Waves of Change: Making Space for Social Innovation in Alberta

A co-written blog by the ABSI Fellows

Recently, us fellows had the opportunity to hasten and expand our social innovation exploration by deeply connecting with some of the most hardworking social change thinkers, doers, connectors and spacemakers in the province of Alberta.

We didn’t stumble upon them by accident,  but were invited to a three day ‘Gathering’ held by the Suncor Energy Foundation as part of a series of events they have been hosting since 2013 to “create space and time for connected and engaged individuals and organizations to see, ponder and critique the system they exist within”.  

At The Gathering, we were asked to collectively dive into a deeper understanding of the abundant ecosystem of social innovation in Alberta, specifically as to relates to the robust network of social innovation practitioners, supporters, connectors, allies and thought-leaders that co-exist throughout our province. With many of the practitioners themselves missing from the table (and shared agreement that this is too often the case), our dive quickly began to centre around finding ways that the social profit sector needs to shift in order to make social innovation more prevalent, more comfortable, and more likely to succeed in Alberta.

In addition to thinking and learning about what Alberta has to offer, we actually got down to doing. Our adventure started off by looking at the province’s abundance through three economic, social and environmental lenses, setting the stage for new ideas to arise around genuinely supporting social innovation in Alberta.  As a part of this learning experience, six powerful stories of impact from across the country were also shared and examined - giving attendees that 'shock of the possible' push we all need to see to stay inspired and engaged. Read the stories for yourself here.

Following this analysis, concrete ideas began to emerge around the possibility of starting some key changes rolling right there and then - using the assets and ideas currently in the room. Project themes began to materialize around renewable energy, placemaking and community building, deep networks and collaborations, and experiential empathy-based learning for fostering a wider understanding of the experiences of Indigenous peoples in Alberta. Inspiringly, many in attendance agreed to stay in touch to keep the exploration of these new ideas alive!

From the friendly conference room with emerging ideas, the conversation around innovation then spilled into the Skills Society Action Lab. ABSI Connect partnered with Skills Society and ECVO to host a Networking “Lab”, where participants had the opportunity to explore some of the tools that can ignite and support social innovation within the creative and experimental environment of a lab space. Waves of Change attendees, along with various community members were invited to feel and see the potential of social labs and creative physical spaces, and the ways in which they can offer a breath of fresh air when thinking about, and doing, social innovation.

So, now what?

In the opening presentation for Waves of Change, Mark Cabaj, President of the consulting company From Here to There and an Associate of the Tamarack Institute, challenged Waves of Change participants to, “move beyond talking about social innovation - which we do really well in Alberta - to strengthening some of the skills required to see social innovation happen. We need to get serious about the craft of social innovation.”

Mark’s presentation, paired with our experience hosting the Networking “Lab”, inspired us to think about how we can encourage those within Alberta’s social innovation ecosystem to hone their craft. How we plan to start? By fostering a shared understand of social innovation in AB (i.e. what it is and how you do it), and by connecting people where they are so we can move forward together to where we want to be:

An Alberta where shared purpose and trust position us as social impact leaders in Canada and abroad.

As we think about the future, we are excited to offer a preview of our capstone project: not a wrap-up event to launch the findings and results of our work, not a webinar, not a cocktail social, but rather an Aptitude Tour. Inspired by the study tour approach to experiential learning and Marc's urgings to "get serious about the craft", our goal is to provide people and organizations who are well positioned to foster social innovation practice in Alberta with an opportunity to meaningfully connect with the people in the spaces where social innovation is happening.






Want to be “on the bus?” More info coming soon!