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Social Innovation Summit Report November 2017

Maximum Canada

How do we build the strategic imagination that can shape our cities and communities to lead the world in achieving prosperity, sustainability, equality and reconciliation? Questions such as this are raised by Doug Saunders in his book ‘Maximum Canada: Why 35 Million Canadians Are Not Enough’. His book roots for the open, pluralistic and connected Canada chosen by a determined yet fragile majority that favors immigration, multiculturalism and free trade.

Doug Sanders was the opening keynote speaker at the third annual Surrey Social Innovation Summit held on November 15 at the City Hall. His presentation was on the topic of ‘Arrival City and How the Largest Migration in History is Reshaping Surrey and Canada’s Cities’. His confident vocabulary and vivid presentation of innovations from all parts of the globe flashed before the participating delegates a bold vision of possibilities to include all sections of community in an equal economy of vibrant businesses and thriving neighborhoods.

This year’s Summit was designed to enable conversations and discussions tackling these very key questions of how to achieve social and economic inclusion, how to reinvent city spaces to solve social challenges and how to connect individuals, neighborhoods and businesses. The underlying theme for the Summit was a call for inclusion and collaboration to find innovative solutions for common challenges together.

Welcome Ceremony

The opening remarks of the Summit started with a ceremonial welcome by Kevin Kelly and Michael Kelly Gabriel of Kwantlen First Nation. The Father and Son team invoked ancient wisdom promoting peace, love and harmony that also reminded of our obligation to build sustainably and responsibly so as to pass on a better place to succeeding generations.

Following the welcome remarks and opening plenary, concurrent breakout sessions were offered on the topics of ‘Diversity = Innovation’, ‘Social Procurement: Putting the economy to work for Social Innovation’ and ‘Public Participation: Every Voice Matters’

An interactive Community Art project:

An ideas tower developed by the City in collaboration with SFU displayed in the foyer invited participants to express their ideas and connect discs as building blocks. One of the delegates, Jessica studying at KPU appreciated the “symbolism of the project demonstrating visually how we as a community are linked together and so are our passions”

Doing more together

The summit attracted a good mix of local businesses, social organizations and members of the local community leading their own projects with a passion for making positive social change. Manaktahla Charanjit Singh, a member of the Envision Financial Community Leaders Igniting Change (CLIC) program was attending for inspiration and to build networks.  He also volunteers with the City Fire Services

Placemaking with People in Mind: Breakout Session

This session invited architects and thought leaders in City Development to discuss the role of community engagement in defining public spaces and their use. “Placemaking is a natural organic process of having people express what they would like to become…”in the words of Fred Kent, President, Project for Public Spaces. The goal he elaborated is to find ways for community to express their cultures, enjoy their social life, contribute in their work by reinventing public spaces to become the heart of the community. Participants at the breakout session described it as thought provoking.  “It was interesting to examine the tension between design and people’s needs that animates & activates spaces…” was the comment made by one attendee.  Discussions about how cities can provide architectural solutions to address social challenges of poverty, homelessness, unemployment, addiction and others was a theme that engaged delegates throughout the summit.

‘Filling empty spaces’ both conceptually by increasing dialogue between communities and physically by creating user friendly spaces was also a message in the keynote presentation. Doug Sanders lamented “we waste people”. He shared best practices of interventions to support newcomers. New economies are born when cities address built in barriers such as lack of public transport and mass rapid transit systems, suburban concrete buildings with architectural inhibitions to enterprise and access to customers, bureaucratic hurdles to start a new business, obstacles in the pathways to citizenship, lack of recognition of foreign credentials and experience as well as a shortage of good schools in areas in highly dense diverse neighbourhoods to tackle post code racism etc. Globally some cities have successfully intervened with changes to perceptions, policy and infrastructure.

Mistakes can be huge learning opportunities – Voice of the Youth

Two of the breakout sessions before lunch invited panelists to hear from Youth about their successes in advocating for change and to discuss social responsibility to the Youth. Delegates learnt about Entrepreneurship Programs offered by YELL to young students, and the work of RADIUS SFU which was also offered as a workshop late afternoon that day. “Kids need opportunity and direction to thrive” said Harmeet Nanda describing the youth support work of the Youth Entrepreneur Leadership Launched (YELL). Amelia Douglas, a recent graduate from SFU with Masters in Public Policy appreciated the diversity of speakers and the choice of panelists for the sessions. She applauded the organization and information shared by young change makers.

Lunch by Tayybeh

Lunch comprised of delicious home style Syrian food provided by the women of Tayybeh, a social enterprise offering a catering service with authentic Syrian cuisine.

Nihal Elwan, the Founder of Tayybeh explained her motivation behind this work. “Our mission is to provide newly arrived Syrian women an opportunity to generate income, to be financially independent and integrate within the economy and society. We started off by creating large dining events, pop up buffets. People loved the food and to satisfy a growing demand we launched a catering component.”

SFU Ambassadors

SFU’s student Ambassadors volunteered at the Summit as part of an initiative to offer capacity-building training and event and conference related transitional work experience as a pathway to commensurate employment. Mavis Gevido volunteered in the Summit through this program supporting in event coordination. “Learning about ‘Social Procurement’ was the most interesting aspect of participating in this Summit” she said. “With my background in the corporate sector in HR Management and Training, it was a refreshing insightful experience to learn how agencies and organizations collaborate put the social agenda before profit” she added.

‘It is I who must begin’

Strategies to rebuild the declining trust and to increase public participation in Civic affairs were discussed in the morning breakout session. Provision of terms of reference enables participatory dialogue and consultation preventing extreme disruptive voices from hijacking the process explained one panelist Mario Canseco from Insights West. Susanna Haas Lyons, a Civic Engagement Specialist addressed the concern that only one section of the community sometimes attends consultations on City matters. ‘Who needs to participate in what proportion for results to be credible’ is how the objectives of the consultation should be framed she suggested. Kathleen Burke quoted Ronald A Heifetz saying ‘What people resist is not change per se, but loss’. She reiterated that consultation begins with a conversation.

Indigenizing Our City: Transformation begins with honest reflection

Innovation is not just about new things. It is also about bringing the past into the present to address our current situation – Senator Murray Sinclair

Duncan McCue, Journalist and Host of CBC Cross Country Checkup offered an engaging insight into the progress and plight of indigenous communities across the country. He shared ongoing efforts of various cities to indigenize beyond mere symbolism through creation of indigenous business districts, visible cultural landscapes, street renaming projects, language conservation and many other ways. He inspired listeners to not shy away from controversial topics, to not be afraid to ask difficult questions which sometimes spark the next big idea.

To make change it is necessary to dream of a better tomorrow.  Social innovation is about realizing a better future through experimenting, learning and collaborating. Summits such as this one provide that inspiration for the next innovative idea, for effective, efficient, sustainable solutions to social challenges.

Asmita Lawrence
Asmita has been blogging for several years about food security, travels, faith, arts and culture. She enjoys community reporting to participate in the local conversation. She founded ‘Culture Chats’ promoting social connections through shared interests in literary and other arts. Asmita has over ten years’ experience in marketing and communications. Her professional interests include business strategy and relations, research and community development. Her family and two little ones are the center of her world.

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