Building an Ecosystem Practice and Fund for Collective Imagination in Canada

Written by Jo Reynolds, Director Partnerships and Development, SI Canada and Michelle Baldwin, Senior Advisor Transformation, Community Foundations of Canada

“What if what we see of the world around us is really just what we’ve been told to see?… when we start to let our curiosity wander, we start to see there are other ways things can be.”

—  Suhaiymah Manzoor-Khan

Since returning from The Canada UK Social Innovation Immersion in April, delegates have been sparking really epic collaborations and possibilities that have pulled us together from our day jobs to explore possibilities for Canada. One of those explorations is on the topic of Collective Imagination, shared with us through Cassie Robinson who we met in the UK when she shared a Collective Imagination fund and practice that she participated in. We are sharing here a more recent conversation that took place on October 13th with fifteen or so others at OCADU during the Systemic Design Association’s annual Relating Systems Thinking and Design conference (Oct 12-14. )

We began our conversation with Maryam Mohiuddin Ahmed, SI Canada Fellow and Ph.D candidate at the University of Waterloo, who opened our time with a grounding reflection inviting us to consider our connection with the land and the many who are displaced from their home lands. Maryam offered the below  framing of different approaches to reform with regard to modernity/coloniality from Vanessa Andreotti, author of Hospicing Modernity: Facing humanity’s wrongs and the implications for social activism (2021) and one of the co-founders of the Gesturing Towards Decolonial FuturesWhile it is beyond this blog to dig deep into this framing, we invite this perspective and value different ways towards decolonization that is integral to how “Collective Imagination” is centred and adapted drawing from many traditional ways of knowing. 

During the conversation, Cassie shared a provocation about what would be possible if  communities collectively imagined the futures they hoped for? Excited by how this prompt could spark possibility, we are also holding the reality of “who gets to imagine?”. So many people in our communities are struggling and surviving through the day to day. We know that having the time and support to imagine futures is a privilege. As we consider who is invited to imagine, we recognize those who are absent and those whose futures are often precarious and in other people’s hands. This exploration of building an ecosystem, practice and fund for Collective Imagination must hold with care and consideration of those whose voices are not represented, and who equally deserve to be imagining a collective future.  

Spurring these reflections, Cassie shared that it is because new and different patterns need to emerge – not only because so much is not working but also because the times require something very different from us.  Cassie shared how JRF and others in the UK supported  a Collective Imagination practice and created a fund to build the Imagination Infrastructures and the capacity of communities and others to collectively imagine and shape alternative futures.  Cassie clearly articulated that just like with narrative work, advocacy or campaigning, or policy — collective imagination is a craft and a practice in its own right. It is “not a dream or ideology.”  

 

We were grateful to have Cassie  share her story and experiences of building collective imagination infrastructures in the UK to guide our own continued discussions.    

As well, during the conversation, we were fortunate to have Tara Campbell and Cheryl Hsu share their pioneering journey with Toronto Imaginal Transitions, a collaborative project exploring transitions to well-being economies that offered an example of imagination infrastructures in Canada. Tara and Cheryl shared the implications for design practices situated in contexts of societal transition for a time between worlds that they envisioned for us through a beautiful spoken word piece and reflections.   

Reflections for Our Journey

As we consider deepening the collective imagination ecosystem, practice and exploring how a Collective Imagination fund might support communities in Canada here are a few reflections to consider on our journey:

• Collective imagination is not the same as strategic foresight or futurist work, it is a practice that will take honing, reflection and unlearning.
• There is an emerging collective imagination ecosystem e.g. Toronto Imaginal Futures and Hospicing Modernity and mapping out what currently exists and connecting that network ensures we are not claiming space that exists or that discounts the existing practice.
• Developing the capacity and practice of collective imagination in parallel to creating a fund similar to the need for the Investment Readiness Program to continue alongside the Social Finance Fund will ensure we have a community of care and practice to accompany the funding. Could philanthropy take this on?
• The fund could unlock exploration and practice and will not be perfect. As shared by Cassie “The granting was about little experiments to nourish trust and intimacy. How can we support people to explore, tune into and trust their deep desires.”

More Questions Than Answers

There were some reflective questions for some who joined this conversation that could be a guide for where we go next:

• How do we invest in relational infrastructure?
• What do we have to do to create sustained momentum around the idea of collective imagination? A fund and what else?
• What if the fund was designed for those who don’t typically get to imagine?
• Where and how in Canadian philanthropy do new innovative ideas like this fund emerge and grow.

Feeling Curious?

If you are feeling called to engage with where this work related to collective imagination goes next, feel free to reach out to Michelle Baldwin at mbaldwin@communityfoundations.ca or Jo Reynolds at jo@sicanada.org

The Action Lab, Community Foundations of Canada, Partnerships Investments Program at Ontario Trillium Foundation, Social Innovation Canada brought together a small group of folks and Michelle Baldwin, Senior Advisor Transformation, Community Foundations of Canada and Jo Reynolds, Director Partnerships and Development, SI Canada hosted and Maryam Mohiuddin Ahmed facilitated the conversation. 

The Canada to UK Social Innovation Immersion took place In the Spring of 2023,  SI Canada, Community Foundations of Canada and RSA hosted 52 delegates with more than 70 speakers and presenters for five days in London UK  to explore, learn and imagine futures where equality for people and the regeneration of our planet can be achieved.  Learn more about the Immersion and read the report back

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