Collaboration is the Key to Addressing Canada’s Complex Social Issues

Canadian-Flag-33Canada is emerging as a world leader in creating shared value and cross-sector collaboration, but we need to be less risk averse and be nimble with opportunities if we want to make real headway in the long term. This was the key takeaway from LoyaltyOne’s Shared Value event where over 75 invited guests from business, government, not-for-profit groups and academia passionately discussed the merits of the shared value concept.

So if we are all in vigorous agreement, why isn’t there more happening? AIR MILES for Social Change has been leading in this space for four years and are proud of the innovative partnerships we have achieved, but as a collective we could all do so much more. Canada needs to launch more programs and get these programs to scale quickly. If you ask anyone on the street to talk about a program where they see business and society both benefiting, many people scratch their heads. For true impact, we need to be in the hearts and minds of all Canadians. Creating shared value in a scalable way is the path to get us there.

Rodney Ghali, Acting Director General, Centre of Chronic Disease Prevention, Public health Agency of Canada, and one of the panelists at the event, spoke to the root of what is driving shared value when he said: “Canada’s social programs have served us for decades, but they need to evolve to respond to the complexity of today’s society.” But complex social policy challenges defy single solution approaches developed in isolation. “Governments don’t have all the answers. But there is an amazing pool of talent that exists in Canada. Working across sectors, based on the concept of shared value, is the power to leveraging that talent to the benefit of all.”

But the path to shared value is still being developed and there are challenges. One of the biggest obstacles was addressed by John Brodhead, Executive Director for Evergreen CityWorks: “Canadians are collaborative but we are extremely risk averse. And that could mean that we sometimes get in our own way.”

air-miles-social-change-292x300-apr15aAs a culture, many Canadian organizations have a relentless need for perfection that is hampering our innovative mindset. Organizations need to adopt a true culture of innovation that gives permission for us to try new things and endure occasional failures. We need to move more quickly and replace habits of slow and overly careful planning with fast ‘test-and-learn’ opportunities. Let’s look to social entrepreneurism for our inspiration – social entrepreneurism is exploding around the world and they have strong innovation mindsets, plus the nimbleness to follow through. Canadian business, not-for-profit groups and government need to borrow as much as we can from these social entrepreneurs to enable us to innovate more quickly and more often.

“How do you build a culture where failure is an accepted step to success?” asked Ghali. “For governments, it’s about being smart when it comes to risk. We need to be prudent about first steps in this space. Ensure we’ve done our due diligence and that the payoff is worth the risk.”

We all need a mental shift when it comes to creating shared value. “Companies are taking risks all the time but when there’s an interaction between business and society, we get uncomfortable,” said Justin Bakule, Executive Director, Shared Value Initiative. “Businesses are reticent to talk about what they’re doing. The heart of it is getting companies aligned on what matters most to their business and customers.”

Results from a few daring pilots will soon speak for themselves and then it will become easier for shared value to really take off and reach its potential. “Scale needs to exist to translate into competitiveness for companies,” said Bakule. “Proof of enhanced competitiveness is necessary for businesses to commit.” The good news is that there are already several of these exciting pilots in play now in Canada, and we eagerly await the results so the shared value movement can leverage these stories.”

The world is changing. There are now university faculties for social impact, government offices for social enterprise, and over 10,000 social enterprises in Ontario alone. Lines are blurring between sectors and innovative collaborations are happening more and more every day. And now is the time to dial up the pace. I look forward to a day when there won’t be a difference between business and social business, it will just be what we all do. And it is time for organizations to step up and take the necessary risks associated with adopting shared value. Not just because it is the right thing to do, but also because of the economic and competitive advantage we all stand to win.

This article was originally published on Huffington Post
Angela Simo Brown is the General Manager and Co-Founder of AIR MILES for Social Change (AMSC), a national social venture that offers incentives to all Canadians for making healthier or more environmentally responsible lifestyle choices