SI2 Social Innovation and Social Institutions

Amazing events of late — just back from LA from the Governors’ Global Climate Summit and haven’t yet reported out on the Social Innovation and Social Institutions workshop of last weekend or the Educating the Heart Session with the Dalai Lama.

Here goes with a report on the workshop sponsored by the SFU Segal Business School on Exploring the Interplay of Social Innovation and Social Institutions. It was very well organized and directed by Professor Tom Lawrence of the Segal Business School and his energetic assistant/PhD student, Graham Dover.  Worth going to the session just to meet and get to know these two people.

It was extremely helpful just to get a definition of what we mean by social innovation and social institutions on the table.

Social Innovation: “new ideas…developed to fulfill unmet social needs, not restricted to any sector or field”.  “profoundly changes the basic routines, resource and authority flows or believes of any social system” Frances Westley 2008.

Social Institutions: “enduring beliefs, rules and practices that shape a community”

Thursday evening was a session with Judith Marcuse — she is doing very interesting work with movement and dance in helping us communicate social and other issues.  Was a good ice-breaker and made it easy to engage the next day.  Friday started with a comprehensive presentation from Donald MacPherson — one of the City’s key people in Vancouver’s drug policy saga.  This presentation was a case study platform for thinking about social innovation and interaction with social institutions.

However, the high point of the day for me was a set of stories from four of the participants.  I wish I had taken notes so I could remember them better but I realize that the beauty of well-told stories (and these were) is that they take you away to the place and  the people  so you are left with a powerful sense of the emotion and meaning behind the story and not necessarily the specifics.  But — here is a taste…

John McKnight told a story about a community that took its health care into its own hands — with some simple acts.  What was really useful were the principles he outlined in terms of lessons learned from the experience –  for example, people overcame the institutional assumption that the hospital was the primary determine of health — NEVER make institutional assumptions!  What was really innovative was taking clients/consumers and converting them into producers and citizens — this is a topic worth exploring in our own context.  I could go on for a long time around lessons learned from John.  Will get his book:   Building Communities from the Inside Out: A Path Toward Finding and Mobilizing a Community’s Assets.

Nadia Kanegai grew up on one of the 82 Vanuata islands (in the South Pacific) and she took her grandmother’s words to heart:  the purpose of life is to help others.   Nadia, without funding or support has helped over 10,000 impoverished individuals.  The best part of the story was her role in the rehabilitation of Morris Ben Joseph, who was proclaimed “the worst criminal in Vanuatu”.  She knew she could help him change his ways to become an integral part of the community and that is exactly what she did.

Robert Kkalyesubula grew up as an orphan but studied to become a medical doctor. His dream was to provide medical care to the HIV-AIDS ravaged rural areas in Uganda.  His was a story of the will to make change and his organization now provides medical care to thousands.

Shauna Sylvester told a story about women in Afghanistan and the incredible courage required to make change in that part of the world.  These stories transported us to the core of social innovation — helping people and communities have a better life — health, food, shelter, family.

I was also fortunate to sit with Peter Block for lunch.  Peter is a partner in Designed Learning ( in Cincinatti and the author of many books, most recently — Community:  The Structure of Belonging.  Always inspiring to hear about what people are doing in their communities all over the world.

This is getting too long — will have to do a Part 2!

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