The Banff Ideas Bank

                                                                                            Where do you deposit your ideas? 

In Banff, we see a lot of people coming out with great enthusiasm and passion for bike races, or festival events, but not so when it comes to sharing ideas in public forums.” - Colin Funk


The central purpose of the Banff Ideas Bank is to help citizens become more comfortable and familiar with participating in the public process. Modelled after the Global Ideas Bank  in London, this initiative came to life to encourage citizens to engage with the community and municipality of Banff.

The idea for developing the Bank originally grew out of  the Leadership Learning Lab at the Banff Centre in and evolved as an opportunity for the Banff community to rethink how dialogue around municipal decision making could better involve community.  

The ‘Bank’ hosts a monthly “conversation café” based on a variety of local issues and topics determined by participants,motivating individuals to practice direct public engagement  and allowing the municipality to connect with the public through a softer ‘coffee house’ approach.

Part suggestion box, part ideas network, and part democratic think-tank, giving the ‘ordinary’ person a chance to have their creativity recognized, rewarded, and even put into practice.” - Banff Ideas Bank Website

The Banff Ideas Bank has been running since 2010 and in five years it has influenced the local culture of citizen engagement with municipal government through a dialogical process.

The Banff Ideas Bank is not overly concerned with outputs, but rather focuses on fostering dialogue. It is a space to generate ideas where priority suggestions are filtered toward decision makers. On an annual basis, 50 of the community’s top ideas are published in the Banff local newspaper to showcase what engaged citizens are thinking about.

The Process

Every conversation café is based around an engaging and provocative question. For example:“If Banff was a human who would it be?”  To help “peel back” the question, participants are asked to think about the issue broadly from multiple perspectives. The process looks something like this:

1.  Observe the question through a personal lens

2. Broaden the question to a community lens

3. Expand the question to a national lens

4. Scale the question to a global perspective

5. Bring the question back to a personal lens with an action-oriented focus

Starting from the personal and then expanding outward gives participants the opportunity to understand the scope, scale, and complexity of the issues they’re considering.

Encapsulated within a serious, yet playful culture, the conversation cafés are both formal and informal environments. Participants come with a desire to chat about the issues at hand. Through deep inquiry, they leave thinking about issues from a critical perspective, as well as build new and deeper relationships with individuals in community.  


Learning along the way…

When introducing something new into a bustling and dynamic community like Banff, AB (located in the first national park of  Canada!), it is inevitable that the organizers would  face a few challenges. Some lessons the Banff Ideas Bank learned along the way include:


  1. Curbing Competition:  Banff is a fun place to be. It has a lively night life, a beautiful physical environment, and a young population. As there are so many things to do, it was a challenge at times to get people out to the  conversation cafes. Word of mouth became a powerful tool.

  2. Public Perception of the Conversations Cafe: People often think of public meetings as places where people talk with little movement towards  action. Building the notion that the cafe was a way to build off of, and grow from, what the community has to say became valuable in shifting the public idea of what could happen within or through the public meeting process.

  3. Gaining Trust:  When discussing community issues, the Banff Ideas Bank uses a process of thinking deeply and critically about an issue. Initially, the municipal government was hesitant about the process, not trusting the unconventional process of the cafe. Through an open door policy, municipal stakeholders had the opportunity to learn and eventually lend support for ideas to move forward.

  4. Neutrality of Common Space - Questions posed in the cafe are often rooted in meaty issues that affect diverse groups of people; for example: the Bank once posed a question around the “Idle No More” movement. Choosing a space where people feel safe, and comfortable in expressing their views is invaluable; it supports positive and action oriented conversation, even around thorny subjects. In the instance of the Idle No More discussion, the Bank  hosted the conversation in a Parks Canada building, changing locations was tried in efforts to bring in new voices, Space has interests and this can have an effect on conversation. Outdoor gatherings are also often considered safe and neutral.

  5. Developing an Online Presence: Integrating the ideas generated in the “conversation café”within an online platform helps to establish and maintain community understanding of, support for, and traction for the ideas.


Lasting Impacts…

The Banff Ideas Bank began  as a critical connector and convener, bringing community together to reimagine how to contribute to municipal decision making processes. Over the course of five years, thousands of ideas have been generated, a pool of active critical thinkers has developed, and lasting friendships have formed.

This has created a new community development model enabling citizens to more effectively engage in how their municipality makes decisions. For example, this new layer of active, engaged ‘civil community’ influenced the recent implementation of bike lanes, innovative crosswalks, pedestrian friendly spaces and street calming measures in the town of Banff.

Transforming the culture of citizen engagement with municipal government around decision making has lasting impacts on a community.

The Banff Ideas Bank is in the process of scaling. There is a new chapter developing on Cortes, British Columbia, a smaller community with different issues to tackle. The power of dialogue to shift culture around citizen engagement is a powerful force. We will keep you updated on what is happening on Cortes.






Student Energy

What is Student Energy?   

Student Energy is a movement that works towards connecting the “passionate youth”to a network of students that can begin thinking about the transition to a new energy future from local and global lenses.

Student Energy is driven by young leaders working towards solving energy issues. The student journey is rooted in a rich education around the energy transition delivered through various sources curated by unbiased authors, in an engaging format, through a systems lens approach. In addition to the content perspectives,  students are immersed in a well connected network, with a  shared  inspiration to change the system. By gaining an in-depth knowledge and a deep understanding of the economic, social, and technological aspects that surround energy issues, students are equipped with tools to better understand how to facilitate the transition.

The Albertan Opportunity:

Student Energy started in Alberta. Co-founder Sean Collins has  a sense of grittiness, pushing for constant conversation around the subject of energy transition.  Into it’s  7th year of operations, Student Energy has gained support from the United Nations, gained traction on several university campuses and formed international chapters in Nigeria, the UK, and Indonesia. They currently have 50,000+ members, with an increasing  international reputation. The movement’s large scope and scale is sparking global interests around a sustainable energy future.

As Albertans are beginning to dive more deeply into conversations and actions around climate issues, the environment, and our energy future, Student Energy fosters a mindset among students to inquire deeply and thoughtfully about the energy transition.  The inquiring minds that are shaped by Student Energy will generate a pool of thought provoking youth that have the mindset to push the conversation in a new direction, possibly blending polarized perspectives around the issue.  How can Alberta be more supportive in listening to the passionate student and support spaces to bring the global conversation home?

What Makes Student Energy Impactful?  

Connected Cohorts: Student Energy is a collection of youth with an appetite for having conversations about systems change. They think together about innovative ideas to poke at what is possible. Without deep industry knowledge, the student body thinks in a particularly idealistic and hopeful manner. This common mindset, of self-wondering youth, creates an environment of trust and a community of belonging for the passionate amateur.  As a result, students are able to have thoughtful, aspirational conversations about the possibility of energy transition.

Ideas and Perspectives: Student Energy hosts an annual International Student Energy Summit. At the Summit, students meet others from different countries facing diverse realities when thinking about energy transition, giving attendees a chance to learn the power of perspective on a global level.  For example, there is  pervasive rhetoric around how developing nations such as India should not invest in coal power because it has negative impacts on the environment. Yet, India as a country wants to develop on the same terms as more developed countries did in the past. When international students  encounter each other and engage in global conversations with local focus, the power of perspective unfolds.  The summit allows the passionate amateur to gain new insights to counter their own perspective. The most valuable things flowing through Student Energy are ideas and perspectives.

Keeping Alumni Engaged: Once students graduate, most end up working in the environmental sector,  starting up businesses that support energy transition, or continue researching various aspects of the energy transition. Real world experiences shift the mindset allowing Alumni to introduce more experienced and complex perspectives on the topic. The passionate amatur evolves into a passionate professional sustaining the ideas of supporting an  energy transition into the workplace.  Student Energy Alumni attend local Innovation Jams and the COP21 in Paris where they continue to share and grow what they are learning through their work about how to thoughtfully and intentionally advance the energy transition field.

What Student Energy hopes for the future of Alberta: 

1. To shift our culture towards a notion of wanting to be at the forefront of the energy transition. They believe it is time for our province to move away from the negative branding of "only oilsands" towards a clean and just energy future. 

2. To build on the assets of intellect that exist in Alberta: Intellectual assets are formed at many scales of education. Alberta has an exceptional university system and the provinces public schools rate in the top ten internationally. Sean Collins believes "we have the right ingredients (capital, business, engineering) we just haven't combined them in the right way." To recognize our educational curriculums to support social innovation would push Alberta in a positive direction. 

3. To begin leveraging what works, Sean Collins, the co-founder of Student Energy is an Energy Futures Lab Fellow. Energy Futures Lab brings together impactful energy thought leadership and action-ers from across sectors to reimagine the future of Canada and the globe. The opportunity housed  in the Energy Futures Lab is an opportunity for Alberta, and the rest of Canada, to reimagine the country's energy future.


Agents of Change

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Agents of Change Partners is a real-estate referral, social purpose business that directs two-thirds of their revenue to the non-profit organization of the homebuyers choice. It's a new business model they believe will become mainstream.

The Problem they’re trying to address?

A huge and dysfunctional financial stability and sustainability burden has been placed on the non-profit sector in Alberta (and across North America). The majority of organizations and initiatives within the sector are forced to spend excessive amounts of time raising money and reporting on piecemeal funding from grant-writing and campaigning - leaving less resources for delivering impact.  

Agents of Change wants to strengthen civil society by fostering financial independence, sustainability and resiliency within non-profit organizations.

The Innovation

While Agents of Change may be a real estate referral business at its core – it’s what they do with the referral revenue they receive after a successful match and transaction that’s where the innovation lies.

According to Tracey Wood, co-founder, here’s how it works for the everyday home buyer or seller:

  1. Agents of Change custom-matches home buyers and sellers according to each buyer’s unique needs .  This part is free and  ensures a match with a professional agent who has been interviewed and vetted with their specific requirements in mind.

  2. When the buyer or seller buys or sells a home, Agents of Change receives 30% of the commission earned by the agent in exchange for the privilege of the referral – a common industry fee agents are used to paying already.

  3. Instead of banking the entire amount, 2/3 of the referral fee received by Agents of Change (the equivalent of 20% of the commission earned by the agent) is directed to a non-profit chosen by the buyer or seller. The result is an average contribution of about $2,000 to a non-profit that is meaningful to the home buyer or seller, at no cost to them.

Hearing Tracey describe the way Agents of Change is attempting to shift the way we make our biggest life purchases and sales, and the way we fund non-profits at the same time, she gets the same question over and over again: why wouldn’t everyone buy or sell their house this way?  

According to Tracey - there’s even more to it. Agents of Change is attempting to address another capacity gap with Alberta’s non-profit sector by working directly with non-profit organizations to help them understand the power of a mobilized network. They coach non-profits to leverage their social capital and capture 20% of the commissions being generated by the real estate transactions of their various stakeholders, including staff, board, clients, donors, volunteers, etc.  These transactions are happening all around them, all the time - why not turn them into a new, sustainable revenue stream?

Finally, Agents of Change also creates shared value in the private sector by acting as the real estate referral agency when businesses buy/lease/sell property and relocate staff - again contributing 20% of the commission earned by the agent back to the company’s community investment initiatives, or any non-profit organization of their choice.


One of the biggest barriers standing Agents of Change’s model faces - is the traditional, ‘stuck’ way people decide to donate and invest. Agents of Change is not a non-profit organization, but rather a social purpose, for-profit business.  Due to this legal designation, says Tracey, obtaining sufficient financing to further develop and scale their model has been extremely challenging. They find themselves in a frustrating ‘no-man’s’ land for financing:  on the one hand, funders used to giving grants/donations to non-profits are unwilling (and often unable due to their charter restrictions) to redirect those dollars to a for-profit enterprise, regardless of the potential for long-term impact in the non-profit world; and on the other hand, venture capitalists aren’t interested in investing in a business that can’t promise a sufficient (i.e. 20%) return and a relatively short-term exit strategy.  It has been a challenge to find funders interested in a blended return.

While Agents of Change was grateful to receive $112,500 in debt financing from an enlightened venture philanthropist to fund its initial development, difficulty obtaining additional funding has since led to some major capacity issues.  Agents of Change’s services are in high demand, but they need more staff (they currently have two unpaid staff - the co founders Tracey and Duane Wood) and funding to increase their social media and marketing presence, grow their network of Non-Profit Partners, and develop their network of corporate partners


Agents of Change is disrupting the status quo in the real estate world by shifting the way people in Alberta (and across North America) think about buying or selling real estate AND how they can use that transaction to have meaningful impact in their communities.   

In their first 18 months of operations, Agents of Change has:

  • Earned $150,000 in revenue and directed $100,000 back into the non-profit sector, 95% of which stayed in Alberta.
  • Generated an average contribution of $2,000 to a non-profit organization for each real estate transaction.
  • Signed up over 60 non-profit partners.
  • Had a 100% success rate with matches.
  • Developed their program prototype for corporate partners.

What’s Next?

At this time, about 40% of the home buyers and sellers who contact Agents of Change do so because of the significant social impact generated as a result of each real estate transaction.  For them, the impact is the most important part.

However, approximately 60% of home buyers and sellers that come to Agents of Change to be matched with a great agent do so solely because of their expertise as a real estate referral service.  For them, the free match with a great agent is the key driver.  Of these, approximately half, or 30% of all clients, have no affiliation with a non-profit organization and are unsure what to do with the money they raise through their transaction.  Agents of Change wants to partner with the affordable housing ecosystem in Calgary (and eventually beyond) to start pooling that money and directing it towards exploring creative and transformational ways to tackle the challenge of affordable housing.



Innovate Calgary and AlbertaIN

Connector Profile: Innovate Calgary and AlbertaIN

Who are they?

Innovate Calgary is all about supporting innovation. Period.

They nurture new ideas and their creators along the entire pipeline of innovation and through each stage of development - from invention at the concept stage, all the way to the acceleration of a proven innovation. Their approach also recognizes that game-changing innovation cannot happen in a vacuum, but “takes an ecosystem to drive the commercialization success of an innovation or discovery”.  

Harnessing this ecosystem is what Tara Barnas, Innovate Calgary’s director of Marketing & Communications, believes will get Calgary recognized as a global leader in innovation. By taking a systems-thinking approach, they’re able to consistently recognize potential for cross-sector collaboration, leading to growth on both the commercial and social sides of the coin.

This potential for the…‘sum of our actions to be greater than our parts’ what led Alberta’s innovation ecosystem of support providers to drive the development of AlbertaIN, a “community driven and community owned online directory tool for entrepreneurs”. Launched October 7st 2015, over 70 service providers specializing in supporting innovation have already signed on – 34 of which offer services for social innovators.

Similar to the way many non-profits harnessed Alberta’s entrepreneurial skill-set and spirit to develop numerous successful social enterprises in the province, we need to blur the lines between mainstream innovation and social innovation in Alberta. Both ecosystems have a lot to learn from one another and a lot of intersections to discover. Innovate Calgary and the AlbertaIN community hope to facilitate as much ‘ecosystem mingling’ as they can.

The Action

o   Innovate Calgary has two main offerings:

a) They help inventors and innovators get a product or solution licensed to an existing entity, and;

b) They offer entrepreneurs startup services to help develop their own organization or business while providing entrepreneurial development programs to get their business market-ready

To support social innovation specifically, they provide a diverse range of specialized services - ranging from intellectual property support, to co-working space, to the facilitation of key partnerships and referrals.

The Impact

In 2014/2015, Innovate Calgary worked with 6 social innovation technologies and provided services to 4 social innovation start-ups. An example of the kind of services social entrepreneurs and innovators are accessing is Rebecca Sullivan's (U of C) Gender @ Work Project. Gender @ Work is a social enterprise that facilitates organizational change and promotes equity in the workplace. Innovate Calgary has supported Gender @ Work by providing access to: Mitacs Funding, the BLG Law Clinic, Venture Development Service, and TEC Edmonton health accelerator.

The Future They Want to See

Innovate Calgary boldly states on their website that the future they want to see, is Calgary acting as the leading innovation ecosystem in Canada. How do they plan to make this happen? According to Ken Porter, Vice President, Intellectual Property Management, “Driving an awareness that researchers and innovators can identify another way to disseminate their work - through social enterprise - to invoke social change.”

AlbertaIN plans to continue to strengthen the support network for innovative idea/product/program development throughout the province, and thus has plans to expand their network to include the more Northern Albertan service providers by 2017. They want to see an Alberta that provides a strong, well networked community to foster innovative ideas that lead to the growth of innovative solutions and enterprises.  

That sounds like the kind of Alberta we’d like to see too!



The Good 100 Experiment

The Local Good -The Good 100 Experiment 


The Experiment:

The Good 100 Experiment is a two day workshop hosted by The Local Good where people with a desire to make change from different fields - like the local food community, artists, social activists, local business, social enterprise, government, indigenous rights advocates, charities, funders, design thinkers, nonprofits, alternative media and more - come together to have meaningful conversations. This dialogue fosters trust and connection between good people who are up to good things. The experiment plants seeds for collaboration as a chance to share what one knows while learning from others.

“ Social innovations not only emerge from relationships, but also thrive and endure in relationships” -Al Etmanski

The Action: 

What is being woven at The Good 100 Experiment are hundreds of ties with a common thread. Many attendees at The Good 100 Experiment have been surfacing in ABSI Connect’s exploration of Alberta’s social innovation ecosystem. Each person or organization that attends the experiment contributes towards a stronger and more impactful solutions-based community. This unfolds as The Good 100 Experiment gathers local businesses that have developed as social enterprises (Verdigo, Sustainival) and co-ops (Alberta Yarn Project), design thinkers that are acting around social innovation (Connect-To-Do), citizen led-tech meetups (Open Edmonton), and cross-sectoral advocacy groups that have developed circles of shared responsibility and stewardship towards Indigenous rights, such as Wichitowin. Together, they learn from each other making space for conversations around what is a “new normal.”

The addition of each common tie makes the network stronger, enabling the experiment to seed things it never could have done on an individual scale.The collaboration supports positive impact in Edmonton because the sum of its parts lead to a stronger whole.


The Impact: 

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The Good 100 Experiment reminds me of my grade 10 chemistry class. I learned that you can take carbon atoms and assemble them in particular hexagonal patterns of ties to make graphite. The graphite is soft and opaque. I also discovered you can take the same carbon and rearrange it into a covalent patterns of ties to make diamond. The diamond is hard, clear and multifaceted.

Their properties differ dramatically not because the carbon is different, but because of the way the patterns of ties have been arranged. It is not about the nature of the carbon atoms themselves, but rather the nature of the how the carbon bonds are arranged. When we begin to connect and assemble in new ways, we produce results that we could have never foreseen.  

The Good 100 Experiment is creating spaces and facilitating new bonds through “Saavy do Gooders,”such as Nadine Riopel, who create ties between Edmontonians with the common thread to do good and create change. By facilitating opportunities like this, Nadine and others empower people to organize in new ways producing new properties that may uncover possible diamonds in the sediment of the social innovation ecosystem.  

These pattern of ties, and how they bond people through The Good 100 Experiment, is something we can use. It becomes a reservoir of value because what connects or flows across the ties is the richness of experience, learning, insight, competencies, and perspectives that can collectively and collaboratively inform the inventive or innovative solutions we seek.

In other words, it will take the sum of our talents and experiences to tackle our most complex problems. 

The future we want to see in AB...

As a province, we are building this reservoir and we are discovering some of the connector pieces like The Good 100 Experiment and AlbertaIN. Now as we gaze towards the future, how do we begin to connect in new ways to develop systems that are mutually supportive and aware of each other? This may happen if we develop awareness across geographical boundaries and sectors of other socially innovative projects. As we uncover the connectors, how can we can begin to imagine versatile communities that arrange themselves and bond in ways that are similar to the hard, clear, and multifaceted properties of diamonds. 



Terry Rock

Terry Rock of Rock Strategy & Leadership 

What is he up to?

Terry was the lead consultant for the first part of a community-driven social innovation exploration in Alberta, funded by Suncor Energy Foundation, leading to his publication of the report: How can we put social innovation to work for Alberta?

The main question driving his research: should we leap by learning and start a network similar to the neighbouring BC Partners for Social Impact? When he asked the BC Partners themselves this question, they said they weren’t sure - Alberta would have to do more research to see if it would work to serve the same purpose.

What is it about BC Partners for Social Impact?

The 11-point agenda and process of developing that agenda. Alberta needs clear rallying points to similarly  “chart out a course of action for the province.

The BC Partners for Social Impact story is a national bright spot of social innovation in action - a vibrant network supporting the frontlines of change with policy, capacity, knowledge and relationship. Now morphed in the platform, BC introduces a shock of the possible.

What we are capable of as a province? Should we echo BC’s process? Or adopt their approach? Maybe. These are questions the Fellows hope to answer over the next few months - but our main question is this: what is the pathway true to Alberta’s strength and character that would apply the best of social innovation to moving the needle against our most stuck, complex problems? How can and will Alberta Lead?

Throwing down the gauntlet: Terry’s challenge for ABSI Connect Initiative and beyond..

Is there are enough common interests to make a social innovation network come to life in Alberta?

Terry believes there is, even though the bright spots of social innovation in Alberta were hard to find he started his research - you had to dig. It surfaced the fragmented nature of social innovation activity and action in the province. This is where ABSI Connect has to take up the mantle of discovery, strengths-finding and storytelling.

What if the ones who are innovative or doing the boundary-pushing simply don’t have time to engage?

ABSI Connect needs to learn what is the number one support these folks need to make their work easier and their time available for engagement and knowledge sharing.

Is the existing network(s) around social innovation in Alberta too one dimensional?

Terry challenged us to help inspire a shift in the way folks network from “I know this person who works in this space…” to “I have a relationship with this person who works in this space and you can be helpful to each other in this way. Let’s connect!”


There are many folks working at the ‘frontiers’ in Calgary that need patient and enduring support. Who is willing to wait for their results? Who is willing to experience failure as part of a process of getting to the best outcomes through experience? What shift in mindset will it take to responsibly and inclusively-engage with and in the work of the people at the edge of the status quo, innovating new possibilities for stuck problems?

His final challenge? Let’s make Calgary not just the best city IN the world or for Social Innovation, but the best city FOR the world!

Toward the horizon

Thank you for your time and insight, Terry. This is rich nourishment as we seek to weave together the story of social innovation in Alberta and prepare the way for folks to continue shifting the status quo for a vibrant, thriving and leading Alberta!

Join the conversation? We are keen to connect and speak with folks across sectors and experiences. Email us your thoughts or ideas, tweet us at @ABSIConnect or find us on Facebook