbalances and the hard work of reform, are the ingredients these social innovators use to dismantle what is not working, redesign for equity and regeneration, and create viable pathways for positive outcomes.

In the report, you will gain insight into the dynamic conversations and thematics that were alive during the five days of the Immersion. I encourage you to look at the summaries of the sessions, where you will find many nuggets of wisdom from foundational leaders from the UK’s community wealth-building, social finance, and social innovation fields. 

Since returning from the UK, delegates have continued to connect, share stories, and collaborate. Some of the themes that people are continuing to work together on are: supporting system change leaders, centering equity & diverse knowledge systems, collective imagination, community wealth building, impact investing, future of philanthropy, food sovereignty, health and wellness for black communities, climate and equity, and affordable housing.  

The organizers of the immersion were SI Canada, Community Foundations of Canada, and RSA.  We wish to thank all  the delegates who took time from their work and families to travel with us and their organizations for supporting them to do so.  Additionally, we thank our wonderful partner, the Network for the Advancement of Black Communities, and the organizations that provided financial support including the Ontario Trillium Foundation, Suncor Foundation, Middlebrook Corporation, Oakville Community Foundation, and an anonymous gift.

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