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Canada's 'innovation agenda' isn't just tech -- it's social

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Imagine a Canada teeming with vibrant entrepreneurs, creating meaningful work, new innovations and building the economy of the future. Imagine leveraging our rich connections through our diaspora and sharing the very essence of what it is to be Canadian -- caring -- to the rest of the world. Imagine moving past a resource-based economy to one based on knowledge, creativity, sustainability and social responsibility. Imagine a policy environment that actually incentivizes the Canada that we want: the Canada of the 21st century, not the 19th.

Entrepreneurs and innovators are Canada’s greatest "natural" resources -- they are up for the challenge of creating jobs and growing our economy. But creating the environment and culture for innovation to flourish will require collaboration among entrepreneurs, organizations, institutions and governments. We need to work together to unlock the entrepreneurial potential and skill sets of every Canadian in every community if we are to achieve a sustainable innovation economy and truly become a beacon of entrepreneurship worldwide.

This means that Canada’s "innovation agenda" has to go beyond high-tech companies and attempting to replicate Silicon Valley -- we will never be that. It has to embrace our unique differentiator as a country – the fact, as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau himself has said, is that "we care."

No, this is not a sign of weakness. It's a sign of strength to make a commitment to building an economy driven by entrepreneurs who are creating innovative health solutions, facing the challenges of social cohesion, finding solutions to poverty, climate change and sustainability. It means building an innovation agenda that is truly holistic and recognizes and supports social innovation and social entrepreneurs as a part of an integrated strategy.

Canada is so much more. We excel at communications, collaboration, creativity, service innovation and so much more. We have vibrant renewable energy, clean tech and social technology sectors. We have a diverse population with connections to the rest of the world that we have yet to fully leverage. We are smart, productive and capable of balancing social and economic imperatives. I think we are the best in the world at figuring out how to work together and collaborate.

We, the entrepreneurs, are ready not just to create jobs, but to create meaningful work for people from every background, age and ethnicity. We don’t want to create just any economy, but an economy that cares for one another -- that puts people and planet first, while remaining fiercely competitive. We don’t want just any innovation, but innovations that are solving real problems that unlock a higher quality of life for all.

Yes, many of us will grow the economy and scale as large, globally oriented, job-creating anchor companies in Canada. But many of us will not. Instead, we will build small, community-based, locally relevant businesses that meet real needs in real communities. And together, we will weave together a resilient, agile and robust economy that includes, engages, solves and serves.

On Thursday this week, entrepreneurs, innovators and anchor companies provided direct input into Canada’s innovation agenda by participating in panels, town halls, policy hearings and policy hack-a-thons at Startup Canada’s Day on the Hill in Ottawa. The day’s dialogue will contribute to the formation of recommendations to best support startup and small-business entrepreneurs.

Core to our recommendations will be examining and seeking alignment on what kind of Canada we want so that we can create the enabling environment and incentives that will position Canada as an economy that cares. What an amazing and unique value proposition.


Tonya Surman is co-founder and CEO of the Centre for Social Innovation. Victoria Lennox is co-founder and CEO of Startup Canada.

Photo via:  Rapid Innovation in digital time

A version of this article original appeared in the Globe and Mail.

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