With one of the most accessible post-secondary sectors in the world, it comes as no surprise that various Canadian institutions excel at addressing social issues. From social value purchasing, to civic innovation hubs, there are many examples of institutions going beyond the functions of research and teaching by contributing to and collaborating with community.
However, this institution-community connection is not yet mainstream in Canada, and scaling innovations can be difficult. Furthermore, social challenges, like refugee crises and food insecurity, permeate borders. As do social innovations. What can Canadian institutions learn and apply from exemplary international institutions?
It’s this line of inquiry that led RECODE to partner with UpSocial, a Barcelona-based organization dedicated to implementing and scaling social innovations . We’re interested in seeing what leading post-secondary institutions around the world are doing to more actively contribute to social change, how they’re doing it, and why it’s working. The end goal of the project is to identify two or three promising initiatives to scale or implement in Canada.
Our first step was to consult with numerous Canadian stakeholders to identify the areas where PSE could focus to maximize their contribution to social change. These areas are summarized in the Challenge Brief. Currently, the team is researching proven innovations across the globe that fit within these priorities. Eventually, UpSocial will assist with pilot project implementation or scaling at Canadian institutions.
What have we found so far?
The general agreement is: post-secondaries have a responsibility and opportunity to create further value both on their own campuses and in the immediate communities in which they are embedded. Many Canadian institutions are implementing innovative initiatives, but there are internal barriers that make it difficult for post-secondaries to be fully connected to community. There was broad consensus that institutions could further contribute to social transformation by first shifting internal culture, practices, and structures.
We are therefore researching the following areas:
1) increasing community engagement incentives for institutions, faculty, and leadership teams;
2) improving equity and diversity of staff and governance through retention and promotion strategies; and
3) guaranteeing a healthy and safe environment for everyone on campus, specifically addressing the mental health crisis.
Canadian institutions differ greatly from one another, therefore each project, initiative, and potential solution will have to be adapted to cater to particular geographic, political and cultural contexts. The agenda is certainly aspirational, but we believe Canadian post-secondary institutions are looking to take the next step in contributing to social change.
By learning from successful experiences and the conditions that enabled success, institutions can further transform their own campuses and wider communities, setting worldwide precedents of what higher education institutions can achieve.
Download the Project Brief
 Past examples of their work include the implementation of the Brazilian initiative Apps for Good, a training programme that teaches youth how to develop apps with a social purpose, in Spanish schools.