“Conversation is a meeting of minds with different memories and habits. When minds meet, they don’t just exchange facts: they transform them, reshape them, draw different implications from them, engage in new trains of thought. Conversation doesn’t just reshuffle the cards: it creates new cards.” –Theodore Zeldin

I visited BC’s Sunshine Coast last month to attend the retreat, “Thinking Like a Movement.” It wasn’t by coincidence that our wonderful hosts and facilitators, Al Etmanski from the PLAN Institute for Caring Citizenship and his wife, Vicky Cammack – Founder and CEO, Tyze and Executive Director of PLAN – chose the Painted Boat in the beautiful Madeira Park for our learning.

The theme: Slow thinking.

Slow thinking is a tough challenge given the fast paced world in which we live and work. Social entrepreneurs need to take the time to stop and percolate while looking to collaborate, engage and scale. It is often in the quiet spaces that we do our best creative thinking. It doesn’t always help to rush in.

Thinking Like a Movement was a time to engage, learn, reflect, collaborate and share stories. Our story-telling guides were David Roche and Marlena Blavin. David is featured in the iconic National Film Board film, “Shameless: the Art of Disability,” directed by noted documentarian Bonnie Klein (to whom I was also introduced in my travels). David also has a brilliant live show that he performed for us entitled “The Church of 80% Sincerity” – a must-do experience should the opportunity arise.

Thinking Like a Movement involves multiple actions, time frames, scales and levels of engagement along with a commitment to multi-sectoral collaboration. Throw in trust, which within itself is challenging and transformative, add some vision and the possibilities are endless.

As social innovators and social entrepreneurs we look for impact, durability and scale. When we talk about scaling projects, initiatives or processes, we think about presence. It’s not just the law or an attitude change, it’s about disruption on a large scale while ensuring that the disruption does not destroy relationships in order to achieve its goals.

Let’s use this lens to concentrate on social enterprises for a moment. At SiG, we describe social enterprises as not-for-profits (NFPs) that have a revenue-generating stream. Social enterprises have multiple objectives:

  • Achieve their social mission and program goals
  • Earn revenue
  • Increase distribution
  • Achieve value
  • Offer concrete results to their clients, partners and stakeholders

There are a variety of other outcomes that social enterprises will look for, including a shift in the organizational culture as well as a social or system change.

There has been quite a buzz around social finance lately and it came up during the conference too. Social finance mobilizes and leverages existing commitments while an enterprise looks for other capital. There is a galaxy of financial resources that enterprises can approach or look to for collaboration, including:

  • Government – grants, tax, procurement
  • Business investment
  • Foundations
  • Social Investors
  • Donations.

It’s important to understand and mobilize these financial assets; move away from small scale silos to collaboration in scale within the sector; collaboration with banks and other financial institutions, academics, government, foundations and corporations.

We also focused on leadership and were encouraged to look at what is simple, complicated and complex and to be mindful of where we expand our energy, time and resources.

In the end, we were a group of thought leaders who left our egos at the door, became one for a snapshot in time and together are fiercely committed to building capacity. Thinking Like a Movement individually, collectively and with our respective organizations in mind, we left the beautiful Sunshine Coast with a renewed belief that we are and will continue to be:

  • changemakers,
  • catalysts,
  • leaders,
  • service providers and – last but not least –
  • innovators and social entrepreneurs committed to impacting our complex and ever-changing world and the systems in which we live and work.

For more information and resources on social entrepreneurship, social innovation and social finance, see the social innovation articles and resources on the MaRS website and at socialfinance.ca

Carol-Ann Smith

Carol-Ann is an associate of the Social Innovation Generation program at MaRS. See more…