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How Social Innovation is Emerging Across Canadian Campuses

by Miles DePaul & Sean Campbell Co-directors of Scaled Purpose

We all want to create a fertile environment for those with creative and ambitious ideas that address a social or environmental challenge near and dear to their heart.

How we get there is the question most campuses across Canada are facing, and where to begin is the question many are asking today. Do we focus on courses and providing a foundation of knowledge for students to thrive? Do we focus on extracurriculars with student clubs, pitch competitions, and conferences? Do we focus on certain students, within specific departments or open our social impact programming up to any and all students interested?
Over the past 6 months, we had the opportunity to work with
Mount Royal University (MRU)’s Institute for Community Prosperity in Calgary to answer these questions in the recently released report, Where to Begin: How social innovation is emerging across Canadian campuses.

Where to Begin offers a deep dive into models of social innovation hubs across North America. The report helps to inform a comprehensive strategy for campuses like MRU and comparable community-based programs. We conducted a wide scan of programs and their offerings across campuses in Canada and the United States, and then dove deeper into interviews with 8 campuses to get at the heart of why certain programs have worked, and where we can learn from failures. A full outline of our findings can be found in the report, but from a high-level, here is what we found:
No Shortage of Models to Study: Out of 114 North American English-speaking post-secondary institutions reviewed, 36 have social entrepreneurship & innovation programming, including 15 in Canada.
Programs Fall Into Four Archetypes: (1) Student Leading relies on course-based learning and the primacy of student education; (2) Venture Creation programming is specifically designed to generate functioning social enterprises; (3) Impact Area or Methodology directs students towards solving one specific type of problem or use a specific methodological approach (e.g. food security); and (4) Systemic Change is a rare, though emerging, approach which focuses on wider problems through social innovation lab-style programming and community integration.
Establish a Strong Foundation: Many interviewees pointed to the necessity to establish a strong foundation of support before developing seemingly higher-impact programs. Practitioners recommend developing a strong core of (1) mentorship, (2) coaching and advice, (3) courses, (4) internships, (5) pitch competitions, (6) shared space, and (7) funding and financing opportunities. This sets the stage for future programming, and allows the program to grow organically.
Revenue Model: Most programs rely on grant or internal university funding. Outliers include Simon Fraser University and the University of British Columbia which have received significant levels of corporate funding, and the University of Waterloo which funds its program in-part through revenues from residence fees of students in its GreenHouse incubator program.
To learn more about the findings and read recommendations for emerging programs, download the full version of
Mount Royal University’s Where to Begin report, and join us for a February 11th RECODE webinar in which Scaled Purpose will discuss the findings. We look forward to hearing your own stories!


Miles DePaul and Sean Campbell are the co-directors of Scaled Purpose Inc., an agency focused on scaling the social and environmental impact of social purpose organizations. They have deep experience in social entrepreneurship and innovation, as founders themselves (Sustainability CoLab, Brothers DePaul Media), and managers within two social enterprise incubators (University of Waterloo’s Greenhouse, School for Social Entrepreneurs Ontario). Mount Royal University commissioned Scaled Purpose to conduct a scan of emerging trends in social entrepreneurship incubators across North American academic institutions.

Feb 5, 2016 | Tags: , , , , ,