MaRS names community advocate to lead new social innovation initiative

Toronto, December 4, 2007 – Coinciding with Canada’s first Social Entrepreneurship Summit – drawing more than 260 participants from across Canada to the MaRS Centre today – MaRS is pleased to formally launch its social innovation initiative under the leadership of an outstanding community advocate.

As Director of Social Entrepreneurship, Allyson Hewitt brings more than 20 years of community service leadership to her role that will broaden MaRS’ venture-building activities from science and technology to include support for social innovators. The new program, called Social innovation Generation (SiG@MaRS), anchors a national network driven by the leadership of the Montreal-based J.W. McConnell Family Foundation.

“Social innovation” refers to a new set of creative solutions to unmet social needs – from environmental degradation and homelessness to global poverty. These are among the issues being addressed today at Canada’s first Social Entrepreneurship Summit. The Summit culminates this evening with the announcement of the Schwab Foundation’s Canadian Social Entrepreneur of the Year Award, selected by a panel of community leaders from a list of six finalists. MaRS is co-hosting the Social Entrepreneurship Summit with Boston Consulting Group, the Centre for Social Innovation and the Toronto City Summit Alliance.

“Social entrepreneurs are often community-minded individuals who are interested in not only catalyzing social change or alleviating social problems but also building a new set of innovative and sustainable businesses – and they too are seeking business acumen and expertise to help them succeed,” said Hewitt, former Executive Director of Safe Kids Canada, the national injury prevention program of The Hospital for Sick Children. Prior to that, she was Executive Director of Community Information Toronto, an agency that brings people and social services together.

Under Hewitt’s leadership, SiG@MaRS will develop a range of programs to launch new social ventures and support the growth of emerging organizations and their leaders. The goal is to expand Canada’s cluster of social enterprises and to ensure that those ventures generate the transformative results to which they aspire.

The national SiG network includes nodes at the McConnell Foundation, MaRS and the University of Waterloo. MaRS’ work in this emerging field is supported by a four-year $6 million grant from the Government of Ontario, reflecting the province’s commitment to view innovation as broadly as possible.

“We are committed to innovation as one of the best ways to grow both Ontario’s economic and social prosperity,” said Ontario Minister of Research and Innovation John Wilkinson. “SiG@MaRS has attracted a proven leader with both experience and talent to ensure innovation in this province is translated into a better quality of life for all Ontarians.”

For MaRS, the move into social entrepreneurship is an opportunity to generate the widest possible impact – social and economic – for the most promising ideas and start-up ventures. Since it officially opened two years ago, MaRS has provided hands-on advisory services to more than 250 science and tech entrepreneurs, while thousands of students and young innovators have participated in entrepreneurship educational programs.

MaRS will extend these efforts to the social sector by focusing on incubation, mentorship, leadership development and the growth of social enterprises. MaRS will also: build new public/private partnerships to develop alternative financing models for social ventures (including venture philanthropy); harness technology in social enterprise development; and enhance opportunities for knowledge transfer from the academic sector to the community.

“Canada’s quality of life – the civility of our society and our creative, vibrant communities – is our fundamental competitive advantage and continues to draw talented people from around the world,” said MaRS CEO Dr. Ilse Treurnicht. “MaRS is focused on stimulating and enabling innovation that will create new opportunities and prosperity for future generations of Canadians. Innovation extends beyond the boundaries of science and technology and is the foundation upon which communities flourish. Allyson brings a wealth of experience and strong networks to MaRS. Her leadership in the social sector offers a unique complement to MaRS’ existing business strengths and will help us build our social entrepreneurship pillar as a cornerstone of MaRS’ innovation strategy.”

MaRS is a non-profit innovation centre connecting science, technology and social entrepreneurs with business skills and capital to stimulate innovation, entrepreneurship and the creation of successful Canadian companies.

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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