Can Alberta Become a Social Innovation Leader?

Project investigates possibilities for supporting provincial social innovation ecosystem’s growth

Last spring, the Alberta government announced the launch of a $1-billion Social Innovation Endowment Fund. When the fund was cancelled in early December, the question surfaced, is there energy to pursue strengthening Alberta’s capacity for social innovation through a community-driven, province-wide initiative?

Research over the last couple of months suggests the answer is yes.

The fund’s retraction was announced the very day that a group was scheduled to meet and strategize around building the community’s capacity for collaboration and innovative thinking so that it might be better prepared to access the social innovation funds.

Former Calgary Arts Development president and CEO Terry Rock, who joined the group as a representative of the Premier’s Council on Culture, recalls the moments after the news came in. “We all sat in the room and said, ‘Okay, no more money, do we keep going?’”

The unanimous response? “Absolutely, it’s even more important now that we do this.”

Sponsored by the Suncor Energy Foundation and Trico Charitable Foundation, Social Innovation Generation is currently heading up a research project to explore the possibilities in creating a network and related infrastructure to support social innovation collaboration and learning across Alberta.

As part of the research, a Feb. 3 gathering convened government officials, corporate community investment leaders, consultants as well as those representing the co-op movement, post-secondary institutions, for-profit businesses with a social mandate and social service agencies.

In that meeting, people were invited to share what they excited them most when the prospect of new funding for social innovation was first put forward. The majority named elements other than the actual funds. Instead, energy was strong around the prospect of collaborating more as well as fostering more of an innovative mindset for the purpose of creating more social impact in the province.

“I think we may be sparking a movement for social innovation in Alberta,” says Terry, manager for the project.

“The sense I got from that meeting is that there is a real energy to collaborate more on solving our toughest social problems and to learn from each other and other places on how to do that, (as well as) to continue to make the case for investment in new ways.”

James Stauch joined the gathering as director of the Mount Royal University Institute for Community Prosperity, formerly the Institute for Non-profit Studies. Social innovation is one of his department’s three priorities, the others being philanthropy/community investment and change leadership.

While he sees reason for social innovation activities at the local level and with like-minded players across the country, James says he’s less convinced of the value of an initiative to build province-wide capacity for collaboration and learning around social innovation — unless government incentivizes it.

That said, it would be great to see the province integrate social innovation leadership as part of its story going forward, James says.

“In a province that otherwise has often been seen to be elevating ‘beggar thy neighbour,’ laissez faire principles, the truth is much more nuanced and interesting,” he says, noting the province’s strong co-operative presence as one example of a distinction.

This social innovation effort could be a chance to “resurface Alberta’s truer nature,” James says.

  • More to Come

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