By Isobel Chiang
As obvious as it sounds, the world’s most wicked problems, such as poverty, inequality, discrimination, and disease, all require solutions— and fast. But who should be responsible for solving these overwhelmingly massive issues? And more importantly, who has the ingenuity to do so? Introduced earlier this year, the government of Alberta’s new Social Innovation Endowment gives its citizens the chance to become the social innovators that the world so desperately needs. The government believes Alberta, with its vibrant culture, educated and creative citizens, entrepreneurial spirit, and vast economic/ecological capital, could be a hub for social entrepreneurship and the future of social innovation.The Social Innovation Endowment (SIE) is a one billion dollar fund that invests in socially innovative practices among “non-profit organizations, social enterprises, community groups, foundations, private industry, and orders of government”. The SIE was born out of the recently implemented Alberta Social Policy Framework and nested within the 17.3 billion dollar Alberta Heritage Savings Trust Fund. The SIE is inherently self sustaining, as funds are continually generated through interest and the one billion dollar principle is never touched (this will amount to 22.5 million in year one and 45 million in year two).The government has presented a fresh idea that places an exciting amount of responsibility onto Albertans, encouraging its citizens to be the flag bearers of social change. The SIE is the largest endowment of its kind in Canada, and is closely related to other initiatives across the globe, such as The Australian Center for Innovation, and Nesta, a UK based innovation charity fund.Why the Social Innovation Endowment Fund could be a great thing for Albertans: It includes a Systems Thinking Approach Albertans— including our governing body— are acutely aware that social innovations do not just happen. Ideas are not solutions; ideas become solutions when individuals, governments, nonprofits, and the private sector collaborate together in the pursuit of social change. The SIE uses a cross-sectoral, systems thinking approach that takes advantage of the spaces between the three sectors where innovation often takes place. After all, social innovation cannot be controlled or owned by one sector— it is simply too great of a task.It seeks to answer the world’s big, wicked questionsAccording to Alberta’s premier, the Honorable Dave Hancock, social innovation “is not about doing the same things better or putting more money into what we have done in the past,” it is about leveraging creativity to create new goals, approaches, and technologies which profoundly change how society functions. In short, the Premier states, “it is about closing the gap between what Albertans need and want from society and what is currently available to them.”If innovation is the interface at which a great idea meets a platform for research, prototyping, and scalability, the Social Innovation Endowment hopes to provide Albertans with such a platform. However, how this fund will come to life is still undecided. This is why the government is conducting an extensive period of community consultation with members from multiple sectors in order to gain insight, feedback, and recommendations as to how the SIE should be implemented and where funds should be allocated.Many questions have been raised about the fund, including: Will the endowment make a tangible difference? What will the distribution of funds look like? Will money be allocated to individual entrepreneurs or large organizations? What differentiates the SIE from previous government funding?What the Social Innovation Endowment Fund is, and what it isn’tWhile certain aspects of the SIE are still ambiguous, one thing is for certain: the SIE is not a traditional funding vehicle nor does it download the responsibility of social innovation onto one sector (presumably the nonprofit). It is, however, a collaborative approach to solve old issues with fresh solutions.Social Innovation Happening In Alberta As We SpeakOne of Calgary’s hidden gems is its pool of budding social entrepreneurs. Take cSPACE for example. Located in the old King Edward School, cSPACE is an affordable “creative hub’’ where artists, non-profits and social entrepreneurs can connect and collaborate in a working environment. Slated to open in 2016, there will be leasable offices and open-concept creation spaces for tenants to “generate new work, expand their enterprise and accelerate their impact in the Calgary market and beyond”. Hopefully with the help from the Social Innovation Endowment, cSPACE will be one of many innovations to come out of Alberta.In the end, even the world’s greatest social innovations—like libraries, fair trade, universal health care and micro financing—were once just ideas. But luckily, they were given platforms to grow. The Social Innovation Endowment isn’t promising to reinvent the wheel or create the next Google, it is simply trying to make Alberta a better place to live. Although, inventing a new Google would be fun too.