Social Good and Business Hooked up and I Saw it Happen

Christian Quaresma,York University

This is a guest post reposted with permission from York University student and poet, Christian Quaresma. Christian attending the Collaboration for Social Good event held on April 18, 2013, in Markham (read more about it here) and composed a poem “Untitled” during the event, along with fellow student and poet Sara-Jane Gloutnez. 

Yesterday, April 18th, was a strange day in my poetic career, and a challenging day as a human being. I attended a conference on Collaboration for Social Good in Markham Ontario in order to view the gathering of NGO’s, businesses, and government, through the lens of a poet. At some point I was to give a short performance of a piece I composed on the spot. The organizers sat me at a table with CEO’s, social workers, a professor from Schulich  School of Business, and entrepreneurs, where my identity remained incognito until I took the stage toward the end of the day.

I realized pretty quickly that this event, put together by the York Region Women’s Centre, York U, and other social enterprises, was going to be focused on business strategy. I hadn’t hoped for much more; this romantic poet has a pragmatic streak. Throughout the event there was a lot of jargon tossed around, words like crowdfunding and collaborative consumption (a good idea with a terrible name).

But among the shop talk and the Tony Robbins-like crowd peppering, there were two things that astounded me. First, was the sense of community right from the opening speaker, in a room full of professionals, many normally contained in their respective “silos”. The speakers themselves believed in their causes completely, and their ability to shape capital expenditures toward social good. The second thing was the language of consciousness forming underneath the speakers’ themes as the day rolled on smoothly. From the beginning I had penned down in my notebook “communism/ revolution, inherent contradictions of capitalism?”, wondering how these theories I spent four years learning informed the actions of these business-people.

And there were radicals at the table! They even took the stage and talked about new currencies in terms of social capital, things likes reputation (merit for you classists out there), time banks, and fun. Yes, fun as a form of currency to transform the system of exchange. I even saw strategies for economic growth mapped out on a backdrop of the Fibbonacci Spiral, and explained in terms of “strange attractors”. The amateur physicist in me teared up with joy.

During the lunch hour I met up with my accomplice, poet Sara-Jane Gloutnez, to compose a collaboration for our performance. I crammed in a quick sandwich, which left my nervous stomach empty by the time we took the stage, so that I was shaking a little during my reading. We did our bit, and I yoked together some strange combinations like “entrepreneurial vines” and “perennial investor”. The poems will be posted on the event blog, links forthcoming.

I left the conference with a million good feels vibrating in my body, especially after hearing the soul-lifting stories of Neil Hetherington, former CEO of Habitat for Humanity, Toronto. It seemed to me there was an atmosphere of experimentation in the air, a willingness to explore ways of improving our lives beyond the traditional market and to expand the notions of life-chances beyond GDP, or even the HDI, to include people’s dignity.

Collaborating for Social Good / Collaborer pour le bien collectif

David Phipps, RIR-York

What happens when 88 people get together to talk social innovation? You get the start of a Regional and systems level response to address persistent social challenges. You also get to dance!

Que se passe-t-il lorsque 88 personnes se rassemblent pour discuter d’innovation sociale? Vous obtenez l’émergence d’une réponse à des défis sociaux persistants, et ce, à l’échelle régionale et systémique.

Collaborating for Social Good was sponsored by the conference series “Business Innovation in Changing Times” a capacity building series for York Region designed to accelerate innovation and business growth. On April 18, delegates from the private, public and non-profit sectors came together to discuss how to collaborate to create social benefits. There were 29 delegates from the non-profit sector, 35 from business, 11 from education and 13 from government. York’s Knowledge Mobilization Unit was pleased to be part of the steering committee. We also were an exhibitor and presented on a panel with Women’s Centre of York Region and ventureLAB.

Much of the day was spent mind mapping to identify drivers, issues (“burrs”) and opportunities. Maps were developed and shared and commented upon. In the end the maps were synthesized into opportunities/challenges for York Region. A group of 25 participants came together on May 13 to continue the dialogue. These 25 were comprised of 10 from business, 6 from government, 3 from education and 6 from the nonprofit sector. This group came together to begin to address the two social innovation priorities derived from the mind map synthesis: 1) knowledge transfer; and, 2) taking risks.

mind maps

Mind maps

Three things were striking from this event:

  1. There were more private sector than non-profit sector participants: often the non-profit sector dominates the discourse of social innovation. This has been true at York’s Knowledge Mobilization Forums and at many of the knowledge mobilization events we have held in York Region. Collaborating for Social Good seems to be the start of a new conversation where business has an equal voice.
  2. This was a Region wide conversation: there was no dominant sector or municipality.
  3. Knowledge transfer – sharing across sectors – was identified as a priority for the Region.

Huge shout outs to Kirsten Eastwood (Women’s Centre of York Region) and the York Region Social Innovation Collaboration for their time and talents in organizing and executing this wonderful event.

We also embedded some arts based activities. Two poets from York University attended and interpreted the day in poetry. Sara-Jane Gloutnez composed “Cubism” and she collaborated with Christian Quaresma on an “Untitled” poem. These poems capture some of the thoughts and themes of the day in a style that is both foreign and familiar at the same time.

And thanks to Seneca College we danced. Seneca sent three students who led us in some Zumba and Latin dance. This was an amazingly successful activity. You have to trust each other when dancing. You also need trust for a successful collaboration.

Dance may just be a novel vehicle for knowledge mobilization!

Attendees dancing Zumba for collaboration

Dancing for collaboration

York, Harvard and Oxford Universities Talk Social Innovation

The following was originally posted on YFile on March 25, 2013. It is reposted here with permission.

Representatives from York University, Harvard University and the University of Oxford met on March 4 and 5 in London, England, to articulate their shared vision regarding the role of higher education institutions in supporting social innovation and social enterprise.

David Phipps

David Phipps (left), executive director of research & innovation services, and chief knowledge mobilizer at York University; Daniela Papi, program design and outreach manager at the Skoll Centre for Social Entrepreneurship at Oxford University; Meghan O. Mahoney, assistant director of Social and Cultural Entrepreneurship at the Harvard Innovation Lab; and Jennifer Casasanto, director of external programs for Harvard University’s School of Engineering & Applied Sciences, took part in the meetings. The group explored their different models of institutional support for social innovation.

Hosted by the Canadian High Commission in London, England, they were joined by representatives from the British High Commission, the McConnell Family Foundation (Canada), Social Innovation Generation (Canada), and the Young Foundation and the Economic & Social Research Council, both based in the U.K.

Universities play an integral role in the intellectual, cultural, and economic development of their surrounding regions. In addition to producing new knowledge and talented graduates, universities contribute to innovation, productivity and prosperity through technology transfer and commercialization. However, the role of the university in the growing areas of social innovation and social entrepreneurship is still emerging.

“Some faculty members and students have been active in helping find solutions to pressing social and environmental challenges; however, universities are not making the most of this potential. Universities need to become more effective and act systematically to maximize the impact of their research and teaching,” said Will Norman, director of research at the Young Foundation.

To date, York, Harvard, and Oxford have developed slightly varying approaches to the task.

Under the leadership of Robert Haché, vice-president research and innovation, the Office of Research Services at York University provides services that support the development of social innovations arising from the research of faculty and students who work in collaboration with partners from the public and non-profit sectors. “It is important that universities play a role in social innovation as we do in harnessing innovation in science and technology,” Haché said. “The discussions started by York and our colleagues at Harvard and Oxford will help to develop an international consensus on the roles of universities in leading and supporting initiatives in social innovation.”

The Skoll Centre for Social Entrepreneurship, located within the University of Oxford’s Saïd Business School, focuses on mainstreaming entrepreneurial approaches for social change throughout the School and the University through teaching, research and practice. “While we award full scholarships to accomplished social entrepreneurs seeking to complete a one-year MBA,” notes Pamela Hartigan, executive director of the Skoll Centre, “we recognize that most students will not be entrepreneurs. Yet they can be ‘entrepreneuring’ wherever their careers take them. Our goal is to give them the exposure, the tools and the confidence to contribute their talents to improving the state of the world.”

Harvard University is also committed to social innovation. In one of the University’s centers of activity, the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS), students are educated in the process of “design thinking” and problem solving within complex systems. Harvard’s undergraduate engineering degrees build on a strong foundation in the liberal arts so that graduates bring a uniquely humanistic approach to design thinking for social innovation. An important partner for Harvard SEAS is the Harvard Innovation Lab, a university-wide interdisciplinary resource center for advising, mentoring and incubation of ideas.

“Our mission is to instill in our students the desire to seek out solutions and mitigations to complex global, economic, and environmental challenges,” says Fawwaz Habbal, executive dean of the Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences. “Through our strong commitment to building students’ core technical competence, as well as enhancing their capacities for innovative thinking, leadership, and societal awareness, we prepare our students to make significant contributions to society.”

Working under the banner of Relevance through Engagement, the universities identified three interconnected ways in which institutions of higher education can accelerate the development of social innovations. The first involves applying knowledge and teaching to address real-world problems. The second will see knowledge mobilization complementing traditional scholarship by working closely with research partners. The third area focuses on continuing to develop established and emerging leaders of social innovation. The three universities will develop relationships with national agencies, foundations and funders to explore each of these aspects so they can share and disseminate practices that will enhance each university’s contributions to social innovation.

The British High Commission provided the financial support for the meeting.

Valorization / Valorisation

David Phipps, RIR-York

Valorization is a term that was recently used to describe social innovation. I think it describes what some seek to accomplish in knowledge mobilization quite well. Trouble is the term “valorization” is no easier to understand than the term “knowledge mobilization”.

La valorisation est un terme qui a été utilisé récemment pour décrire l’innovation sociale. Je crois que cela décrit ce que certains tentent d’accomplir par la mobilisation des connaissances également. Le problème est que le terme « valorisation » n’est pas plus facile à comprendre que celui de « mobilisation des connaissances».

Innovation 2012 is Canada’s academic innovation conference. It started as the Canadian conference of the Association of University Technology Managers. It then became the annual conference of the Alliance for the Commercialization of Canadian Technology. For the last few years, Innovation Partnerships has welcomed a broader definition of innovation beyond traditional university-industry liaison and technology transfer. Every year for the past few years ResearchImpact-RéseauImpactRecherche (RIR) has exhibited and has hosted a session on social innovation. This year there were four sessions linked to social innovation and RIR was involved in only one of them – that in itself is story enough, but wait…


In the session titled “The intersection of social innovation and commercialization” Heidi Falckh (Hospital for Sick Children) hosted a panel comprised of Allyson Hewitt (Director, Social Entrepreneurship, MaRS), Angus Livingston (UBC) and Amit Jhas (MaRS Innovations).  One of the terms used was valorization. This term is in common use among Francophone technology transfer offices (such as Univalor) and is known as creating or extracting value from university research; however, the term hasn’t had much play in Anglophone Canada.

Miriam Webster defines valorization as enhancing or trying to enhance the price, value, or status of goods.  Wikipedia mentions that the European Commission defines the term as “a process of exploiting project learning and outcomes… with a view to optimising their value and impact in existing and new contexts”. Optimizing value and impact…sounds like knowledge mobilization.

Angus defined valorization as translation of research for social and economic impact. He cited the Veterans Transition Program as an

Angus Livingston

Angus Livingston

example of social innovation supported by his University Industry Liaison Office. This not-for-profit venture began in 1999 and uses group work to help veterans better integrate into life and employment after returning from combat. The program has recently received funding from a variety of sources and is planning on expanding into a national Veterans Transition Network. Angus’ team is experienced at launching and sustaining university spin off companies and they are helping the valorization of this program by adding value and helping it expand across Canada.

Valorization. That’s what we do in our knowledge mobilization practice. Trouble is, Michael Johnny (Manager, Knowledge Mobilization at York University; @MobilizeMichael) always says his mother has no clue what knowledge mobilization means.  Good luck then with valorization, unless she’s French and works in technology commercialization.

Valorization and knowledge mobilization – they both make research useful to society.

Canada and the United Kingdom commit to social innovation / Le Canada et le Royaume-Uni s’engagent dans l’innovation sociale

Canada and UK have made a commitment to social innovation for the first time. David Phipps (RIR-York) had a small part to play.

Le Canada et le Royaume-Uni ont pris un engagement pour l’innovation sociale pour la première fois. David Phipps (RIR-York) avait un petit rôle à jouer.

In September 2011 David Cameron , Prime Minister of Great Britain met with Stephen Harper, Prime Minister of Canada. They discussed many matters including international diplomacy, national security, the economy and innovation. Speaking to the House of Commons on September 22, 2012 David Cameron said of Canada, “yours is a home of innovation and technology”. During their meeting they decided to build on these mutual interests of science and innovation by committing to the drafting a Joint Innovation Statement.

David Phipps (RIR-York) was in the UK for 2 weeks of meetings on knowledge mobilization and social innovation starting November 26, 2011. At that time I wrote in Mobilize This! about my meetings with Centre for Research in Families & Relationships (University of Edinburgh) and with Community University Partnership Program (University of Brighton). What I didn’t write about at the time was about my meetings with agencies interested in social innovation. I met with the Young Foundation, a global leader in social innovation, and with NESTA, “the UK’s innovation foundation”. Caroline Martin, Trade Commissioner for science & technology of the Canadian High Commission in London, was immensely helpful in setting up and accompanying me to those meetings. We discussed the importance of social innovation to Canada and the UK, a conversation we have since continued with Nicole Arbour, Team Lead for the Science & Innovation Network of the British High Commission in Ottawa. Together we explored opportunities for collaboration on social innovation with Canadian organizations such as Social Innovation Generation and the McConnell Family Foundation whose leadership of social innovation in Canada parallels that of NESTA and the Young Foundation in the UK.

At the same time Caroline and Nicole were helping their colleagues draft the Joint Innovation Statement called for by Prime Ministers Harper and Cameron. Recognizing the mutual interests of Canada and the UK in social innovation, our conversations helped inform the decision to include social innovation in the text of the Joint Innovation Statement.

As reported by the British High Commission on May 9, 2012 the Joint Innovation statement was signed by the Honourable Ed Fast, Canada’s Minister of International Trade and Minister for the Asia-Pacific Gateway, and Lord Green, the United Kingdom’s Minister of State for Trade and Investment. The text of the Joint Innovation Statement includes a commitment to support social innovation:

The Participants will consider to take joint initiatives in the following priority areas (including) Social innovation: Working with academic, government, and civil society partners to leverage research and innovation activities for greater societal benefits.”

“Social Innovation is one outcome of knowledge mobilization for which York has developed an international reputation,” said Robert Haché, York’s vice-president research & innovation. “New discoveries are being made to address persistent social challenges through social innovation. Our conversations with the British and Canadian High Commissions helped inform the decision to include social innovation in the text of the Joint Innovation statement. The outcome reflects the growing international appreciation of the work of York’s Knowledge Mobilization Unit and its leadership role in ResearchImpact, Canada’s knowledge mobilization network, in working to turn research into action.”

This joint, diplomatic commitment to social innovation between Canada and the UK finds another home in David Johnston, Governor General of Canada. On February 17, 2012 he wrote of knowledge diplomacy in the Globe & Mail asking, “So how do we bring about a smart and caring world that is at once prosperous, sustainable and resilient? Our ability to work together – to practise the diplomacy of knowledge – will be the key to our success.” As announced on May 3, 2012 by the Canadian Federation of Humanities and Social Sciences (CFHSS, organizers of Congress 2012), His Excellency will lead a “discussion of cross-sector collaboration and social innovation at Congress 2012 (that) will encourage students, researchers, employees and citizens alike, as we strive for greater prosperity and quality of life for all.” In their May 3 announcement CFHSS also recognized the work of York University, on behalf of RIR in the Community-Campus Collaboration Initiative.

Collaborating for social innovation is now recognized as a priority for Canada and for the UK. RIR-York was there and will be there working with colleagues from Canada and the UK to support knowledge mobilization as a process that enables enhanced social innovation.

It’s time to Discover Social Innovation

Janice Chu (United Way of York Region), Jeremy Laurin (ventureLAB), David Phipps (RIR-York)

York University, United Way of York Region and ventureLAB are collaborating to support social innovation and social enterprises in York Region. On May 15 they will speak about the assets they bring to bear to help address persistent social challenges.

Picture this: Metro Toronto Convention Centre. May 15. Over 2,600 attendees listening to a multi-sectoral panel on social innovation.

That’s what we’re doing at Discovery 2012, Ontario’s premier technology and innovation showcase. Hosted by the Ontario Centres of Excellence, Discovery is Ontario’s annual conference bringing together university, college and industry based researchers, students, entrepreneurs and innovators. Traditionally focused on technology sectors such as green tech, health tech and ICTs, this year Discovery is going social and exploring the role of social innovation and social enterprises in Ontario’s innovation landscape. Mobilize This! has previously written about efforts to introduce social innovation into the federal innovation agenda and on May 15, in the Metro Toronto Convention Centre, over 2,600 delegates (well, those that attend the panel at least) will hear this message. York Region’s innovation sector will speak about how we are sowing the seeds of social innovation in York Region and how we are starting to build relationships to support innovators and entrepreneurs seeking to address persistent social, environmental and cultural challenges.

This panel at Discovery represents early conversations with York Region’s vibrant entrepreneurial sector (represented by Lahav Gil of the Kangaroo Group), a regional hospital network (represented by Pat Clifford of Southlake Regional Health Centre) and the three primary supports for innovation in York Region: ventureLAB (York Region’s Regional Innovation Centre represented by CEO, Jeremy Laurin), York University (represented by Vice-President Research & Innovation, Robert Haché) and the United Way of York Region (represented by Janice Chu, Director Community Investments). For the first time in the history of Discovery the community sector will be represented. We will also be joined by Allyson Hewitt, Advisor, Social Innovation and Director, Social Entrepreneurship MaRS, who will reflect on York Region’s assets and efforts and place them in a provincial context.

ventureLAB, York U and UWYR are actively discussing how best to support an emerging cohort of social entrepreneurs. UWYR has a Strength Investments program (itself a social innovation) that has already invested $300,000 in 11 community based innovations to address local opportunities. ventureLAB has an established Build program and Entrepreneurs in Residence that can be made available to social entrepreneurs. York University’s Knowledge Mobilization Unit will actively broker collaborations between social entrepreneurs and researchers/students so that social innovations are grounded in the latest research. The Innovation York accelerator space at the Markham Convergence Centre, co-located with ventureLAB and other York Region innovation acceleration services such as the York Technology Alliance, will be available to social entrepreneurs seeking a space to grow their businesses.

Stay tuned for details on how we will weave these assets into a coherent value proposition but we have progressed beyond recognizing the need and moved into the “how to” stages. This energy will build on the primary message of the recent Public Policy Forum reportthat spoke of the value of collaboration as a key component of innovation and singled out York Region as a region that was making strides to supporting multi-sectoral collaboration.

Discovery 2013. That’s when we will share the emerging York Region story – still separate silos beginning the dialogue on and action to support social innovation and social entrepreneurship so we can make a difference in the lives of York Region’s diverse citizens. Come with us as we discover social innovation.

A Thai Express, a Roots and an Innovation Panel / Un Thai Express, un Roots et un panel sur l’innovation

By David Phipps,  RIR-York

Imagine eating in a food court and listening to research that could have an impact on your life? Is this turning research into action? Maybe not but it would contribute to public awareness of the impact of research on society.

Imaginez-vous, attablé dans une aire de restauration, écoutant des recherches qui pourraient avoir un impact sur votre vie. Est-ce vraiment mettre la recherche en action? Peut-être pas, mais cela pourrait contribuer à sensibiliser le public à l’impact que peut avoir la recherche sur la société.

The actual quote was “Every shopping mall needs a Thai Express, a Roots and an Innovation Panel.” We heard this at the Symposium of the Ontario Research Chairs in Public Policy that York University organized on behalf of the Council of Ontario Universities.  The eight Ontario Research Chairs were joined by panelists from academia, the media as well as speakers from the public, private, community and health care sectors.  The audience (over 100) was mainly provincial policy makers, researchers and students. Knowledge mobilization underpinned the theme of “turning research into action”, the action being Ontario research informing Ontario public policy.

The second day (March 6) opened with the panel “Job Creation: What’s Research Got To Do With It?” which featured Suresh Narine, the Ontario Research Chair in Green Chemistry and Engineering at Trent University.  In his opening remarks, panel moderator Paul Wells (Maclean’s Magazine) said, “Every shopping mall needs a Thai Express, a Roots and an Innovation Panel.” The COU Symposium was in York’s Osgoode Professional Development Centre located on the 26th floor of the north tower of the downtown Toronto Eaton Centre shopping mall.  While the public are the ultimate beneficiaries of public policies informed by the research of the Ontario Research Chairs the COU Symposium was open to the public but the public did not attend.

Why is that? Knowledge brokers are ultimately concerned about maximizing the impact of research on society yet we broker almost exclusively between institutions. In 2009 we published a whimsical paper that presented lessons learned from knowledge mobilization with inspiration from Machiavelli and Dr. Seuss. Lesson #1 was: Concludero’ solo che al principe, e necessario avere il popolo amico – I will conclude then that it is necessary for the prince to have the people as friends. The lesson here is “no silo research. Research partnerships must be broad and most importantly, engage the people impacted by the outcome.” York embodies this by hosting Mobilizing Minds, a five year knowledge mobilization project working with a number of universities and community partners seeking pathways to young adult mental health. Young adults are part of every stage of the program and have a voice on each committee including the leadership committee.  Our strong presence in social media (@researchimpact, this blog, our You Tube channel) also connects our research to a very broad public.

Engaging the people affected by the outcome is great but why don’t we take research to the broader public beyond our social media? Why don’t we place an innovation panel in a shopping mall?

The Canadian Institutes of Health Research program Café Scientifique funds Canadian health researchers taking their research to public spaces like coffee shops or bars so this is happening on an individual researcher basis. On February 15, UBC hosted presentations by 13 Canada Excellence Research Chairs (CERC), some of the leading researchers globally in their fields. Each CERC spoke for 5 minutes and it was open to the public but it wasn’t in a mall.

What if we learn from Machiavelli and combine the public access of Café Scientifique with the open access of the CERC presentations and hold a special presentation of the eight Ontario Research Chairs in a shopping mall to complement their engagement with policy makers? Imagine sitting in the food court of your local mall eating at Thai Express and listening to leading research that had relevance to your life? I would pair each Ontario Research Chair with a journalist who would turn the “wow” of research into “so what” for the public.  Five minutes where you get not only research steak but research sizzle as well (thank you Jeremy Burman).   This would help meet the goals advocated by Gary Myers (@KMbeing) who takes a more holistic view of knowledge mobilization encouraging everyone to share their own knowledge for social benefit.

It might not turn research into action (we’ll leave that to the policy makers) but it would turn research into attention.