Social innovation needs funding: expert
Non-profit group calls for 3 reforms to spur action
Last Updated: Friday, September 24, 2010 | 4:06 AM ET
By Daniel McHardie, CBC News
Social innovation must turn into a top priority for the next New Brunswick government if the province is going to tackle its most pressing problems, an expert says.
Tim Coates, executive director of 21inc., said the importance of spurring social innovation in New Brunswick has been ignored during the provincial election campaign.
"Given the convergence of challenges facing New Brunswick — from poverty and illiteracy to demographic shifts and limited economic opportunities — whoever forms our next government should make the province fertile ground for social innovation," Coates said.
"Moreover, with the era of constrained public spending upon us, social innovation can increase our impact against these challenges eve with limited resources."
Coates's organization, 21inc., is a non-profit organization that designed to encourage more young Atlantic Canadian entrepreneurs, said there are three policy changes a new government could implement to push the social innovation agenda forward:
- Setting up a New Brunswick Social Innovation Foundation.
- Mandating departments to invest one per cent of their budgets in social innovation.
- Challenging fundraising efforts by matching funds over a specific threshold.
The Harlem, N.Y.,-based Baby College is one example Coates cited as an innovative program that is helping address a social problem.
The initiative, which is run by the Harlem Children’s Zone, is intended to help children read. The program starts with parents before their children are born and stays with them until after the child until the child turns three.
Coates said 81 per cent of parents who attended Baby College now read to their children more often. And all of the children who participated in the program were reading at or higher than their grade levels.
Social innovation foundation
The social innovation foundation would be tasked with helping fund and grow groups that are trying to improve society through new initiatives.
The foundation should be independent and it could take the place of the province's Community Non-profit Organizations' Secretariat, Coates writes.
Another role for the social innovation foundation would be to ignite more government transformation, he said.
Coates said there are always legitimate concerns with accountability and is biased toward projects with "known outcomes."
But he said with social innovation there is some "experimentation" and "uncertainty."
Coates is also recommending the innovation foundation take a concept from the New Brunswick Innovation Foundation, which works with other levels of government, universities and the private sector to fund innovative projects.
He said a system of "challenge grants" should be established so if a non-profit group can raise a specific amount of money, the foundation would match that amount.
"Challenge grants would also signal to other stakeholders that this organization has the NBSIF seal of approval for its ability to make an impact," he writes.
The New Brunswick government could also be a leader in social innovation by funding it, Coates writes.
The Center for American Progress has proposed that each U.S. department set aside one per cent of its budget to be channeled into a social innovation fund.
Coates said a similar proposal would work in New Brunswick.
"The fund would be used to support innovation initiatives both inside and outside government," Coates writes.