Social Innovation - A Personal Reflection

Last year, I took part for the first time in the Social Innovation Challenge hosted by the United Church of Canada – Edge at the Cochrane Centre. The Social Innovation Challenge is a gathering that inspires local social innovators to collaborate and launch social ideas with mentors to help them fine-tune their ideas and pitch. I was not looking forward to it at all as I was giving up not only Friday night but all Saturday as well. Weekends are precious and busy with everything from household chores to driving kids to activities. It’s just SO busy. I went off with the saddest face you can picture to be losing my weekend but it wasn’t for long.

“ I absolutely loved the whole challenge, it was inspiring from the time it started until it finished.”


This year I could not wait to attend. It was at the First Light Centre (formerly Cochrane Centre) and delivered by the United Church, the Centre for Social Enterprise, First Light, Metro Business Opportunities and CBC. I knew it was going to be awesome, and once again it did not disappoint. It was even better than last year, if you can believe that. I loved it. This year, 12 passionate people pitched 12 social enterprise ideas and what a job they did. In case you are wondering, Social Enterprises are businesses that generate not only revenue but have a social, cultural, community economic and/or environmental purpose. They do amazing work every day and employ their clientele giving them valuable work experience, that they may not have been able to get otherwise. They are making a big impact in our community.

I love the Social Innovation Challenge as I love listening to the participant’s passion, commitment and desire for change. They want to make a difference in our community. I wish I could bottle that drive and pour it out when times are more challenging when you wonder why you do what you do.

I loved hearing the different ideas and boy were they ever different. Having a dialysis machine that calculates patients’ liquids throughout the day; another that helps track supplies and people during world disasters; still another that grows the food and then sells homemade soup, or clothing that is friendly for people with disabilities. These are just some of the ideas that were pitched for social innovation. I was so impressed with their desire to learn, to help and to be better citizens of this world. I cannot wait to see some of them take their idea and grow it into a social enterprise. These participants are going to make a difference, because they want too.

Last year, I was a judge, this year a mentor, both very different roles and yet not really. You have to prepare participants to know who their target market is, how to price their product/service, how much money they need to start, and where they are going to get it. In addition, you have to prepare the participants that they may want to help the environment but they also have to pay the bills and operate a viable business. I loved hearing the participants pitch their idea for a minute and then for the rest of the day work with them to fine tune the next one. Six mentors and myself helped them throughout the day so their second pitch for 2 minutes gave them a chance to win $1,500. While not a lot of money, it can make a difference for what they want. The participants are all so passionate and willing to learn from you. They want to succeed and you want to help them.

This year I could not stay for the final pitches as my daughter had a dance competition and I left so sad. I so loved the event that I did not want to leave without seeing it through. I am so thankful to Joshua Fernandez, EDGE Event and Communications Manager for allowing me to be part of this event. I enjoyed working with Breannah and her team at First Light, Hannah at the Centre for Social Enterprise, Joshua and Rob from the EDGE and all the other mentors to make this a great event for the participants and the spectators, I think we all made a pretty great team.

Social Enterprise is about working together to overcome challenges and I believe that we definitely succeeded in this for the Social Innovation Challenge. It truly is an inspiration to be part of it. It gives me hope that we can make this world a better place. All of these inspiring people and partnerships can only make us a stronger community.

If you have never taken part in a Social Innovation Challenge before, put it on your to do list for next year. It happens every year during Innovation week. Make it happen, it truly opens your eyes to think outside the box, to help our community and to help others succeed. It inspires you to want to help make this world a better place. It truly makes you want to be better!

Bernadette Coady, Social Enterprise Coordinator