Uniting Practitioners

Coming Together for the Social Innovation Ecosystem in Canada

Why It Matters

Social Innovation Canada is a new entity with a mission to connect and enable practitioners. It builds upon the legacy work of Social Innovation Generation (SiG) and other actors. Given the Government of Canada’s renewed focus, we asked Chi Nguyen, Director, Social Innovation Canada, about what practitioners can expect in 2019.

How has the social innovation landscape evolved in Canada in the past five years?

The sector has matured. We have a new generational cohort who think of this more as a vocation and professional calling, but who also want purpose and meaning in their lives. We have people working at a grassroots or localized level, and we have so much to learn from each other, but we have the challenge of dealing with a country that is so big and the need to bridge across that vastness. To tackle the hairy, messy problems, we need to all be on board. It’s about finding ways to work across sectors and with different players.


What issues for practitioners will you address at SI Canada?

I am often inspired by the work of strong Canadian feminists who have been amazing at creating the connective tissue for this country. For example, the Canadian Women’s Health Network, which emerged in the early ‘90s, took what was happening locally and connected it to policy questions via different regions. SI Canada is going to play a similar role, in terms of connecting these people who feel siloed or who are coming up against barriers in terms of scalability, systems challenges, or resourcing. It’s helping people seeing their contribution as a larger contribution to doing good.


What are some of those barriers?

Access to capital is an issue in the sector. There are questions about how we resource fledgling new efforts to make change in new ways. What do we do to really unlock the financial capacity that exists and tap it in different ways that we haven’t done yet?

Chi Nguyen, Executive Director of Social Innovation Canada. Coming Together for the Social Innovation Ecosystem in Canada.

SI Canada builds on the legacy of other ecosystem actors, which have played this role. Social Innovation Generation (SiG) has left a legacy, what do you cherish about it and what would you bring into SI Canada?

The work of SiG has been phenomenal in helping mainstream actors and big institutions see the value of tackling these problems in different ways and showing the capacity of the sector to drive some of this work. The gift SiG gives to SI Canada is a particular awareness by the federal government that we can get more value out of investments and work more effectively when we tee up multiple purposes at various entry points together and collectively.


How will you bridge national, regional, and provincial priorities and partners?

We need to take those regional policy wins and scale those in various directions: hyper-locally and up to the national conversation. I want to see that bridging work happen along some thematic lines, but also around lived experience. We want to ask about the face of leadership in this sector. We have more work to do to learn how to make the ecosystem more accessible to more people, including access to resources for people of colour and Indigenous communities. We need to find a way to talk about this work so that they see themselves as part of it.


Looking at the year ahead, what are some of the offerings that SI Canada hopes to put in place for practitioners?

The team is building out some tech capacity in terms of online tools to support the regions so they can speak to each other. Some of that exchange is going to be powerful in terms of telling stories about what is happening in the communities. I also want us to do the hard work of naming when things are tough, because this is difficult work for all of us—it is rewarding and really challenging, but I don’t know if we’ve found a way to have those tough conversations about when we come up against barriers and when we’re getting in each other’s way. I want to be honest about what it’s going to take for us to move forward.


What are some of the blind spots to watch for?

I’m mindful that the country is bigger than Toronto. We know we don’t have all the answers and there is so much to connect. I think there’s also a place for us to team up with the private sector and help them to find their purpose, and change the way they’re operating to help us with the Sustainable Development Goals. They have levers that others don’t and we need to work together.

Photo: Garrick Ng