Social Innovation Generation

Collaborative partnership founded by the McConnell Foundation, the University of Waterloo, the MaRS Discovery District, and the PLAN Institute.
The SiG ultimate goal was to support whole system change through changing the broader economic, cultural and policy context in Canada to allow social innovations to flourish.
What solution does the innovation propose?

SiG’s founding partners could see that Canada’s social innovations demonstrated significant scale of impact, but too many remained orphaned individual social innovations struggling to move past their successful proof of concept stage.

This challenge, how to accelerate the successful scaled deployment of proven and powerful social innovations, was the catalyst for McConnell to co-found the SiG experiment. Building on advisers’ insights, the foundation hypothesized that by stimulating a vital, multi-faceted enabling ecosystem for social innovation, new innovations could be nurtured and proven innovations would flourish, thereby improving social and ecological well-being across Canada.

The McConnell Foundation envisaged two things for SiG:

  • Firstly, that four partners working separately could empower individual innovators, passionate amateurs and institutions by creating targeted knowl-edge products, educational services and support platforms focused on social innovation;
  • Secondly, that these partners could collaborate for bigger changes, such as catalyzing a social finance capital marketplace in Canada, advocating for social-innovation-friendly policies, or building and empowering cross-sector networks.

Between 2007 and 2017, SiG’s partners worked towards the creation of this enabling ecosystem. The partnership concluded when a thoughtful evaluation revealed a more robust and diversified ecosystem, more than capable of ongoing growth.

  • More than 400 people gathered at MaRS Discovery District in Toronto to celebrate the SiG Sunset and pay tribute to a decade of work fostering a culture of continuous Canadian social innovation (November 28, 2017).
  • Supplement in the Winter 2018 issue of the Stanford Social Innovation Review. 

Impact evidence

  • The video 'What is social innovation?' received more than 80,000 views and it has been translated into French, Spanish and Chinese.  
  • Launched in 2013, the SiG Knowledge Hub provides educational tools and resources freely on 12 key elements in the social innovation ecosystem.
  • The Primer on Social Innovation A Compendium of Definitions Developed by Organizations Around the World is ranked higher than 84% of materials on
  • The Task Force on Social Finance Report, Mobilizing Private Capital for Public Good (2010) was cited in the 2011 Speech from the Throne. The Throne Speech opens every new session of Canadian Parliament and introduces the government’s direction and goals, and outlines how it will work to achieve them.
  • Subsequent work on Social Finance and Impact Investing catalyzed by SiG resulted in the 2017 launch of the Government of Canada’s $755M Social Finance Fund.
  • In June 2017, the Government of Canada created a Social Innovation and Social Finance Strategy Co-Creation Steering Group, primarily comprised of experts from the charitable and non-profit sector, including two SiG Directors, to provide recommendations on the development of a social innovation and social finance strategy.  The 'Inclusive innovation: New ideas and new partnerships for stronger communities' report was delivered by this group.
  • Earlier SiG partnership and policy engagement work in the Province of Alberta had resulted in the provincial government’s launch of a $1Billion Social Innovation Endowment. A successor government later cancelled the Endowment, but the announcement catalyzed significant ecosystem activity in the direction of positive social impact.
How does it work?

SiG recognized that streamlining into silos not only does not work, but further entrenches problems. SiG was an attempt to move beyond being individual actors, where the impact was more than the sum of the parts. As one of the five partnership offices working toward the realization of that vision, SiG National played its part fostering the mindset, relationships and practices envisioned by SiG partnership. The National office was also critical to the administration, communication and stewardship of the four partners’ work - essentially providing the backbone function in service of the whole.

There was a definite coalescence around developing a social finance marketplace, the championship of an ecosystem for social entrepreneurship and the development and diffusion of social innovation knowledge.

SiG worked on a number of initiatives to engage all stakeholders, from high-profile multi-sector events, to media development, to knowledge dissemination through social technology.  

One key area of interest was the development of open source social innovation curriculum that could be applied at various stages of learning, finally delivered as the Graduate Diploma in Social Innovation through the University of Waterloo.

Development of a more robust social finance sector required dialogue with the private and non-profit sector and through regulatory change at the government level. SiG’s secretariat role in the creation of the Canadian Task Force of Social Finance was followed by the launch and ongoing ecosystem stewardship by the MaRS Centre for Impact Investing.

The SiG partnership was involved in other initiatives, such as: the development of Lab models across Canada, the SiG Knowledge Hub, Innoweave, Social R&D,  Entrepreneurship 101 @ MaRS, the Innovation Leadership Program, the Rockefeller Foundation Global Fellowship in Social Innovation, the Studio [Y] Fellowship @ MaRS. 

Geographical scope

Where was initially developed
Where has been implemented so far
Aspects and networks were transferred to the province of Alberta and then Canada.
Last updated: 
September 2020