Mother enters the social innovation mixer

May 15, 2013

A little over a week ago, I stood in front of a group of entrepreneurs, executives, artists and politicians. The event was coined a ‘social innovation mixer’ by its host, HUB Ottawa, itself a social innovator. Other speakers at the event included champions from the trailblazing groups Farm Radio International and the Community Forward Fund.

The goal of HUB gatherings is to drive collaboration, to connect potential mentors with young innovators, and to inspire creative minds behind community projects. Essentially, its target is to generate dialogue that has legs – discussions that make an impact even after the event comes to a close.

I am happy to report that I did indeed get people talking, rather unintentionally.

It wasn’t just my speaking points on Actua’s programs, deeply rooted in social innovation. It was the sight of me, President and CEO of a national not-for-profit, approaching the stage with a microphone in one hand and a baby in the other. The intent, initially, was to have my new daughter sit (or sleep) quietly in another room with my husband. But, she had other plans for my speech.

With baby in tow, I spoke about Actua being a social innovator in our role as a connector. It is a role we take seriously to ensure that all youth in Canada have the opportunity to be empowered by STEM.

Twenty years ago, Actua was established as a national coordinating body, set up to help a few university-based science groups deliver STEM curriculum to regional youth. This initial role of connector set the foundation of what would become an organization with true national reach, sitting at the heartbeat of all those with a vested interest in empowering youth.

Our network has since grown to 33 members – creating the capacity to reach over 225,000 youth annually.

In our efforts to connect youth to the job market that awaits them – a market that will call for high-skilled jobs rooted in STEM – we connect industry players with community leaders, decision-makers with think tanks, and scientists with NGO champions. Most importantly, though, we connect them all to youth.

We bring together unlikely partners because we recognize their common underlying interests. We work with groups, some similar to ours, that share a passion for engaging youth, but in the arena of sport, the arts and business. These connections pave avenues between youth and economic development opportunities. These discussions get conversations going on addressing labour gaps. These relationships translate into real social change. And, most importantly, these discussions turn into action.

Connecting – and doing it strategically and efficiently – is at the core of our social innovation. But it doesn’t end there.

I also see social innovation in the way we continually enhance our approach to connecting, in our efforts to make our programming better and more relevant, and in our commitment to reach youth in more communities.

I see social innovation in how we approach each day ahead as different – and better – than the day before.  At Actua, we set out to be a little different, not for the sake of being labelled unique. Rather, it is in the interest of making a change – for the better – on the economic and social landscape.

For many in the room that night at HUB Ottawa, what resonated the most from my presentation is the image of me holding an infant. One woman sent me a nice note later saying that seeing me up there “struck a chord,” because I “role modelled the type of personal and professional success that [she] aspire[s] to achieve.” Similar comments were echoed through Twitter.

In some way, the choices we make, as we put one foot in front of the other (even while heavily sleep deprived), and the moments where we break convention and recharge the usual way of doing things are all small pieces of a larger social innovation movement.