Why is social innovation important to Canada’s future prosperity?

There isn’t a better place to reflect on the future role of social innovation in Canada than sitting in the lounge of one of the Center for Social Innovation (CSI) buildings in Toronto. I can’t help but eavesdrop on the lively debate occurring among a group of social entrepreneurs sitting on the antique couches next to me.  As a hub and incubator of social innovation, this place is teeming with creativity and inspiration.

As a recent graduate of the Master of Global Affairs program at the Munk School of Global Affairs, I have spent the last two years analyzing some of the world’s greatest challenges alongside forwardthinking academics and peers.  While attending lectures, presentations, and workshops on a variety of issues, I noticed an underlying theme: nationally and globally we are facing a widening set of increasingly complex and borderless challenges. These issues require government, the private sector, and civil society actors to collaborate in the development and implementation of solutions.

What type of grand challenges am I referring to?  One example that is on my horizon (and should be on yours too) is the rising prevalence of noncommunicable diseases (NCD) in Canada and globally.  According to the World Health Organization, NCDs threaten to consume national budgets in the next few decades.  Considering the lifestyle changes necessary to prevent the rising national prevalence of NCDs, it seems that social innovation might be the key to the kind of systemic change necessary to address this problem.

In the face of such complex social challenges, what is the potential benefit of social innovation in Canada?

A generation devoted to social innovation can enable Canadians to navigate through the complex challenges we will inevitably confront.  It can inspire the creativity necessary to enable cross-sector problem solving and the systemic change needed to solve major issues, like NCDs.

Recognizing the complexity and long-term nature of these challenges, it seems clear to me that youth must be engaged in this movement. I feel fortunate to be part of an organization that is building the infrastructure for youth social innovators to tackle major social challenges.  Whether through mentoring programs, workshops, or by reducing financial barriers (as the Youth Social Innovation Capital Fund does), Canadian youth much be engaged since they will be catalysts for the growth of the social innovation sector.

Canada has a capacity for innovation that outdates the well-worn antique couches in the CSI lounge.  According to Wikipedia, arguably one of the greatest 21st century social innovations on the web, the electric streetcar, peanut butter, and the snow blower are some of Canada’s greatest inventions.  I couldn’t agree more: the electric street car gives me daily access to my favourite areas in Toronto, peanut butter is one of my favourite snacks, and the snow blower saves me – okay, maybe not me personally, but many Canadians – hours of back-breaking work in the winter.

So, why don’t we learn from our Canadian history, and adapt it for the present and the future.  In the face of complex social challenges, like the rising prevalence of NCDs, Canada can and should use social innovation as an important tool and process for generating new strategies, ideas, concepts and organizations to tackle current and future social challenges in Canada.

Let’s allow social innovation to differentiate Canada.  Let’s help Canadian youth play a leading role in this process.  And let’s encourage youth social innovators to lead Canada’s next generation.


Written by: Megan Wallingford