Spotting Social Innovation at the Ignite Festival

On the morning of September 9th, the 2015 Ignite Festival kickstarted with creativity and celebration blended into our morning coffee, with a breakfast for champions that inspired conversation through exemplary features of live music, art and a stunning, unique space to ‘collide.’  

What kind of champions? Champions who “lead, inspire, build, push, exchange and ignite." The Festival is an initiative from Edmonton Economic Development aimed at fostering entrepreneurship, innovation and creativity in Edmonton - which brought me eagerly into the room to explore if and where this vibrant, entrepreneurial platform for connection would help us on our journey to discover, bridge and amplify social innovation in Alberta.

At first, Ignited seemed immersed in the story of tech innovations and start-ups, initially making it hard to see examples of social innovation or if social innovation even fit in at the Festival.

Social Innovation? 

Social innovation as defined by Tim Broadheadis both a destination – the resolution to complex social and environmental challenges- and a journey – devising new approaches that engage all stakeholders leveraging their competencies and creativity to design novel solutions.

Social innovation is not just about a single project, but also a mindset centered on shifting current systems to improve outcomes in society and promote social, economic, and ecological solutions to our most complex problems.  

At times, social innovation can be overlooked or missed, requiring intentional and exploratory thinking to unveil its impact.  By broadening the understanding, puncturing the assumptions, and finding the bright spots amongst unusual suspects, there is the possibility for social innovation to thrive. Thriving social innovation exists when visionary leaders intentionally support an enabling environment by steering the culture towards shifting systems, and by finding opportunities to create conditions to enable new solutions to existing unsolved problems

Igniting Social Innovation

Social innovation quietly emerged at the second day of the Ignite Festival. As participants came together through serious  play with Think Jar Collective Founder, and ABSI Connect advisor, Ben Weinlick (@Weinbenlick), human-centered design presentations by OpenIDEO’s Eliza Rosenbaum (@elizaros43), and creative partnership stories with The Mosaic Centre’s Christy Benoit, I soon realized that social innovation does have a presence  at Ignite , but, it seems to be negotiating its presence within a tech-driven narrative around mainstream innovation.

Journeying Together 


The more I listened, the more I heard how similar the journey of innovation celebrated at  Ignite aligned with the journey of social innovation. How can we journey together?

In particular, a presentation given by Sean Ballard (@sean_ballard), Innovation Director at ATB, shared a form of social innovation process that is manifesting within banking culture.

You might wonder, a bank? Innovative? And a publicly-owned bank at that?

With both the public and banking sectors reputed to be output-based structures with a strong aversion to risk, a publicly-owned bank may not be the first place to look for innovation.  Yet, ATB not only recognizes the value-add of innovation, but it is consciously fostering a culture for disruptive positive change within its operations.

Here is their recipe for innovation:

  1. Design a culture that encourages stepping out of your silo;

  2. Look, listen and learn from others;

  3. Encourage the passionate entrepreneur to take risk;

  4. Allow failure to become a learning process.

These ingredients are also key to social innovation -- improving our ability to develop solutions through inclusive innovation, supporting passionate amateurs, and learning on our feet. In this way, you could say ATB is embarking on a social innovation journey by believing in and fostering a mindset a culture where the conversation around shifting current systems to improve outcomes in society is valued.

Some may see social innovation as systems design for collective impact, while other see it as shifting business models for sustainable social impact. Although vastly different, within the similarity of the journey lies the magic. The journey positions the possibility for bridging social innovation across boundaries, making it valuable to capture the unusual suspects, to extend the conversation, and explore different ways of doing.

What did I learn?

The Ignite Festival taught me that there is an intrinsic value to create together. By discovering the common threads, looking at areas of alignment, and celebrating others success, the possibility to journey together emerges.  

The Ignite Festival was a catalyst for conversations around collective impact. Within this alignment lives the possibility to build a diverse social innovation pipeline comprised of entrepreneurial ventures aimed at forging cross sectoral partnerships that benefit non-profits, co-operatives, public sectors, and for-profits to achieve the mission of social innovation.

For more information about Ignite Edmonton 2015, explore the website:

Watch for the conference again in 2016!

Written by Aleeya Velji