A couple weeks ago, Volunteer Alberta held our AGM during the Impact for Sustainability Conference. We were thrilled to have guest speaker Kate Letizia on the agenda to share with us The Future of Social Innovation in Alberta. We envision a high-functioning, impactful, and resilient nonprofit sector emerging through the social innovation ecosystem in Alberta. We want to know:
How can we work together to develop the dynamic relationships required to maintain stability, while taking the risks required to explore and test innovative approaches?
If you missed our AGM and would like to learn more about Kate’s presentation, you can check out the full report from ABSI Connect: The Future of Social Innovation Alberta 2016 or the summary report. Created by ABSI Fellows Kate Letizia, Aleeya Velji, and Lesely Cornelisse, the report seeks to answer the question “How can we do better at solving complex social and environmental problems in our province?”
Kelsey Spitz, administrator and advisor for the ABSI Connect Fellows, shared some of the insights she learned from the report in a blog. You can find her whole blog on the ABSI Connect website – Here is an excerpt from her post:
Here is what I learned from the ABSI Connect Fellows…
Alberta is rad(ical).
Alberta has a rich tradition of social innovation. It is the province of the Famous Five, who secured women legal recognition as ‘persons’ in Canada, leading to a radical shift in our social relationships and in Canadian jurisprudence. It is the only province where the Métis have a legislated land base, with the goals “to secure a Métis land base for future generations, local autonomy, and economic self-sufficiency” (Source: Alberta Indigenous Relations). And it was the first province to develop a formal interface for non-profit sector leaders to address high level, sector-wide issues directly with government officials – the Alberta Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Initiative.
Alberta has consistently been the home of key justice and equality movements, from the United Farmers of Alberta to the Pembina Institute.
What is common to all of these milestones? Each transforms a critical relationship, introducing a new status quo that advances, in some way, inclusion, openness and deeper collaboration.
Author Thomas King (and a former professor of Native Studies at University of Lethbridge) writes, “the truth about stories is that that’s all we are” (The Truth About Stories, 2003). The stories we tell about ourselves matter; they inform how we see, show up and act in our daily lives. The Fellows amplified Alberta’s story as a leader in doing what it takes for community well being and equality, shedding light on an inspiring legacy of operating at the radical edge of innovation.
It is time to raise a barn together.
While there is this rich history of social innovation in Alberta, one contemporary pattern the Fellows surfaced was in the opposite direction. Today, the social impact ecosystem celebrates and rewards individualism over collective action. There has been a shift toward communities of heroes, rather than heroic communities. Short time horizons for results and a focus on individual agency undercuts an otherwise deep interest in collaborative action and isolates successful initiatives embodying this approach.
Listen to speak.
When the Fellows began their journey last summer, social innovation was a vexed concept in Alberta, specifically in Calgary and Edmonton, where their efforts were concentrated. Some folks considered it a critical new process to advance long sought social change, others considered it an empty fad, others still saw evidence of neoliberalism in the approach, and yet others felt it was either a useful or obnoxious term to describe the kind of breakthrough work they had already been dedicated to for years.
The Fellows started from a place of deep listening, inviting each person they spoke with to share what they thought the value, definition, and possibility of social innovation is. In doing so, the Fellows killed two birds with one stone: they discovered that there is a common direction that people want to walk together (toward solving root causes) and, by listening and resourcing, they empowered the work of a diverse array of actors in both their current work and towards that common direction.
The Fellows learned that it absolutely matters to have a shared story, but that story must be accessible, inclusive, inspiring and democratic. Here is how I heard it: our common ground is in our deep dedication to aligning our social change efforts with our fundamental intent. If the goal is to solve something, then we focus on solving it. If the goal is to change the status quo, then we reimagine it. There is a growing movement of processes, models, approaches and shared learning that will help us align intent with action, whether we must invent, innovate, adapt, adopt or collaborate to get there.
Social innovation is the stuff of culture.
With little or no preconceptions of what they would be sharing back with community at the end of their term, the patterns and opportunities the Fellows identified through emergent learning all relate to the cultural elements shaping how and why we seek to forge solutions to our most complex challenges.
What they heard and learned strikes at the heart of how we think about, enact and vision impactful social change. What we call it matters less than identifying the systemic patterns shaping how we go about it and working to break the patterns holding us from our core intent.
Like any journey without a map – and solving complex social and ecological problems is as far from having a map as possible – we must constantly check-in on our direction and our path, referencing the changing landscape, the local know-how, resonant examples, our experiences, the experiences and stories of others, and our own courage to try a path untested. With an appreciation that we alone do not have the answers, but the answers are out there, we can make a concerted effort to contribute to their collective creation.
Thank you to the Fellows for leading and inspiring a unique inquiry, learning journey and community. Thank you all – especially the funding partners, hosts, advisors and contributors – for your time, contribution, support, insights and partnership. The journey continues with the Fellows’ insights offering pathways forward and a true shock of the possible.
ABSI Connect / Social Innovation Generation (SiG) National