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RECODE STORIES: Geography at Ryerson: Your Social Innovation Powerhouse

September 2, 2015

by Dr. Claus Rinner

Professor and Chair of the Department of Geography and Environmental Studies at Ryerson University

Originally posted on the GIS2 at Ryerson blog. Cross posted with permission from the author.


Innovation in higher education and scholarly research has always been a hallmark of the Department of Geography and Environmental Studies at Ryerson. Recent faculty and student achievements underline our position as a social innovation powerhouse on campus.

In the competition for “RECODE at Ryerson University” grants, @RyersonGeo faculty are leading three of the eight successful applications. That is 37.5% of these social innovation projects across campus, a proportion even more impressive if you consider the competitive process with eight grants selected among 33 applications, a success rate of only 24%.

With her RECODE grant, Dr. Claire Oswald, in collaboration with Dr. Claus Rinner and 3D printing startup company Think To Thing, plans to use “A 3D elevation model of Toronto watersheds to promote citizen science in urban hydrology and water resources”. Undergraduate students from our Geographic Analysis and Environment and Urban Sustainability programs will help with processing geospatial data to create a tangible model of the Don River watershed.The model is to be used for school and community outreach on pressing urban water issues.

RECODE STORIES: Interview with Travis Clements-Khan

August 22, 2015

by Travis Clements-Khan

CEO @NextGen_Labs; Co-Founder, CEO @Allerzen; HELIXer and SENECA College graduate

Launched in September 2014, Seneca’s HELIX project provides stimulation for the design thinking required to develop innovative personal health products and services by students, and works to foster the entrepreneurial potential of students and of youth in the community at large.


By winning the EuroPITCH2015, Travis Clements-Khan, one of Seneca’s HELIXers, won the right to participate in the European Innovation Academy (EIA) held in Nice, France. The EIA is a 15-day startup weekend on steroids. There are 500+ students, from 65 different countries that participate. Students come from institutions such as London Business School, Stanford University, Oxford University, UC Berkeley, and Cambridge University — Seneca being the only participating Canadian College.

At the EIA, Travis pitched a complementary idea to his hand held allergy detection tool, Aller(tec), which he works on at HELIX. The idea? allerZEN — a social platform for food allergy sufferers to connect. It would allow them to scan barcodes off food items and alert the user to allergens, as well as allow users to review and find restaurants that offer allergen free dishes.

His idea was selected as one of 80 companies to be developed during the academy. Travis and his international team of co-founders developed the app over the 15 days of the European Innovation Academy. At the end of the Academy they competed against the other 79 companies and placed in the top 15.

Below, Travis answers a few of our burning questions on how this all came about:

Competition Makes us Faster. Collaboration Makes us Better

August 21, 2015

by Tom Ebeyer

Co-founder and Project Lead, RECODE Collaborate

Tom Ebeyer is a Global Studies student at Wilfrid Laurier University and has recently joined the team to work on RECODE Collaborate, a national student engagement initiative designed to foster a collaborative approach to complex problem solving.


“Students can be more in-control of
their education than they know.”
Sir Ken Robinson

The primary goal of post-secondary education is to best prepare young people for their future. Specifically, it is to create effective citizens who can propel our civilization forward, while instilling the skills and mindsets that will be required to tackle the complex global challenges the coming generations are set to inherit. Climate change, poverty, food and water security…the list is seemingly endless.

Developing highly functional global citizens is critical to the planet’s sustainability, but are we accomplishing this goal? The assumption that the traditional, standardized, and highly competitive ‘read, write, memorize, test’ approach to education is apt for students of the 21st century is deserving of a critical review.

How to grow your institution’s innovation and entrepreneurship ecosystem

August 12, 2015

by Victoria Matthew

Co-leader of Epicenter’s Pathways to Innovation Program

Note: This blog post originally appeared on Epicenter’s blog. Reposted here with permission from the author and Epicenter.


Epicenter’s Victoria Matthew shares nine insights she gathered from educators across the country.

Do you ever wonder if there’s some secret sauce you can add to your campus and
voila, you’ve got a fully formed innovation and entrepreneurship (I&E) ecosystem? Recently I had the pleasure of meeting with faculty and administrators from across the country who have decades of experience integrating I&E into engineering education on their campuses: Ray Vito from Georgia Tech, Nathalie Duval-Couetil from Purdue University, Liz Kisenwether from Penn State University, Andy Singer from University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, David Whitney from University of Florida, John Ochs from Lehigh University, Phil Kaminsky from UC Berkeley, Brent Sebold from Arizona State University, and Tom Byers from Stanford University.

As you may have guessed, according to these educators the “secret sauce” perfect solution doesn’t exist. Every school is unique; a technique that may be successful at one school may not be as effective at another. However, the group did identify nine key things everyone can do to help spread I&E on your campus:

Identify and empower faculty champions

Many successful programs begin with an inspired and charismatic faculty champion. Empower and celebrate your current champions, and identify new ones. The discipline they come from isn’t as important as the passion, energy and charisma they bring; the more disciplines and diverse backgrounds involved, the better.

(Not) Just Semantics

August 10, 2015

by Danica Straith

Social Innovation Fellow

As RECODE comes to the end of its first year and we start to think about the fall semester, we are taking time to reflect on national strategies for engaging the wider RECODE network into something larger than the sum of its parts.

One theme surfacing from conversations with our various stakeholders is the contested terrain of language. Whether we intend it or not, invariably, there is a lot of meaning attributed to the words we use. This can be problematic when terms such as social innovation and social entrepreneurship do not have agreed upon meanings.

In the true spirit of our work, the challenge we face with maintaining the complexity of the language is also the creative tension necessary to further our collective efforts.

It may be a good time now to hit the pause button and round out these terms from different angles to understand how they have been used, in what contexts, and where they could grab people and where they could rub people the wrong way. In doing so, I hope we can understand how the language has evolved over time, picked up new meanings, associations, and facades, to allow for more sophistication and precision when using them going forward. In the true spirit of our work, the challenge we face with maintaining the complexity of the language is also the creative tension necessary to further our collective efforts.

How Startups are Prototyping The Future of Business on Fogo Island

August 5, 2015

by Vinod Rajasekaran

The HUB

NOTE: This article was originally published on July 30, 2015 on the SiG blog, and has been cross-posted with permission from SiG.


Uncovering the keys to resilience in one of Canada’s oldest communities

A social entrepreneur, an artist, and a fisherman walk into a bar. It sounds like the start of a bad joke, but it’s not. These days, collaborations are vital to mesh old ways of knowing with new ways of business – one that holds community resilience and prosperity at its core. Social entrepreneurship has become one of the fastest growing sectors worldwide and we’re just beginning to see the potential here in Canada. This new frontier of business lies in our ability to collaborate, support impact-driven enterprises, and combine our country’s diverse assets.

So, what does a more purposeful approach to capitalism look like? Some of the answers may be found in the unlikeliest of areas – the remote coastal community of Fogo Island, Newfoundland, for example. A recent visit uncovered a new economic model that may hold learnings for communities everywhere.

My journey to Fogo began with an invitation from Shorefast Foundation, a Canadian charity building a new model for economic and cultural resilience to experience a bold new way of doing business that blends a 400-year old hosting and craft culture with reimagining business principles as a force for good.

On Fogo Island, the Shorefast Foundation approach to community revitalization has been to focus on three distinct elements: The development of a geotourism industry, with the construction of the Fogo Island Inn; Fogo Island Arts, an organization that facilitates artistic practice that is local in context and global in scope; and a micro-lending program where entrepreneurs can establish and grow their own small businesses.

In my observation, these Shorefast Foundation startups are going beyond classic business notions of keeping shareholders’ interests top-of-mind, optimizing value chains, protecting intellectual property, growth and scale as paramount aspirations, and so on – and shaking up the startup process. Two contextual pieces seem to form the bedrock of this new way.

Music Entrepreneurship

July 22, 2015

by Milo Johnson

Graduate, McGill University's Jazz Performance program

Milo Johnson is a recent graduate from McGill University’s Jazz Performance program. Just this past year, Milo incorporated his nine-person electrosoul/hip-hop band—Busty and the Bass, named “Canada’s top university band” by the CBC in 2014—as a registered business. In this post, Milo reflects on how interdisciplinary coursework in social entrepreneurship and innovation heightened his capacity for success as a musician during and after university.


As a student in McGill’s Jazz Performance program, I was immersed in an environment that heavily emphasized practice and study. Curriculum relied on classroom-based learning and focused on the academic side of musicianship, leaving us to navigate the realities of the music industry on our own.

For me and many of my peers, this resulted in an overwhelming feeling of uncertainty, so much so that most people chose not to think or talk about life after graduation. I understood that business skills were important in making a living as a musician, but to me “business” meant the pop world.

I began to understand that honing my
business skills did not mean selling out;
it meant paying rent.

Real Talk with Ryan Little from the BMW Foundation: Expert Tips for Social Entrepreneurs

July 20, 2015

by Ryan Little

Project Manager, BMW Foundation; Co-Founder, CanadaHelps

NOTE: This article was originally published on July 14, 2015 on The Changer blog. It has been cross-posted with permission from The Changer.


These videos are presented in collaboration with the Alexander von Humboldt Institute for Internet and Society (HIIG).

Ryan Little is a seasoned social and environmental entrepreneur, Project Manager at the BMW Foundation, and co-founder of the Canadian charitable giving platform, CanadaHelps, the country’s national resource for online giving, capacity building, and social media best practices. The organization has facilitated over $600 million in donations since its establishment in 2000. At the BMW Foundation, Little heads the venture philanthropy and social entrepreneurship initiatives, does extensive across-organization advising, and coordinates for social startups at the German Startups Association.

In these videos, you’ll find Ryan’s personal tips and tricks for creating and sustaining a viable social business, from securing funding for your venture to forecasting trends in social entrepreneurship and responding appropriately to the ever-shifting landscape of the social sector. Watch and learn!

1. How to Get Funding for Your Social Business

In this video, Ryan offers valuable tips on pitching to investors and fundraising for your social business. He emphasizes that it is essential to have a clear and succinct story that focuses on your unique solution to a problem and lays out why you are the right person for the job. For more insider tips, watch the video.

Pollinating systems change in higher education through evaluation

July 15, 2015

by Chad Lubelsky

The J.W. McConnell Family Foundation

This is an exciting time for RECODE—as the work on campuses across Canada continues to ramp up, we are developing ways in which we can effectively evaluate and measure the impact of this work. Our guiding question has been “what will success look like?”. To help us answer it, we have developed anticipated desired outcomes, but we also recognize there will be many unknowns. RECODE is working within a broader system of higher education that is also complex; accordingly, our evaluation framework has to be designed and adapted in consequence.

Tim Draimin, Social Innovation Generation‘s Executive Director, recently suggested that I read The Rainforest: The Secret to Building the Next Silicon Valley. The book explores the role of human nature and human networks in creating change and innovation, positing that to truly affect change we need to better understand the role of ‘keystones’. In biological systems, whether a rainforest or an ocean, keystone species often act as central supporting hubs. They interact in so many valuable ways with so many other parts of the ecosystem, that their presence has a disproportionate impact on the system (pg. 70). Think of the role of the pollinating bee in our food system, and you’ll get an idea of the importance of keystone species.

Introducing the RECODE Blog!

July 7, 2015

by Danica Straith

Social Innovation Fellow

As we pass the six month mark of RECODE, we are seeing the emergence of stories, learnings, and stumbling blocks that need to be shared with the larger community. With this in mind, we are launching the RECODE blog to serve as one of the many pathways to engage the national RECODE network and interested stakeholders, to generate, diffuse, and deepen our collective efforts.

This blog will serve as a conversation starter and platform to illuminate the journey of fueling social innovation and entrepreneurship in higher education in Canada. This may include storytelling from our institutional champions and partners, community impact learnings, or sharing a breakthrough model for financing emerging social innovations on campus.

Featured Posts

  1. Building Reconciliation Forum 2017: 3 Lessons Learned

    by Jennifer Gammad Lockerby

  2. Building upon small things that make a difference in our community

    by David Sylvester

  3. Canadian post-secondary changemakers are thriving

    by Danica Straith

  4. Is there a Canadian Approach to Knowledge Democracy?
  5. New Brunswick Student Brings Sustainable Energy to Cameroon
  6. Truth and Reconciliation