Social Innovation – Catalyzing Civic Engagement August 17, 2011 RICCentre By Saadia Muzaffar Social innovation is about finding creative solutions to big problems. This may be done through unusual collaborations and connecting diverse perspectives and unlikely contributors to make transformative social change possible. In the times of budget cuts and fiscal threats that mainly target ‘non-essential services’ like libraries, parks and social support programs; the need to be innovative and find better ways of doing traditional things is more crucial than ever. For some sectors it’s not really a choice but the only way to survive. What seeds great social change? Social change is the result of a tremendously complex mix of ingredients. Environmental conditions, social conditions and individual contributors collide to spark world-changing ideas. For social innovation to flourish, it needs platforms for cross-pollination of ideas. This blog is the first in a series of exploring various models and conditions that catalyze social change. Let’s start with a bricks-and-mortar physical space like the Centre for Social Innovation in Toronto. CSI describes itself as Toronto’s creator of community workspaces, incubator of emerging enterprises, and developer of new models and methods with world-changing potential. Led by a small team of dedicated staff members and a dozen or so volunteers, the Centre also plays host to a wide array of events, from capacity-building workshops to discussions of emerging issues and frameworks. Their members represent the full diversity of the social mission sector. From grassroots community projects to full-fledged social enterprises, people who are active in areas from health and the environment to arts and social justice. CSI has incubated a few projects that provided a basis for social entrepreneurs to collaborate on an initiative that was emerging and promising in serving the communities it targeted. Project Wildfire, Ontario Nonprofit Network, TechSoup Canada, STEPS represent a small sample of the projects CSI has helped spearhead. Click here for more details on these projects. What are the pros and cons of a physical incubator? A physical incubator is of course a huge financial commitment when it comes to overhead costs, which happen to be the biggest reason why new businesses; and more specifically non-profits, fold within the first year of opening their doors. Eli Malinksy, Director, Programs and Partnerships at CSI, is happy to say that they have an in-built business model that makes them self-sustaining. That said, shared spaces provide unmatched potential for people to literally run into one another and find unlikely partners and collaborators. There is a sense of community and support in being surrounded by like-minded people who share and inspire through a desire to make positive and meaningful impact in the world they live in. Some would say that having a physical location also provides a tangibility factor that some financial supporters of non-profit enterprises may prefer. Next I’ll write about the distributed model that relies on non-traditional definition of ‘spaces’… followed by a piece on how various models not just stay afloat, but thrive – stay tuned! Saadia joins the RIC team as the Operations Coordinator responsible for building and execution of activities that fulfill RIC’s mandate. She brings several years of relationship management, corporate communications and operations experience mainly from the financial services industry. The RIC blog is designed as a showcase for entrepreneurs and innovation. Our guest bloggers provide a wealth of information based on their personal experiences. Visit RIC Centre for more information on how RIC can accelerate your ideas to market.