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Canada needs a Solution Revolution
Social finance and the solution infrastructure
Social finance and a solution infrastructure for education, employment and the environment are potential solutions to problems in Canada.
By: Michael Wenban
As mild-mannered Canadians, we don’t “do” revolutions.
Pundits tell us that we’ve had a good “recession” and remain a healthy and wealthy country. Our collective mantra has always been “Things are good enough, so why upset the apple cart?”
To be fair, the pursuit of incremental change is a legitimate choice. But given the huge structural changes facing both our economy and society, is it the best way forward?
Innovative leaders advocate a more radical approach.
It’s what Paul Macmillan and William D. Eggers discuss in their new book, The Solution Revolution: How Business, Government, and Social Enterprises Are Teaming Up to Solve Society’s Toughest Problems.
Their call to arms is timely for Canadians because, if we’re being honest about it, there’s no shortage of problems seeking solutions. The authors argue convincingly that systemic change appears not only possible but will produce better, fairer and more sustainable outcomes.
In an era of unmet needs and fiscal constraint we need, as Macmillan and Eggers say, public innovation. This requires all actors — social entrepreneurs, non-profits, governments and business leaders — to get used to working outside our respective comfort zones.
Macmillan and Eggers share many rich examples from different walks of life. They strongly suggest that where innovation is fostered through collaboration and the bypassing of old paradigms, good things happen — and they can happen at scale.
Here are a few illustrations of what is already being achieved in the new Solution Economy.
- Bill Young formed Social Capital Partners (SCP) to help disadvantaged people find meaningful employment.
- Over the past decade, this innovator has applied market solutions to the unemployment problem.
- SCP advocates a demand-led (employer-led) model where business plays a larger role in matching skills and workers to jobs.
- Mathematician, writer and social entrepreneur John Mighton founded JUMP (Junior Undiscovered Math Prodigies) over fifteen years ago.
- His theory of change? We can all learn if we are taught within a system that builds confidence and self-esteem.
- He also believes there’s a causal link between a child’s academic success and his or her future contribution to society.
- Geoff Cape launched Toronto’s Evergreen Brick Works (EBW) over 20 years ago on its social mission to green cities for a healthier planet.
- EBW has developed a model that allows it to balance social goals with financial necessities.
- Emulating the natural world, EBW relies on a revenue streams that include commercial events, rentals and product sales as well as grants and donations from government, foundations, corporate sponsors and individuals.
- The McConnell Family Foundation, a pioneer in community, public and private sector collaboration has formed the multi-location Social Innovation Generation (SIG) platform.
- Led by serial social-entrepreneur Tim Draimin, SIG is not a granting vehicle but an innovation and collaboration platform that promotes ways to address large scale systemic change.
- Other examples include the MaRS Centre for Impact Investing (CII) and the Social Venture Exchange (SVX) which are online investment platforms that mobilize private capital for the public good.
- Innovation in this field is long overdue. If we are to see better social outcomes and taxpayer benefits, government will have to engage in some revolutionary thinking and behaviour — like supporting social impact bonds (SIBs).
- Social impact bonds bring together government, non-profit providers of social services and investors to find resolutions to problems.
- Investors get a return on their investment if the provider delivers social services more cheaply than had under the old delivery model.
So are we Canadians bold enough to formulate our own solution-revolution strategy for the public good?
In an era of unmet needs and fiscal constraint we need, as Macmillan and Eggers say, public innovation. This requires all actors — social entrepreneurs, non-profits, governments and business leaders — to get used to working outside our respective comfort zones. Collectively we must drive to change the way public value is created.