We made it to the other side of summer! As Labor Day came to a close last night, I lay in bed restless. We had had the most relaxing weekend and yet I lay awake tossing and turning.
A week ago, I came across a job posting that I just couldn’t ignore. I thought I would never apply for a job again. Let’s just say that I do good work, for as many hours as needed, to get the job done. With all due humility, I am the best employee some of my previous bosses have ever had. To my own detriment. Which is why I eventually started working for myself. If I was going to bring excellence to everything I do, I decided I may as well pour all that good stuff into my own thing. And it has served me well.
But after reading the job opening as Social Innovation Ecosystem Director by the Centre for Social Innovation (CSI) and the Social Innovation Charitable Foundation (SICF), I couldn't shake the feeling that this was a role investigating further. And since I am already in the process of discovering Toronto's social innovation space, I embraced the opportunity to dive deep into what I hope to achieve over the coming months and years here in Canada.
The pro-side: National-Level Collaboration, Inclusivity, Speaking French and a Heart-Felt Hallelujah!
Having been part of Startup Champions Network and working alongside other ecosystem builders through Kauffman Foundation’s EShip Summit, I have lived and breathed the incredible power of collaboration in a non-hierarchical network. Providing people who share a vision with a space to share knowledge, tools, connections, resources is so freakin powerful, it still gives me the chills! We used to joke that we were all part of “Ecosystem Builders Anonymous”, only it wasn’t that far-fetched. Many of the challenges we faced were - if not identical - at least similar across location or industry, and we ourselves were in the driver seat of offering advice in a field that is so nascent it comes without a manual.
I have begun my own explorations into the social innovation space here in Toronto to learn who the key actors are and what the social fabric of the ecosystem looks like (read more here). It’s fair to say that it’s been slow but steady. I would love nothing more than to take these conversations to a national level, in particular to get more insight into
The job description reads that they are trying “to make the hiring process as inclusive as possible” looking for “unusual suspects”. That just makes me want to meet the other applicants! Can you think of a more intriguing dinner party than a bunch of ecosystem builders from all walks of a life with a shared purpose of catalyzing social innovation in Canada?! Exactly.
What I can tell about their process so far is that they have interviewed stakeholders from the social innovation space to assess their needs. Fantastic. I loathe, and I repeat, L.O.A.T.H.E. so-called “solutions” that were dreamed up by some well-meaning bureaucrats and theorists in some office downtown far away from the messy and difficult herding-cats kind of action of ecosystem building. The fact that CSI and SICF consulted with actors within the ecosystem across Canada, across industries, and across subjects on what it is that they need to do their job more effectively speaks volumes to their understanding of human-centered design and co-creating solutions with beneficiaries. I can get behind that.
This next one sounds minor, I know, but sometimes that’s where the magic happens! Every time a convening organization like CSI or Kauffman pays attention to the importance of helping “innovators tell their stories, aggregate their data and drive more resources and energy” towards their work, I want to jump on a chair, throw my hands up in the air and exclaim “Hallelujah!”. If I had to pick one sentence from this job description/proposal that got me pumped up about this role, this is it. I believe that stories are the most powerful tool to not only connect people with the work we do, but to make them see what we see, make them care, and make them act. Stories mobilize the masses. But anecdotes about the little social enterprise cafe around the corner (as noble as it is) aren’t cutting it anymore. Which brings me to my next point:
Equipped with long-term data on outputs and outcomes (and eventually impact) we will be able to
Talking of minor pros and magic: The job description mentions bilingualism as an advantage. And I would love nothing more than to dust off my rusty French and stumble through meetings with my terrible German-English accent!
The Con-side: Also Inclusivity, and Motherhood
I have learned the hard way over the last four years that being “as inclusive as possible” is not good enough. I have come to understand that we need to be radically inclusive in our ecosystem building efforts, and that means going out of our way to seek insights and understanding, and hopefully. Maybe. Somewhere down the line, collaboration with groups within our communities that have not been invited to the table for decades. This is NOT the downside of this job. On the contrary. I have much to grow in that area and this would be a welcome opportunity to do so. Based on my experience in the B Corp world, Kauffman Foundation and very honest conversations during Summits of Startup Champions Network, I know that this road is very long and even rockier. It takes a lot of listening, understanding and reflection - in short a ton of energy - to navigate these muddy waters of creating a truly inclusive and equitable culture in which every participant has the power to speak, and the willingness to listen.
Secondly, I am on maternity leave. Our little Viking turned eight months old on Labor Day and I was committed to fully enjoying at least her first year until she goes off to daycare. One of the entrepreneurs I work with once put it like this: “When your next best alternative to a new client or job is spending time with your children instead of getting on that plane, the stakes for what makes an intriguing offer are very different.” Amen.
And as I lay out all of these pros and cons, I keep coming back to the single most important argument that close to outweighs the negatives and reinforces the positives: The opportunity to create national-level impact. No matter how hard I work, I - by myself - can only do so much. But this role puts whoever ends up filling it into a prime position to really move the needle for ecosystem builders around the country. And how intriguing is that?
Building on a Strong Foundation
How often do you look at your LinkedIn profile and get truly excited about what you see? I keep mine as a running list to remind myself what year I graduated from my masters, but that’s about it. Writing a CV, consequently, was a pretty exciting exercise! To keep it to two pages (do people still do that?), I had to omit a few roles and even worse, had no space to mention any of the fun stuff I got to work on (RVA BiscuitLove, RVA Women’s Day, VCU pre-accelerator, etc.).
But even with the roles that did end up on my CV, my eyes grew wide and my chest proud. I kept checking the dates because it still seems impossible that we launched Unreasonable Lab VA only two years ago, and that RebelleCon was nothing but an ambitious idea this time last year.
Whether I get this role or not, this process has made me realize that I have build a strong foundation. I feel equipped to achieve whatever it is I set my mind to and I know I have the skills and experience to forge ahead. With my intention to help grow and build Toronto’s, or even Canada’s, ecosystem for social entrepreneurs and innovators, the right opportunity to create impact and move the needle is out there waiting to present itself. And I can’t wait to see what that looks like!
If this is your first time here, I assume all that language around social innovation and ecosystem building can be a little... overwhelming. If you're curious to learn more, head over to the Library and check out some of these resources:
Observations from living the life of a Social Venturer