Community Innovation and Learning from Each Other

Submitted by Devon Kerslake on August 10, 2016 - 5:24am

"When people are left to their own devices they take stock. They figure out the extent of their challenge. They assess the resources they have. The resources they might need to acquire. Then in a flourish of abundance they problem-solve"

Al Etmanski, Author, Advocate and Social Entrepreneur

This July 2016 edition of the Seekers Journal is riding on the waves of optimism and enthusiasm that was released during our Deepening Community gathering Resilient Neighbourhoods • When People Care. Over 160 passionate community practitioners gathered in the City of Edmonton last month to explore ideas that are sure to continue to inspire, affirm and motivate our communities for quite some time.

Those of us who attended this gathering were left feeling inspired and rejuvenated. We returned to our work brimming with new insights, tools and friends. We returned to our communities with the reassurance that we stand together with so many other inspired individuals across North America, all working towards deepening community and caring for the people in our neighbourhoods. In a time where we are witness to tragic events of violence and natural disasters, this is more important than ever before.


We will continue forward in our work, connected to each other and stronger than ever. It is now time to take this abundance of resources, and return to face our challenges by nurturing solutions together.

We invite you to continue exploring this month's Seeker's Journal for insightful thinking and practical resources inspired by the themes of social innovation and working together. We have also included upcoming events that may be of interest to you.

We look forward to connecting with you and don't forget, we love to hear your stories, share your resources and learn from your experiences! Be sure to connect with us online at or on Facebook and Twitter. 

Happy reading! 

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Social Innovation: Lessons for Communities

By: Sylvia Cheuy

“Many successful innovators firmly stated that their key to making progress on complex problems was their ability to be nimble with regard to planning and program development.”

-ABSI Connect Fellows, research findings (2016)    

innovation cheuy progress community

Those of us working in communities recognize the need for greater innovation, and experimentation if we want to accelerate our ability to advance positive change in neighbourhoods, municipalities and regions.  Whether the focus of our work is: citizen engagement, belonging, community safety, poverty-reduction, housing, or community economic development, there is a growing recognition that wiser and bolder approaches are needed to effectively meet the complex challenges before us.  So, where do we begin?  The robust field of social innovation offers important insights, lessons, patterns and practices to consider.  

The ABSI Connect Fellows spent seven months, exploring the field of social innovation in Alberta and the findings of their in-depth exploration are contained in their final report, The Future of Social Innovation Alberta 2016.  They describe Social Innovation less as an end-goal or clear formula and more like an ecosystem, or set of, “…people, practices, policies, resources relationships and capacities that interweave together to support social innovation in Alberta.”  And, their learnings, contribute to a growing body of knowledge about the field of social innovation and provide useful insights for those of us eager to accelerate the effectiveness of our community innovation efforts.  Four of these insights are explored below...

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We Need Fewer Volunteers and More Community


By: Jim Diers

Recently, I was invited to speak at a conference of not-for-profit organizations on the topic of “How to Recruit More Volunteers.” The conference organizers must have been distressed when I began my remarks by asserting: “What we need is fewer volunteers and more community.” I went on to explain what I see as the difference.

Volunteers are well-intentioned individuals who take time from their daily routine in order to be of service. Community, on the other hand, isn’t a departure from routine. It’s a way of life focused on the common good. A valued community member might welcome strangers, join a time bank, host a block party, shop locally, raise responsible children, carpool to work, plant street trees, coach a youth soccer team, vote, advocate for the homeless, be a buddy to a housebound neighbor, and graciously accept a gift of zucchini from another neighbor’s garden. Few people have the time to engage in so many community activities and everyone’s menu of activities will look different, but whether at work, home, in their neighborhood or the larger world, all people have the opportunity to be welcoming, generous in giving and open to receiving, and act as if their welfare is tied to everyone else’s.  That’s what it means to be in community....

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Knowing People's Stories


Shima Safwat is the founder and CEO of an organization that aims to take down the barriers between Muslims and non Muslims through open conversation and education. She was recently featured in The People Project in the Calgary Herald for her role in bringing awareness to her neighbours about the niqab she wears

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Learn more about the Calgary Social Capital Tournament

ABCD is the new E=mc2

asset-based community development mcknight deepening community al etmanski

By: Al Etmanski

I’ve been a community organizer for most of my life. I only began to understand what I could be doing after hearing John McKnight speak about Asset-Based Community Development (ABCD). This led to a lifelong friendship with John and an invitation to be part of his ABCD faculty at Northwestern. There is a lot of energy in the simple elegance of ABCD. Someone recently described it as the 21st Century version of E=mc2 . 

During a week in early June 2016 in Edmonton, Vickie and I participated in the launch of ABCD in Canada. John was there as were a couple of hundred other community organizers. It was like old home week. The initiative was launched by Paul Born and the wonderful folks at Tamarack. Here’s the new ABCD-in-Canada website. It is rich with links and downloadable resources. 

I wrote the following piece in honour of the launch...

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Visit the recently launched ABCD Canada Website

Upcoming Events


Community Change Institute

September 26-30, 2016 in Toronto, Ontario

Our cities, the places we live, provide amazing opportunities for resilience in these disruptive times. The Tamarack Institute team has worked over the last year to re-think and re-build our annual five-day learning event to respond to this challenge. Join us, along with world-renowned thought leaders Severn Cullis-Suzuki, Roger Martin, Frances Westley, and Stephen Patrick. Join these incredible speakers and our learning community for the first ever Community Change Institute being held in vibrant Toronto, Canada this Fall from September 26 - 30, 2016.

Register here


Thinking as a Mindset and a Practice

July 28, 2016 | Calgary, Alberta  •   September 12, 2016 | Red Deer AB

In this daylong session, Mark Holmgren will blend together lecture and presentation with a variety of Upside Down Thinking table exercises, drawing upon his innovations and experiences with Upside Down Thinking. Participants will be presented with some of the most disruptive propositions from various sectors to work through and learn from together. Through interactive exercises, participants will also work on disruptive propositions that resonate directly to their own situations.

Register here

Webinar Series


Collective Impact Webinar Series

Each of the 1-hour sessions in the series will focus on discussions around each of the key elements for Collective impact. You will learn about the elements and review some tools that will help guide planning for that element. 

Register or Listen Here




Community Change Institute Webinar Series

With the CCI fast approaching, each 1-hour webinar in this series will focus on a different theme that will be featured at the event. Each webinar will also bring in both faculty from the event, such as Liz Weaver and Paul Born, as well as Keynote speakers, such as Stephen Patrick and Severn Cullis-Suzuki, to provide an introductory conversation around key topic areas such as the art of disruption and collective impact.

Register Here