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Canadian post-secondary changemakers are thriving

by Danica Straith Director, Venture & Strategic Partnerships, Ashoka Canada

Let’s take a moment to celebrate our collective wins, shall we?
Back in October, two things happened that represent small but meaningful victories in the Canadian higher education landscape, especially as they relate to building a culture of social innovation and changemaking.
#1: Canada has the highest per capita leadership representation at the 2018 Ashoka U Exchange.
The Exchange is one of the largest international gatherings to learn and share leading practices for embedding social innovation in higher education. Last week, the Ashoka U Exchange Team shared some exciting statistics. Firstly, in its 8th year, applications from last year grew from 180 to 300. In just one year, we nearly doubled the number of changemakers wishing to contribute to best practice conversations, workshops, and new idea talks around social change in higher education.
Secondly, of those 300 presentation submissions, 10% were from Canadian institutions.  Other than the US, no other country came close to that level of representation. But what’s most interesting, is that when you adjust for our relatively small population size, and number of post-secondary institutions, Canada is number one. With respect to tipping the system, this signals a high proportion of intrapreneurs working together to change a national context.
Person's hand holds a red maple leaf up to the sky.
#2: New spotlight on social innovation in our most influential university ranking publication.
Last week, the national ranking system for Canadian students and parents – Macleans Magazine – listed its top comprehensive universities for 2018. The comprehensive university ranking category recognizes institutions with a significant degree of research activity and a wide range of programs at the undergraduate and graduate levels, including professional degrees.
Simon Fraser University came in first as the top comprehensive university. Congrats SFU on the well-deserved recognition!
What’s notable is the language in the article. Macleans’ write up focussed on SFU’s social impact and social innovation strength as justifications for being a top comprehensive university.
The article celebrates SFU researchers and their excellence in producing research with impact on real-world problems. Compared to the more traditional conversation around research citations and publication stats, this is a significant shift. The article went on to highlight how SFU is acclaimed for social innovation and is a designated Ashoka U Changemaker campus, with reference to CityStudio Vancouver as an excellent model for social innovation education. The article wrapped up by showcasing SFU’s leadership in sustainability planning, LEED accredited buildings, zero-waste initiatives and community engagement.
The recognition of SFU’s leadership in social innovation means that it is on the radar of our nation’s most influential ranking system and that our collective work is seeping into the public dialogue. When we talk about “shifting the narrative” for system change, this is what we mean.
While there is still a ways to go to ensure that the Canadian higher education system is positioned to better address 21st century educational needs, social relevance and impact, we can be sure that the collective efforts of the last several years are starting to pay off. Congratulations to this growing changemaking community – SFU, RECODE and its changemaking grantees, the Ashoka U campus community, RBC Youth Strategy and Bombardier Foundation- for your collaborative field building success.
To many more!
Interested in joining the Canadian delegation at the Ashoka U Exchange?  Registration is open. 
Want to continue the conversation? Feel free to reach out to Danica Straith @

Nov 6, 2017 | Tags: ,