New partnership will accelerate social innovation

Initiative links McConnell Foundation, Government of Ontario, MaRS, University of Waterloo and PLAN

Toronto, June 8, 2007 – Collaborating with a national network of partner nodes, The J.W. McConnell Family Foundation is leading the creation of a new initiative designed to spur social innovation across Canada. The initiative – known as Social innovation Generation (SiG) – will link the Foundation with the MaRS Discovery District, the University of Waterloo and the BC-based PLAN Institute for Caring Citizenship.

“All too often, ideas for transformative social change are impeded by lack of resources, lack of support, or lack of networks,” said Tim Brodhead, CEO of the McConnell Foundation. “SiG is designed to provide the theoretical and practical support social innovators need to both create and grow their organizations.”

The partnership will be anchored by two key donations: $10 million from the McConnell Foundation to launch SiG nodes at the University of Waterloo, at PLAN and at the Foundation itself – and $6 million over four years from the Government of Ontario to create SiG@MaRS.

“Innovation occurs in every sector and every community,” said Premier Dalton McGuinty. “We believe that the partnership between MaRS and the SiG Network will help ensure that the social and economic benefits of innovation are unlocked and shared throughout Ontario – and across Canada.”

SiG’s aim is to facilitate broad social change in Canada – with a specific initial focus on Ontario. The partnership will deliberately engage all three sectors, and address cross-cutting themes like increasing the availability of funding for social innovation in Canada; exploring how innovative, community-based “open source” technology can enhance learning and strengthen social change networks; and developing the leadership capacity that will allow social innovators to work with a broad range of stakeholders across sectors.

While the consortium is geographically spread out, its activities will be both complementary and integrated:

  • SiG@McConnell: The McConnell Foundation will deepen its work on dissemination and the scaling-up of a number of promising social innovations across Canada. The Foundation will also document and exchange what it is learning with other interested funders, practitioners, researchers and policy makers;
  • SiG@MaRS: SiG@MaRS will focus on building a new series of linkages between social innovators and venture philanthropists, develop seminars and programs to support emerging organizations and their leaders, and focus on expanding Canada’s small cluster of social enterprises;
  • SiG@PLAN: PLAN is an entrepreneurial non-profit in Vancouver that has considerable expertise in the area of policy and “systems change” as it relates to people with disabilities and their families. PLAN will continue with its disability focus, but will also share its expertise in levering policy change with organizations working on other pressing social issues;
  • SiG@Waterloo: The University of Waterloo will design and lead academic programs aimed at strengthening the capacity for social innovation, and will develop new methodologies to engage researchers and practitioners across the country in collaborative work to find and test innovative solutions to social problems.

“The University of Waterloo has long been known as one of Canada’s most entrepreneurial universities,” said David Johnston, President of the University. “The launch of SiG@Waterloo both reflects that tradition, and represents an important evolution in our approach to educating innovators and supporting their ideas.”

SiG will be formally launched in the fall of 2007 with a number of events and programs. The intervening months will be focused on strategic planning and consulting with community leaders and social innovators across Canada and internationally.

About the J.W. McConnell Family Foundation

The McConnell Foundation ( is a private family foundation that funds initiatives of national significance which address challenges for Canadian society by engaging people, by building resilient communities, and by developing a strong knowledge base for the work that the Foundation supports.

Contact Info:
Katharine Pearson
Director, SiG@McConnell
(514) 288-2133

About MaRS
MaRS Discovery District ( is a large scale, mission driven innovation centre located in Toronto and networked across Ontario, focused on building Canada’s next generation of technology companies. MaRS works closely with entrepreneurs to grow and scale their ventures into global market leaders in life sciences and health care, information, communications and digital media technologies, cleantech, advanced materials and engineering, as well as innovative social purpose business.
For more information, contact:
Linda Quattrin
Director Communications
MaRS Discovery District