Image by The Photo Team
By Jaiya Varshney
Joining a diverse group of 52 Canadian innovators, community leaders, and policy influencers, I participated in the Canada-United Kingdom (UK) Social Innovation Immersion in April 2023, an initiative led by SI Canada, Community Foundations of Canada, and RSA Canada. Held at the historic RSA House in London, the program revolved around exploring social enterprise, social finance, philanthropy, and social innovation. These themes guided us in understanding how businesses, finance, and private funds can drive societal change.
Throughout the week, we engaged in various workshops, panel discussions, and site visits to key social innovation sites like Coin Street and Body & Soul. This experience provided a platform for a reciprocal exchange of insights, aiming to enhance the social innovation landscapes in both Canada and the UK.
The lesson was clear: investing in social enterprises isn’t just about funding a single company; it’s about nurturing the entire ecosystem in which these companies operate.
Investment as a Catalyst for Change:
In the world of venture capital, I often see a tendency to focus on the most promising ‘fruit’ without considering the ‘tree’ and ‘soil’ nourishing it. This immersion brought this metaphor to life. The lesson was clear: investing in social enterprises isn’t just about funding a single company; it’s about nurturing the entire ecosystem in which these companies operate. This holistic approach requires looking beyond financial returns to consider social and environmental impacts.
The EAST Framework in Action:
Adopting the EAST framework – Easy, Attractive, Social, and Timely – as a lens, we explored how making things easy and accessible for social entrepreneurs, attractive for investors, socially engaging for philanthropists, and timely in addressing social challenges could accelerate impactful change. For instance, simplifying access to resources for social entrepreneurs can quicken their response to community needs, while introducing social bonds can make social finance more appealing by combining financial returns with societal impact.
Challenging and Refining Policy and Systems:
But the real shift, as I learned, happens deeper. We delved into how ingrained systems and policies, often overshadowed by history and biases, need critical reassessment to usher in genuine societal change. For example, addressing the district-based schooling policy and its inadvertent perpetuation of inequality underlined the necessity of questioning the status quo to break cycles of disparity.
Reflecting on the entire experience, it’s evident that the immersion was about learning from the UK’s shifts and mutual growth. As we navigate through the complexities of societal change, the importance of empathetic investment, practical yet flexible frameworks like EAST, and the courageous reevaluation of our systems becomes abundantly clear.
In weaving together these strands of learning and insight, I am reminded that innovation, whether small-scale or transformative, hinges on understanding both the immediate and the systemic. As I look ahead, I am eager to collaborate with the incredible individuals and communities I met, inspired to tread a path that balances pragmatic strategies with visionary objectives for a more equitable and thriving future.