New SFU program empowers changemakers to increase impact

The Social Innovation certificate is designed for professional, adult learners looking to complement their existing work with new strategy, tools, and thinking.

Social Innovators Lisa Gibson and Darcy Riddell. Photo by Roland Rickus.

Darcy Riddell began her activist journey in the thick of BC's 'War in the Woods' as a forest campaigner with the Sierra Club of BC.

By age 24 she was an environmental representative at one of the most contentious multi-sector tables in Canadian history—the Central Coast LRMP, which was to decide the fate of the Great Bear Rainforest.

At the time, Greenpeace and others were boycotting the table and raising the cry internationally to protect these rare forests and respect First Nations rights and title.

Back at home, environmentalists were labeled "enemies of British Columbia" by then-premier Glen Clark.

The experience would influence Riddell's life in many ways.

"To participate in this incredibly polarized situation and get to a place where people from all sectors stood up for very radical solutions was a formative experience for me," she reflects.

"The process involved nuanced international campaigning, intense cross-sector relationships that challenged everyone's world views, detailed science and policy work, and deep personal courage.”

The Great Bear Rainforest Agreement has transformed forestry in the region, protecting 85 per cent of the region from industrial logging, enshrining First Nations co-management rights, and generating innovative economic investments to support conservation-based business in the region.

Students in class at  SFU Continuing Studies. Photo by Greg Ehlers.

Based on her experiences, Riddell became committed to building the leadership and strategic capacity needed to solve similar complex problems—a purpose that has guided her ever since.

"I've worked with front-line women workers in the Downtown Eastside, global leaders in universal health care and climate resilience, disabilities innovators, food systems advocates, and environmental campaigns of many shapes and sizes.

There are a lot of practices that cut across high impact initiatives: how to listen deeply to people with different values, how to generate and navigate power and, maybe most importantly, how to act with presence and purpose."

Learn practical ways to create meaningful change with SFU's new Social Innovation Certificate

Today, Riddell—who completed one of North America's first PhDs in Social Innovation last year at the University of Waterloo—leads the curriculum design team for SFU's part-time Social Innovation Certificate.

The program, which launches in September, is designed for professional, adult learners looking to complement their existing work with new strategy, tools, and thinking, and is the only comprehensive training of its kind in Canada.

The field of social innovation emerges from the realization that our existing disciplines and institutions aren't enough to address the complex social and environmental issues society faces today.

While we are making incremental gains, more systemic approaches are needed to transform policies, the culture and practice of entire institutions, and to invest in sustained innovation capacity and risk-taking.

As momentum for social innovation and social enterprise builds in BC, Canada and beyond, questions about who can create change and how to be effective are also changing.

"I first encountered the idea of social innovation coming from my activist perspective. At the time, lots of new financial tools and ideas about social enterprise were emerging, and the field of change making was expanding to include those in a lot of other sectors—like corporate social responsibility, social finance and public policy innovation," Riddell recalls.

"That's why I immersed myself in social innovation practices and learning. It was a frame around my own personal practice that I felt could better encompass the scope and kinds of multi-sector work required to get at the root of social problems."

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