Surrey Social Innovation Summit: Thought to Action
The theme of the fourth annual Surrey Social Innovation Summit on September 6 was ‘from thought to action’ emphasizing that good ideas alone are not enough to make the kind of progressive change that builds a better city. BC’s Lieutenant Governor General, the honourable Janet Austin explored this theme in her speech at the official opening of the Summit.
‘Vision without execution is hallucination’
Her honour Janet Austin’s words inspired audiences with humorous anecdotes and personal experiences whilst expressing support for diversity, social inclusion and women’s leadership. Her honour also reiterated her commitment to promote civility in public discourse and respect for public institutions lamenting the erosion of public trust and the fragility of democracy in current times.
This and other welcome remarks emphasized that the biggest challenges are systemic with a call to action to overcome social barriers and deeply ingrained cultures City Councillor Judy Villeneuve who has served for Surrey City for nearly three decades was present at the Summit and commented on the growing impact of the Surrey Social Innovation Summit.
“The City is recognized for the work on social issues and issues of inclusion. The presence of business leaders, community workers, social innovators and professionals across the board acknowledges the value of the Summit.” she said. “Everyone benefits from shared ideas and a day of discussions” she added.
Pivotal time: moving beyond words to practices of reconciliation
One big highlight of the Summit was the strong participation of leaders from First Nations and the shared successes of powerful Indigenous voices. Kevin Kelly and Michael Kelly Gabriel from the Kwantlen First Nation reminded all present in their welcome blessing that ‘Change must be for all our people’ and that ‘it is our obligation to think about how to make the future better for the next seven generations’.
“Everything we are as indigenous people is social innovation” said CBC Reporter Angela Sterritt from the Gitxsan Nation in her keynote speech at the Summit. She shared a powerful video of Indigenous youth learning to tell their stories. The emphasis on working closely together with youth and community came through in the keynote as well as the breakout sessions later in the day when she joined a panel of indigenous change makers. Insights were shared by social entrepreneurs from First Nations into the practice and impact of social innovation at some of the ten breakout sessions throughout the day.
Karine Smith, COO, Inspire Nunavut explained the success of their venture which was deeply embedded in the community with everyone taking ownership. She suggested social enterprises can change the way communities assess their assets and resources and that communities have abundant resources when viewed in the context of knowledge exchange and social objectives.
Inspire Nunavut is an organization that designs and delivers entrepreneurship experiences for youth to create grassroots economic opportunities in their own communities. Another successful youth initiative was a series of cultural dialogues in 2018 that brought together Indigenous and refugee youth for intercultural exchange, celebration and community building.
It was collaboration between youth from the Fraser Region Aboriginal Friendship Centre Association and the Surrey Local Immigration Partnership. Kue K’nyawmupoe from the Surrey Refugee Youth team described the project undertaken with four co-chain leaders under the age of 25 explaining how engaged the young participants were. Sheldon Tetreault is Lead Consultant at the Surrey Urban Indigenous Leadership Committee (SUILC).
He described the work of their Social Innovation Lab process working to support indigenous children and families and the focus on systemic improvement outcomes through innovative pilot practices. He along with other speakers on the panel helped to break down the jargon and buzz surrounding social innovation labs.
Social Innovation: Beyond the buzz
Cheryl Rose, Associate Director at the Social Innovation Residency, Banff Centre described social innovation labs as ‘multistakeholder groups coming together to map challenges, systemic barriers, flow of resources and to solve problems using design based thinking and group processes’. “There is not only one way to do a lab”, she stressed. The interest in this new business model blending economic and social goals is stronger than ever said another panelist.
These hybrid economic models combine philanthropy, subsidies and income generating activities that drive win win win collaboration with other players such as private sector or government. Successful social business leader Dan Kersaw from Furniture Bank however cautioned that running a social enterprise is hard. “Customers don’t always care about the core philosophy and there are many unexciting things you have to do to run a business” He also shared the framework of working with volunteers within his organization.
Windmill Microlending reminded of the importance of getting the right people to work within the team and building a strong organizational culture aligned with the values of the social enterprise. In the closing plenary Steve Patty from Dialogues in Action, emphasised that all evaluation is educational, that the questions we ask matter and that participation is powerful Stephanie Shardlow from Vancity and others at the Summit looked to gain from just such practical tips and experiences of doers in this field; to get a better sense of what social innovation really means.
Jen Arbo from the City of New West said she had enjoyed learning about some simple solutions through the various sessions. “Social innovation may not always refer to one incredible idea that changes everything. It could also provide transformative solutions in little steps to result in incremental improvements to problems.” Others reiterated the importance of seeing the people behind the innovation and learning about the human need and drive for change since social planning begins with empathy and understanding.
Some other attendees were there to learn about successful collaboration, build networks with likeminded people and be in the know regarding what had been achieved lately in this space. One consensus emerging from speaking to delegates was that ‘a summit that leaves people with many questions is also great… then it is up to each one of us to find our own answers and solutions that work in our communities and in our context.’