Innovating Together

Audio Seminar || Al Etmanski
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In this podcast, Paul Born speaks with Al Etmanski about community innovation and why “innovating together” is important to ensure that social innovations reach the required scale and durability to affect system change. Three sources of social innovation are distinguished and the specific roles of government in supporting social innovation are explored.

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In this podcast, Paul Born speaks with Al Etmanski about community innovation and why “innovating together” is important to ensure that social innovations reach the required scale and durability to affect system change. Three sources of social innovation are distinguished and the specific roles of government in supporting social innovation are explored.

Learning Objectives:

  • To deepen understanding about community innovation and the key ingredients of its success at the community level
  • To explore why “innovating together” is essential to ensure the scale and durability of community change.
  • To focus on the role government can play in supporting community innovation

Access Podcast Highlights...

  • Epiphanies: A Catalyst for Social Innovation
  • Success Factors in Community Innovation
  • Why Innovating Together? 
  • BC Advisory Council for Social Entrepreneurship
  • Government’s Role in Social Innovation

Epiphanies: A Catalyst for Social Innovation

On one level Al is not clear where his motivation to do this work comes from - suggesting that being a social innovator "is just who I am; spiritually, emotionally and practically," - and that it is "completely satisfying." At the same time, he identifies the birth of his second daughter, Elizabeth, as a defining moment that served as a catalyst for shaping how he thinks and acts as a social entrepreneur. Listen here as Al explains what his role as a parent taught him about the work of social innovation.

 

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Success Factors in Community Innovation

When asked to illuminate what he sees as the key success factors of social innovation at the community level, Al drew examples from a two-year learning experience that he and his partner, Vicki Cammack, undertook to learn about how Canadians and others were successfully sustaining social innovations. This led them to identify six "patterns" for how this occurs. The mindset of "thinking like a movement" is one of those six patterns. In the following clip, Al explains why and how this mindset is critical to successful social innovation.

 

A second important success factor Al identifies for sustaining innovation at the community level is the skill of convening. Listen to the following clip to learn more about what, for Al, are some of the important elements that support effective convening at the community level. 

A final contributing factor to the success of innovation at the community level which Al highlights is the uniting or "marriage" of our social connections and our economic power. This creates new opportunities to harness market forces in helping to address community issues. In the following clip, Al offers more about this dimension and shares illustrative examples.

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Why Innovating Together? 

While he has been involved in the field of community innovation for some time, Al's thinking and approach to it has more recently begun to evolve towards a greater emphasis on the importance of "innovating together." He cites "many spectacular failures" in his efforts to advance social innovations and identifies people's egos, their inherent mistrust of one and their "wild assumptions" about the motives of others as the "Achilles heel" that often prevents innovations from scaling up to a level where they can have system impact and durability. In the following clip, Al describes this shift in his thinking and the rationale behind it, acknowledging that it requires us as individuals to be mindful of shifting "from hubris to humility."

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BC Advisory Council for Social Entrepreneurship

Al is currently a vice-chair in the BC Advisory Council for Social Entrepreneurship whose mandate is "to assist the BC government in seeking new and innovative ways to help BC Communities tackle their most pervasive social challenges." In speaking about this work, Al highlighted the Council's future-oriented approach and profiled the two recent publications it has released within its first year. The essence of this work; the Council's three sets of recommendations; and, the methodology of "social impact labs" as an exciting possibility to support innovation are all is outlined by Al in the following clip:

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Government's Role in Social Innovation

Al and his colleagues at the BC Council for Social Innovation see their work as focusing on three core principles: bridging across sectors; using money more wisely; and, engaging everyone. Al then distinguished for listeners three distinct types of innovation in order to begin to frame the role of government in social innovation. The three types of innovation he identified were:

  • Disruptive Innovation - which result primarily from the efforts of "passionate amateurs" who affect change because of their dissatisfaction with the status quo
  • Receptive Innovation - which harnesses existing systems and infrastructure to assist in the dissemination and scaling-up of innovation; and
  • Mediating Innovation - which result from the linking together of formal and informal sources of innovation through collaboration

Al acknowledged that government plays and absolutely essential role in community innovation - particularly receptive innovation - and emphasized the importance of supporting governments to enhance their capacity in this area. Listen in the following clip as Al discusses government's role and uses the example of the RDSP to illustrate this point.

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GOING DEEPER

Reflection Questions

  1. Given the roles I play, how can I help to facilitate community innovation?
  2. Where could my ability to hold a mindset of humility help to nurture the conditions for innovating together? What supports me in holding this mindset?
  3. How could I strengthen the success factors of community innovation within my work?

Links & Resources

Collaboration, innovation key to solving social ills - This Vancouver Sun editorial from Nov 2011 makes the case for collaboration and community innovation (published with permission)

Social Innovation Generation Website: This website profiles the work of SiG, a national collaboration that has been created to address Canada's social and ecological challenges by creating a culture of continuous social innovation that Al is a partner of.

The BC Advisory Council for Social Entrepreneurship - This website profiles the work of the Council, whose mandate is to assist the BC government to see new and innovative ways to help BC communities tackle its most pervasive social challenges."

BC Advisory Council for Social Entrepreneurship Recommendations Document - This document outlines the initial recommendations of the Council and invites contributions on "how the complex social challenges facing BC today can be addressed collectively."

Innovating Together Tweets - go here to read a list of tweets that capture participants' key ideas as they listened to this Innovating Together tele-learning seminar

A Great Time for Social Innovation - In this Tamarack audio seminar, Al Etmanski and Vicki Cammack consider the deep patterns that drive change and innovation and influenced the creation of the Social Innovation Generation network.

Al Etmanski's blog - In his blog, Al invites and shares insights from a diverse array of "big thinkers."  His focus for 2012 is to invite sharing in response to the question, What are you Skating Towards in 2012?

What are You Skating Towards? - Listen to this audio seminar where Al discusses more about is current blogging project and what he is learning from it.

PLAN website - This website profiles Al's groundbreaking work, in partnership with Vicki Cammack and others, to support the creativity of families to address the financial and social well-being of their relative with a disability.

Resilience and the New Normal - In this article, published in the January 2012 issue of Engage!, Tim Brodhead makes the case for community innovation and resilience and highlights his latest paper which profiles examples of community innovation that have been funded by The J.W. McConnell Family Foundation across Canada.

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Meet Al Etmanski

Al Etmanski - Al is an author, blogger, advocate and social entrepreneur specializing in innovative, multi-sector solutions to complex societal challenges. He is currently a partner in the J.W. McConnell Family Foundation's, Social Innovation Generation (SIG). SiG is dedicated to scaling up innovative solutions to deeply rooted social problems and exploring new methods of financing the social sector.  Al was nominated as an Ashoka Canada fellow in 2003 - making him a member of a global network of social entrepreneurs whose "system-changing solutions are addressing the world's most urgent social problems."  He is also a VanCity Community Investment Fellow, and a faculty member of John McKnight's Asset Based Community Development Institute (ABCD). He is Co-Chair of the BC Government's Advisory Council on Social Entrepreneurship and the co-founder of Planned Lifetime Advocacy Network (PLAN), supporting the creativity of families to address the financial and social well-being of their relative with a disability, particularly after their parents die.

Al proposed and led the successful campaign to establish the world's first Registered Disability Savings Plan which benefits 500,000 individuals with disabilities in Canada.  He has also mentored more than 40 organizations in developing similar initiatives worldwide.

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