Andre's Social Innovation Journey in the Mountains

Andre Vashist has been accepted into the Getting to Maybe: A Social Innovation Residency at Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity in collaboration with Waterloo Institute for Social Innovation and Resilience at the University of Waterloo.  A 28-day intensive designed for change-makers with a deep readiness to fuel a personal calling to work for positive change in very complex contexts.
I just returned from the Social Innovation Residency with an incredible amount of hope, as a recipient of incredible gifts of wisdom.  The below blog is a reflection of this journey so far, as it will take me several more months to unpack and share the gifts I received this last month.  See below for some great resources on Social Innovation and stay tuned for Pillar’s Systems Thinking Exchange and Workshop coming soon. 

Photo: Group photo of 2017 Cohort with Faculty & Staff

Deciding to undertake this journey
The goal of the work that I facilitate is to embed social and environmental values into mainstream systems like business and finance.  The Residency focuses on aligning personal values with that pursuit of systemic change.  It reflects on how we can harness our purpose throughout our work to drive systems change. But at the early stage in my journey, I was still unsure where my purpose fits within the state of the business, finance and other related systems.

This is where my intrigue with systems thinking and complex systems theory took shape.  This is important because our organizations focus on programs, products and services - which influence our systems.  Without the context of the system, how can we develop the most appropriate intervention that can allow our personal and organizational purpose to come to life? To understand further my reasons for undertaking this Residency and how it ties into my work, you can read my two page application to the residency here.

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Photo: Doing systems mapping and theory of change with Tim Brodhead, Melinda Jacobs & Dan McCarthy

Systems change inspirations
To inspire those around me to engage in systems change, I want to share some of the tools and ideas that have guided me prior to and during my Residency.  The following have been my compass, directing my efforts towards systems change:

Exposure: A friend and collaborator exposed me to the intersection of systems thinkingcomplex systems theoryimpact investing and traditional financial theory - which was the basis for my application to the Residency.

Growth of Social Innovation: New open source learning modules on Social Innovation for Complex Problems; and the story of social innovation as exemplified by thought leader Stephen Huddart and comprehensive map by Social Innovation Generation.

Design Thinking: Alongside a community of social innovators with expertise, we have seen new approaches like the Solutions Lab come to life. Like Tim Brodhead reminded us, fall in love with the problem, not the solution. These new tools, like Flourishing Business Canvas are what are going to help us accelerate creating, testing and scaling solutions to our most wicked problems.

Community: I am encouraged by a community of social innovators across the globe and in Canada; so many great examples: World Economic ForumSkollHult PrizeAcumen, Canada’s Social Innovation Generation - and I recently got to join a great group to tackle building Ontario’s common approach to impact measurement for social enterprise, and Canada just launched its Social Innovation and Social Finance steering committee.

Success: I have seen a growth of this work in our global community and locally.  With support from government, academia, private sector and non-profit community - I am betting on a better and bolder future.  

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Photo: Medecine wheel showcasing the variety of wisdom that was gifted to our cohort - image by Devon

Bringing my learnings back to Pillar
Joining this team and organization has been pivotal in my journey. The opportunity and privilege to spend full-time working on innovative ways to solve our community’s challenges through a cross-sectoral approach that embeds social and environmental values into our economy has set the stage for the next leg in my quest to do good. Over the last two years, I have been able to contribute to the efforts to build a local social enterprise and social finance movement with community and leaders.

We are working away on the new VERGE Capital Fund with a team of advisors and analysts.  With the support of the Government of Ontario, we have added two team members to our Social Enterprise and Social Finance team focused on regional partnerships across Southwestern Ontario and local SE coaching and programming.  Combined with the opening of Innovation Works as the home for social innovation and Pillar’s roots in the community as an organization that connects for community impact - It’s an exciting time with an energized team! I am fortunate that my journey has led me to this environment that supports continued learning and a team that embraces the lessons I have learned during my Residency.

Final thoughts...
In my own mind, I always think we are heading towards a utopian society like Star Trek vs a dystopian society like the Matrix.  I am an optimist, and have often been characterized as a romantic.  Now with social innovation tools, resources and allies, I feel like an emerging skilled social innovator with an ability to influence our world for the better.

“Systems change is ambitious; incremental or small change is realistic. Help create conditions for next change, and remember no individual creates change.”
- Advice from Tim Draimin, Executive Director of Social Innovation Generation

Here I go, learning so much as I go along. I am in a continual state of developmental evaluation, reinforcing that we need to learn as we do. We work to embed this practice into our work to be prepared to adapt on the go - similar to a lean startup model.

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Photo: Climbed Sleeping Buffalo mountain for many sunrises - this image illustrates my social innovation journey was supported by nature, peers and desire to be authentically curious with myself.

In this post-colonial and post-modern world, it is time for our generation (regardless of age) to deconstruct old paradigms and rebuild from humanity’s ancient wisdom alongside heightened awareness of Earth. With the power and privileges we wield or lack, we can disrupt our current systems to value an inclusive society and sustainable Earth.

In this pursuit, we act as entrepreneurs, we have always been entrepreneurs.  Society has made us believe we are “labour” yet for humans to have survived this long and grow this fast, we needed to be inventive, creative, curious and bold.  On the other side of this Residency, I believe I AM a systems entrepreneur and prepared to live my purpose through my work.

Andre Vashist
Director, Social Enterprise & Social Finance

Article type: 
Blog entry
News Topic: 
Professional Development
Social Enterprise
Social Finance
Social Innovation

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