Entrepreneurship and Social Innovation – Waterloo Learnings

My pre-departure team and I recently ventured off to Waterloo to take advantage of learning opportunities offered by industry leaders outside of EWB. Our first meeting was with the City of Waterloo to learn about the inner-workings of municipal / local government. Influential members, such as Mayor Halloran, Councillor Freeman, Tim Anderson (Chief Administrative Officer), the CFO, Fire Chief and even the city’s development manager took the time to meet with us for the entire morning. I think the meeting really spoke to all of my team members as it focused on stakeholder engagement and the importance of maintaining strong relationships between staff, council and community members for effective decision-making. This was the first political body that I have met with that really expressed value in knowing citizen needs/opinions and were able to provide us with specific tips and tricks in trust building for stakeholder involvement. Since I will be working in the public sector and I will need to use different strategies to engage community members to leverage their interests around agriculture, I found the meeting to be particular insightful.

Working in the Council Chambers at the City of Waterloo

We also met with several other industry leaders such as, Communitech; Waterloo’s Centre for Business, Entrepreneurship and Technology; Capacity Waterloo Region; Social Innovation Generation Waterloo; and the infamous Larry Smith, an applied economist working from of the University of Waterloo. As we practiced being sponges for two days, soaking in all the knowledge being handed to us, a common theme arose throughout every meeting that really got my wheels turning. When relating our African Programs Staff work across the continent of Africa to what industry leaders are doing, the importance of entrepreneurship and social Innovation really stood out as a common important theme. It was really helpful to clarify terms and gain tools / frameworks for implementation. 

What is Social Innovation?

According to Social Innovation Generation, a social innovation is a process, product or program that significantly changes or disrupts basic routines, resources, authorities and beliefs. A successful social innovation is something that is durable, withstanding challenges and accomplishing broad impact. A resilient social innovation external to or within an institution / organization is one that has the capacity to bring about great change, while maintaining an original identity that is adaptable for future transformations.

What is Entrepreneurship?

According to the wonderful people at Communitech and the economist Larry Smith, entrepreneurship is NOT just about starting a business. It is about the unique attributes in specific, special people who disturb the current system and culture to bring about great change. Consisting of individuals who are unhappy with the way things are, entrepreneurs are constantly asking questions and drawing up ideas of how to bring about needed changes / innovations. Moreover, entrepreneurs’ total motivation is not solely about financial gain / profit, and instead about the satisfaction of doing something.

With both of these concepts relying heavily on partnership building, it really speaks to the work I will be doing in Ghana.  Almost every session this week proposed that finding the talent of entrepreneurs to create social innovations is necessary for role modelling in their communities and creating change. In order to accomplish this you need to search for the right qualities – creativity, stubbornness, drive – and bring these people together to feed off each other’s ideas and skills. This allows me to think about the people I will be working in Ghana with, as well as the people I am currently learning with in Toronto. I believe that entrepreneurial talent / drive exists in every single person on my pre-departure team. What is interesting to realize is that those special characteristics exist in all 10 of us, despite the range of skill sets and experiences across the team.

The personal leanings over my past two days in Waterloo have been immense. I have come to the realization that most people I am working with are strong Constructivists / Adaptive Pluralists, following a paradigm that embodies ideas and practices of reflexivity, continuous learning, values, improvisation, co-evolution and emergence. Despite these similarities, we all exercise and feel most comfortable in different stages of an organization’s development. Some of us are better skilled to generate ideas and brainstorm, others prefer to organize those ideas and put them into practice, and others are ideal for scaling up projects and then breaking the system again to innovate further. Our pre-departure group is an accumulation of strong-willed, determined, and really smart individuals who only together will ensure the best development practices are found and exercised. I am so excited to work with these individuals in Ghana. The energy and drive is enough to move mountains (cost-efficient, accountable, locally driven moving that is).

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