Five years ago, the term social innovation was rare. Even those who used it struggled to define it, and leading thinkers weren’t sure how to describe it beyond “knowing it when they saw it”.

Today, Canada is making its mark in the world of social innovation and has introduced many first-of-their-kind ideas. I’ve chosen three of my favourite innovations to share with you.

The application of social innovation

Social innovation is not new—we’ve been improving society with our ideas for centuries. It’s the application of ideas that is changing: the significance of forming ideas through collaboration and importance of putting these ideas into action. Today, these ideas are beginning to catalyzing change.

Canadian innovation in action

Canada is the home of number of fantastic initiatives, including:

Investing in the disabled – the RDSP

A Canadian program that provides grants and bonds for disabled individuals, an RDSP works much like the familiar RRSP. The main exception? RDSPs offer greater return than an RRSP—up to a triple return on investment. For every $1 invested by an individual, the Canadian government will match up to $3.

The RDSP began in 2008 and is run by Planned Lifetime Advocacy Network (PLAN), a Vancouver-based organization that aims to secure the future of individuals living with disabilities.

Setting policy through open public participation – the wiki way

Canadian governments have also recognized the need for and value of social innovation. On a provincial level, the Government of Ontario has taken a lead in actively facilitating the implementation of social innovation behaviour. At the recent Social Innovation Summit, held in May 2011, the Honourable Glen Murray, Minister of Research and Innovation, enthusiastically announced the launch of the cutting-edge collaborative, open-sourced wiki that would be used to develop a policy framework for social innovation in Ontario.

Through the monitored wiki, citizens from around the world can openly and safely contribute to the development of real public policy. This project is the first of its kind in the world and is currently live at Ontario Social Innovation Wiki.

Strengthening community bonds with … bonds!

Locally, hubs like the Centre for Social Innovation (CSI) in Toronto are other prime examples of Canadian social innovation in action. Catalyzing social innovation through shared community space is CSI’s core mission and purpose.  If this isn’t innovative enough for you, CSI has also tapped into the new space of social finance through the practice of Community Bonds.

These unique bonds allow the community at large to provide a financial loan to CSI and receive financial as well as social returns. The loan is returned with interest, and the community gains from the social innovation progression and ideas formed within the walls of CSI.

Canada has yet to fully understand and harness the powerful potential of social innovation, and countries like England are further along the social innovation curve, but with Ontario and other provinces carving the way for social innovation, Canada is a promising global leader in the space.

Five years ago, people only knew social innovation “when they saw it”. Thanks to Canadian efforts and initiatives, the world is recognizing it sooner and more often.

Oh Canada!

Jaclyn Quinn

Jaclyn is an intern with SiG@MaRS, studying Arts & Sciences at the University of Guelph. She is passionate about integrating multiple perspectives and discovering new ways of seeing ideas. See more…