• This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

SIX Global Council Ideas for the Future: A new mission for universities?

October 31, 2017

NOTE: This article was originally published on July 2, 2015 on the Social Innovation Exchange website, and has been cross-posted with permission.This article is part of the SIX Global Council series on Ideas for the Future.


Universities’ defined mission has in recent decades been founded on a combination of three intrinsic elements: teaching, research and what has loosely been called knowledge exchange, the process by which universities innovate and externalize the knowledge that they generate. This latter element traditionally involves a combination of various processes including intellectual property management, spin-off creation, licensing, access to funding, entrepreneurship and consultancy. It depends on a supply chain that ‘is multi‐dimensional, it has to be sustainable, and it has to have quality, strength and resilience. These attributes can only be secured through close collaboration, partnership and understanding between business and universities.’ (
Wilson Review “A Review of Business-University Collaboration” – 2012). But if this is how universities orthodoxly support innovation, how do we support social innovation? Can universities do more to support social innovators and is there a way of structuring this support to make it more effective? Universities have certainly begun to adopt the terminology and embed it within their teaching and research programmes but how much is social innovation considered part of the third mission of universities, or should there be a fourth mission defined at an institutional level?

Back in 2010 the study on Social Innovation prepared by SIX and the
Young Foundation for the Bureau of European Policy Advisors underlined the problem: “Civil society and the grant economy have long been rich sources of social innovation, but they are not well-placed to develop rigorous methods for innovation, lack R&D capacity, and find it hard to spread risk.” The report categorized four key barriers to social innovation: Access to finance; Scaling models; Skills and formation; Networks and intermediaries. Clearly, universities represent ideal partners to help break down or at least mitigate against many of these barriers. Most importantly, they can serve as intermediaries between the subversive nature of SI and its need for institutional and political recognition. They can provide appropriate R&D for robust, empirical evaluations of the effectiveness of SI, offering an understanding of what can accelerate and scale-up SI, beyond the anecdotal. Just as technical expertise in specialized areas can support commercial businesses and give them the means to help grow and expand, the same technical expertise can be offered to social innovators. But in addition to this, Universities are providers of a range of logistical support to their community that can provide real added value to SI: through the exploitation of their tacit and codified knowledge (including Open Access); through capacity building, mentoring and training; through the use of specialized equipment; through the provision of real and virtual spaces for networking, hot-desking or more formal incubation facilities; through selection and evaluation expertise; through lobbying. Just as social innovation has existed as an ill-defined, undervalued phenomenon for decades, universities have always supported civil society through a variety of activities without necessarily being able to categorize them under a unified terminology. However, I believe there are two interrelated, fundamental characteristics of university support for social innovation that need to change: i) social innovation support activities tend to be ad hoc and largely altruistic, universities have not recognized or systemized a process to measure the social return on investment; ii) as a result, while commercial innovation is recognized and institutionally supported by well-established knowledge transfer offices, there is no professional support function within universities for supporting social innovation.

Nesting Social Innovation

“What does social innovation mean?”
“Is my work called social innovation?”
“Is that social innovation?”

These types of questions are asked all the time, showing that definitions for promising ideas can be very useful, but also alienating. Too often, they come across as a value judgment, privileging some ideas and actions over others. But what if it’s not really a competition? More than any one individual piece of work, it might be even more important to consider the relationships between them. There is something about the interconnections between intention, involvement, invention and innovation that are central to social innovation.

I AM NOT A FOUNDER

Note: This piece was originally published on SoJo Stories. It has been posted here with permission from the author.


I am not a Founder. There I said it. If you’re so inclined you can stop reading now. Step away and click on the next story of budding genius and flashes of brilliance.


The Founder story is everywhere. Founders are mythologized and worshipped, even if all they do is start something. You might be thinking: “All they do is start something! Do you know how hard it is to start something?!!” Yes. Yes I do. And I have the utmost respect for it. But sometimes it seems like all we talk about is the glorious startup story, and not the perseverance and intelligence it takes to follow through to become successful. If we keep telling such one sided stories and we’re not careful, pretty soon we’ll find ourselves in a situation where nine out of every ten startups fail. Oh wait.

I am not a Founder, but I am the CEO of a startup. It wasn’t my idea. I could tell you a story of how the idea came to me, but I won’t because that would be lying. It’s a great idea, nonetheless, and one I found so compelling I was willing to quit my job – my big, well paying, government job – to work on it. More on that part in a minute.

I’m not much of a dreamer. I don’t like blank canvases. I was never the creative type who would paint vivid word pictures of grand dreams about the future. I’m not a fan of that kind of thinking — in fact, in my previous life as political advisor, a big part of my job was to protect my boss from getting swept up in that sort of thing. I’m the kind of person who would rather spend my time planning than dreaming. And while I’ve found some others like me, everyday I spend in startup world makes it clear that we’re the minority.

Or at least it feels that way. No one seems to be interested in what the second hire has to say. Or the third. Or the fourth. But everyone wants to hear from the Founder, hoping perhaps that if we hear enough founding stories, the genius will rub off on us.

What is the civic intelligence of your university or college?

A couple of years ago, Forbes Magazine and other news outlets reported on the “Smartest Colleges” in the United States. The brain training company Lumosity announced that MIT was smartest, followed by Harvard and Stanford, based on how well students had performed on a battery of online puzzles.

Many of my students (and I) suspected that this focus on “smartness” received more attention than it deserves. Although puzzle solving may be a reasonable indicator of success for certain occupations, such as computer programming, it’s not necessarily a good measure of whether a person will make a good citizen.

​The Future of City Building: Sharing the city-campus hub worldwide

Creating a classroom of the future — a sustainable future — was already a key area of focus for both Dr. Janet Moore and Duane Elverum, but it was in response to the City of Vancouver’s public consultation to become the greenest city in the world in 2010 that Moore and Elverum set out on a journey to change the landscape of undergraduate education in Vancouver.

In the six years since launching CityStudio, this model for city-campus hubs has received tremendous interest worldwide. It has been adopted in six cities across Canada and the United States and is being considered by a dozen more following two successful conferences to share the art of collaborative city-building.

What the Data Say About Women in Early Stage Entrepreneurship

NOTE: This article was originally published on the Unreasonable website, and has been cross-posted with permission.

Sean Peters is the Program Director of the Entrepreneurship Database, based out of Emory University in Atlanta. The database partners with accelerators around the world to help them measure the impact they have on the entrepreneurs they support. This blog accompanies their recent gender brief and highlights some key insights on women and early stage entrepreneurship.


At Unreasonable Group, we have a hypothesis that across markets, companies outperform other players in the market when they have more women in senior leadership and on their board of directors. And yet, these same companies seem to struggle in raising investment dollars relative to companies with more men on their teams. To this end, we have two questions: Do new ventures with women on their founding teams outperform their peers? And if a team has more women in roles of leadership, are they more or less likely to raise equity?

Earlier this year, we asked the Entrepreneurship Database program at Emory University if they had answers to these questions. Check out Program Director Sean Peters answer below.


We hear frequently that it is harder for
female entrepreneurs to raise money. We also hear (from organizations like the Girl Effect Accelerator, 10,000 Women (Goldman Sachs), 5by20 (Coca-Cola), Value for Women, and WeConnect International) that mixed-gender or female-led teams are generally stronger and under-recognized versus the all-male teams that typically get funding.

“Founding teams with women on them tend to have higher revenues than all-male teams.”


So, is it true? Do the statistics back this up?

Over the past two years, we have been gathering information from entrepreneurs around the world who apply to dozens of accelerator programs we partner with. We then track the data from all of these ventures over time to try to answer these kinds of questions. Although we don’t have all of the answers yet, here’s what we’re seeing so far.

1. Mixed teams do better than all-male teams

Looking at data from 2,352 ventures with an average age of just over a year, we see that founding teams with women on them tend to have higher revenues than all-male teams. Mixed teams with a male lead entrepreneur tend to have a slightly higher bump than mixed teams with a female entrepreneur. But regardless of who’s the lead entrepreneur, these mixed-gender teams do better than the all-male teams. We see similar trend lines in tracking number of employees.

How Startups are Prototyping The Future of Business on Fogo Island

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.

How to grow your institution’s innovation and entrepreneurship ecosystem

Leaders can also be followers

Student Learns Leaders Can Follow

“I always thought you had to start your own project to make a difference in the world, but I realized that if someone else is doing something meaningful and effective, contributing your passions to that may lead to greater results “- Carly Sotas, Author of Illusion

Already a published author,
Carly Sotas is a great example of how Canadian students are creating social impact through equal parts collaboration, inspiration from others, and a deep-seated drive to make a difference.

RECODE STORIES:

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.

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