Let 1000 flowers bloom

Janice Charette at the Public Policy Forum

“Ignorance and apathy are our enemies,” decried Chad Gaffield during his lunchtime address at MaRS on November 10, 2009. Gaffield is the President of the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) and he was speaking at Accelerating Social Innovation: Smart Ideas for Canada, an event hosted by the Public Policy Forum (PPF) in partnership with Social Innovation Generation (SiG).

Gaffield may have been referring to academe when he made his comments, but his comments could equally be regarded as a call to action for all. Accelerating Social Innovation was an intentional effort to gather together representatives from the government, private, academic and non-profit sectors and discuss collaborative ways we can solve social challenges in Canada.

Academe is certainly implicated and Gaffield wanted to own that responsibility, “We are renewing infrastructure to be more inclusive, more agile and to embrace changing ideas of innovation. We want to concentrate on ‘next’ practice, not ‘best’ practice, sharing rather than hording knowledge.”

Starting off the day PPF President, David Mitchell welcomed Janice Charette. Charette is Deputy Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development in Canada and she was very upfront about her learning curve, “I am surrounded by a sea of innovators. I will be learning from you today.” Despite her confession, Charette’s presentation illustrated the interest of HRSDC in seeing this conversation progress, “Government can deliver national programs. Larger non-profit organizations (NPO’s) can help us talk better and tell us what we need to do.”

Speaking from his provincial post, Deputy Minister of the Voluntary and Non-Profit Sector in Newfoundland and Labrador, Ross Reid asked the largely Ontario-based audience to remember that solutions must also be sensitive to local interests. “The futures of the communities of Newfoundland and Labrador are to be found in the communities of Newfoundland and Labrador.” Reid used the example of an NPO in his province who offers wild moose as a commodity for charitable fundraising. Hardly something that springs to mind as a fundraising incentive in Ontario.

Inspiration was provided by way of innovators who have successfully implemented projects. Al Etmanski, President of the Vancouver-based, Planned Lifetime Advocacy Network (PLAN) and partner in SIG, spoke about the Registered Disability Savings Plan (RDSP). The RDSP is a world first, offering people living with disabilities some independence from their traditional reliance on government grants.

Following a comment from the audience that expressed frustration at the inaction of government, Etmanski responded by saying, “We don’t have to be leaders of the opposition.” Rather than concentrate all of our efforts on finding an ideal solution to a social problem, Etmanski said, “Let a 1000 flowers bloom. We need to self-identify as a nation that cares for its people.”

The Public Policy Forum convened a great group of people to inspire, inform and generate new ideas for moving social innovation initiatives forward in Canada.

Other speakers for the day included, Ilse Treurnicht (MaRS), Anil Patel (Framework Foundation), Bill Young (Social Capital Partners), Paul Ledwell (Public Policy Forum), Allyson Hewitt (SiG@MaRS), Tim Brodhead (McConnell Foundation), Lyse Brunet (Quebec Enfants – Fondation Lucie et Andre Chagnon), Michael Hall (Imagine Canada) and Joel Solomon (Renewal).

Videos from the day have been produced and are available here in 4 easy-to-watch segments:

For more information about Accelerating Social Innovation and/or next steps, please email me.