Friday, January 21, 2011

Opening Up to the Future

Today's columnist is Stephen Huddart from the J.W. McConnell Family Foundation. Stephen writes:
My colleague at Social Innovation Generation, Al Etmanski, asked everyone he’d mentioned in his popular blog over the past year to contribute a piece to a special year-end issue, on the theme of “What would you like to see more of in 2011?” Fifty-eight responded, and the results constitute an impressive range of hopes and ideas about the future. I recommend it.
With a nod to Al, in my first OSBR column for 2011, I want to share some things that I am looking forward to seeing more of in the coming year, before reflecting on what they might portend for the world of open source software.
1. Companies going beyond corporate social responsibility to create “shared value”. In Cali, Colombia recently, Mark Lundy, a researcher and policy analyst at the International Centre for Tropical Agriculture, told me about an evaluation the Centre did on the impact of fair trade and organic programs on coffee growers. “To our surprise,” he told me, “in the programs we looked at, growers’ families were going hungry between 10 and 50% percent of the time.” Lundy went on to work with companies, intermediaries and growers to create eco-efficient and economically beneficial supply chains. In a 2008 report, he reflected on one such process: “ was very powerful to see that […] there are no bad guys and good guys. We are all in the same system and we are all operating under constraints, particularly information constraints. And that negatively affects how the whole system performs.”
As Porter and Kramer point out in a seminal paper in this month’s Harvard Business Review, while fair trade improves producers’ share of revenues, the resulting 10-20% increase in income pales in comparison to the 300% or more that can be generated by investments in efficiency, yield improvement, quality and the building of resilient local economies. Such investments are more costly at the outset and take longer to develop, but the resulting clusters of suppliers, technicians, physical infrastructure, and social services constitute a more robust and enduring approach to creating economic, social, and environmental value. As implementation of the landmark Boreal Forest Agreement gets underway in Canada this year, similar investments in local economies will be needed to shift an extractive, non-renewable business model to one designed for sustainability and productivity.
2. Educational institutions partnering with community organizations. Cindy Blackstock is an aboriginal leader dedicated to improving the lives of First Nations children and families. As the Executive Director of First Nations Child and Family Caring Society of Canada (FNCFCSC), she has pioneered programs to guide the community sector in working effectively with on-reserve partner agencies (Caring Across Boundaries); treat critically ill children first and figure out which jurisdiction will pay for it later (Jordan’s Principle), and invest in aboriginal education (Shannen’s Dream). Cindy and the FNCFCSC are bringing the federal government before the Canadian Human Rights Commission, alleging discrimination in the provision of education and health services to aboriginal children. As a result, the FNCFCSC has had to forego federal support, and keeping the doors open has been a constant challenge. Then, on January 1st, the University of Alberta made her an Associate Professor, encouraging her to continue her role at the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society. As Cindy recounted recently, “When the university first approached me I did not see how an academic appointment could foster equity for First Nations children and families. As discussions evolved, it became clear that the University’s commitment to citizenship and scholarship meant it was willing to creatively bring the strengths of these two independent organizations together to advance the rights of First Nations children.” Cindy will be seconded to the FNCFCSC while she develops a graduate course on social policy advocacy to mentor a future generation of social policy activists. “Universities are supposed to be places where our democracy is protected by academic freedom so that scholars can freely investigate matters and engage in public policy advocacy, even when that might be unpopular with the government of the day.” Cindy said, “The university’s decision to partner means that FNCFCSC has a new partner and a new platform from which to advance our shared vision of supporting First Nations children and families.”
Over the past five years, university-based community service learning and scholarship have become widespread in Canada. The U of A Faculty of Extension/FNCFCSC agreement establishes a new high-water mark for this kind of partnership – bringing community expertise into the academy and funding its sustainability.
3. Sectors learning and acting together. Working on complex issues across sectors, and at different levels of scale, is not something we’ve grown up knowing how to do, but it is becoming an essential twenty-first century competency. In September, the University of Waterloo and York University’s Shulich School of Business (with support from the J. W. McConnell Family Foundation), will offer a Masters Diploma in Social Innovation. It is designed to enable a cohort of students drawn from the private, public, and community sectors to collaboratively explore and then generate new approaches to complex challenges. Much of the program will be offered online, and curriculum content will eventually made available to other institutions interested in offering it.
In the co-evolutionary spiral that integrates open source technologies with social innovations, developments like those described here herald an era in which systems and institutions increasingly open their boundaries – and their internal processes – in order to learn, to innovate, and to co-construct a more humane and sustainable world. As companies come to recognize that their social license to operate depends on creating shared value, it is essential that there be open lines of communication between what is happening on the front lines, the executive suite, and in the board room. As our educational institutions invest in deeper partnerships with community, the feedback loops between learning and action become shorter; and as we learn more about working together on our biggest challenges, we become a more innovative and resilient society.
Happy New Year!

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