Supporting Indigenous Innovators
Recommendations for the Social Innovation (SI) ecosystem
Supporting Indigenous people in Social Innovation
Indigenous people are not short of great ideas, creativity, ingenuity, or a need for social innovation. Urban and rural Indigenous communities are ripe with the most crucial factors for impactful innovation to spark. What is lacking is access – access to capital, to markets, to networks, to learning and capacity building – all of which are crucial to building a social purpose organization and all of which the Canadian Social Innovation ecosystem has plenty of. We will only have equity when Indigenous Innovators have the same access, the same opportunities, and the ability to seize them as all other social innovators in Canada. Providing resources to Indigenous individuals, communities, and organizations is all of our responsibility.
You can start here – today and now – by informing yourself more about Indigenous Innovation and how you, whatever your role may be, can support it.
What is Indigenous Innovation?
Innovation is about building new ideas and solutions for how we can create the change we want to see in the world.
Social innovation is a term used for solving problems and building solutions for the betterment of local and global communities and ecosystems.
Indigenous Innovation is Indigenous-led, -owned, and -impacted innovation. Indigenous innovation is solving problems and building solutions using Traditional Knowledge – practices, beliefs, and experiences of Indigenous peoples.
The need for Social Innovation in Canada
Canada is at a turning point in its development. People are more aware of the economic inequality, environmental degradation and political conflicts that we increasingly face. On this trajectory, our future stands to be even more complex than our present. Taking on these global challenges starts at home. To be successful in overcoming these challenges, we will require more evidence-informed, community-based, bold solutions.
Indigenous life in Canada requires the greatest improvements and Indigenous participation is essential to the economy
1 Sum of those with “low food security” and “very low food security;” differs from national metric of “moderate and severe food insecurity.”
2 Canadian born non-Indigenous.
3 See Appendix for 95% confidence intervals.
4 Percent of population aged 6+.
5 See Appendix for standard errors.
6 We define “end
the epidemic” as an incidence rate of less than 1 per 100,000.
Source by goal: 1 = Macdonald & Wilson (2015); 2 = CANSIM 105-0547, 577-0009; 3a = Gallant, et. al (2017); 3b = CANSIM 105-0502, 577-0003; 4a, b = StatCan (2013b); 5a, b = Boyce (2014); 16 = Cotter (2015)
Jacqueline Jennings, Raven Indigenous Capital Partners
Indigenous innovators and entrepreneurs are well positioned to support the aims of Indigenous communities. More examples are needed in order to inspire and support new generations to pursue social innovation.
Promoting an Inclusive Social Innovation Ecosystem
The Social Innovation ecosystem must come together to ensure inclusion of Indigenous peoples if Canada is to excel in social innovation and see the benefits of its investment in the Social Finance Fund.
Inclusion begins with presence. For inclusion, equity and progress, Indigenous individuals must play a substantial role within each of the ecosystem actors below.
Recommendations for the Ecosystem on how to better support Indigenous innovators
In conducting our research for this knowledge exchange, we interviewed stakeholders from across the ecosystem. The following are recommendations based on learnings from these conversations that can serve to promote inclusion and better collaboration across the ecosystem. See your recommendations based on your role:
Valuing Traditional Knowledge
There is scepticism around Social Innovation and we heard that Social Innovation may be perceived as another passing buzzword, or lip service to a cause. We heard from Indigenous individuals that they did not feel invited to participate in funding processes due to the inaccessible and unrelatable nature of the process.
Enabling greater inclusion for Indigenous Innovation within the Social Innovation ecosystem in Canada, requires making room for Traditional Knowledge – the foundation of Indigenous Innovation – to be respected and treated with equal validity by each of us and our organizations. Until the unique aspects of Indigenous Innovation are understood, it will be difficult for Western practices and policies to enable its success.
Characteristics of Traditional Knowledge System:
Local. It is rooted to a particular set of experiences and generated by people living in those places. It has been said that transferring that knowledge to other places runs the risk of dislocating it.
Orally transmitted or transmitted through imitation and demonstration. Writing it down changes some of its fundamental properties.organizations and giving these organizations control over parts of projects, campaigns, and creative directions.
The consequence of practical engagement in everyday life and is constantly reinforced by experience and trial and error. This experience is the result of many generations of intelligent reasoning, and since its failure has immediate consequence for the lives of its practitioners its success is very often a good measure of effectiveness and utility.
Characteristically, it is shared to a much greater degree than other forms of knowledge. This is why it is sometimes called “people’s science”, a term which also arises from its generation in contexts of everyday production. However, Traditional Knowledge is not usually distributed in a uniform or programmatic way within a population, by gender and age, for example, but rather preserved through transfer in the memories of individuals.
Focused on particular individuals and may achieve a degree of coherence in rituals and other symbolic constructs, its distribution is always fragmentary: it does not exist in its totality or individual. Indeed, to a considerable extent it is devolved not in individuals at all, but in the practices and interactions in which people engage themselves.
Traditional Knowledge in Social Innovation
Indigenous Wisdom, as Diane Roussin calls it, can be different from Western paradigms. When you operate using Indigenous Wisdom you often get different outcomes.
For example, Western paradigms of leadership are hierarchical – leaders at the top of the pyramid make most of the decisions producing more standardized products and resources. Indigenous Wisdom values thinking inside the circle which is a more networked approach to leadership and decision-making. This approach will produce more customized products and resources that centre the stakeholder.
Indigenous people do not owe you Traditional Knowledge.
Traditional Knowledge is often sacred and therefore not always meant to be shared. Traditional Knowledge is also not eligible for copyrights, patents, or other forms of legal protection as it is not owned by any individual person or persons. For these reasons, while a knowledge exchange and an appreciation of Traditional Knowledge is needed for understanding and inclusion within the Social Innovation ecosystem, it will need to be granted on the basis of a desire for inclusion, reconciliation, and good faith without full knowledge of it.
Working together starts with shared values
“Shifting an ecosystem towards innovation for systemic social change involves moving beyond transactional collaboration and towards transformational collaboration. Fostering a shared strategy throughout the ecosystem distributes risk and builds a shared sense of collective higher purpose and ambition”
Social innovation is impactful because stakeholders across the ecosystem can work together based on shared values. Indigenous Innovators bring these values from Traditional Knowledge to their work and these values are also aligned to the values of Social Innovation. These values can and should serve as the basis for relationship formation.
Better collaboration = better outcomes for all
Working together requires inclusion and collaboration – elements which are also essential to the success of Social Innovation and to Reconciliation in Canada. The spirit of social innovation is based on inclusion and inclusive practices, such as co-creation and multidisciplinarity, because social innovation truly happens when all voices are heard and diverse experiences are accounted for.
By aiming for the highest levels of collaboration, we can maximize our impact, collectively.
What you can do to actively include Indigenous Knowledge into Social Innovation
What does Indigenous Innovation need to thrive in Canada? In reality, the answer to this question is complex and multi-layered, but in principle, the answer is quite simple – inclusion and equity are needed. Equity starts with knowing how to promote inclusion. Inclusion will only be achieved when all members of the ecosystem actively choose to work towards flourishing together. An active understanding and appreciation of Traditional Knowledge is one way for non-Indigenous people to promote inclusion within Social Innovation.
Here are 5 skills you can use to integrate Indigenous Knowledge into social innovation.
Input from Communities
Non-Indigenous Champions to Take Risks
Respecting Indigenous Rights
- collective name for the original peoples of North America and their descendants. The Canadian Constitution recognizes three distinct groups of Indigenous (Aboriginal) peoples: Indians (referred to as First Nations), Métis and Inuit” (Government of Canada).
- How do you embed cultural safety training and adapt it for business tools and checklists in a culturally safe way?
- How do you ensure the processes employed recognize the impacts of colonization and respect Indigenous rights?
- How do we get the message across that this burden of these processes does not fall on the backs of Indigenous communities?
- How do we ensure pitfalls and slack actions are avoided, such as thinking, “Okay, I hired one Indigenous staff, now I can go to this person to come up with everything Indigenous we need.” Too often this does not factor in overtime and other off duty protocols the person must engage in.
- How do we pay people for the consultations we ask them to do?
Properly Measuring the Sustainability of Social Innovation Projects
Self-reflection exercise for your daily inclusion practice
In order for each of us to do our part in promoting inclusion in our organizations and throughout the ecosystem we must practice it daily. Here are 4 self-reflection questions you can ask yourself before speaking, deciding, or acting to ensure that you have considered how your choices affect Indigenous peoples.
Whose voices are included in what I’ve learned? Whose voices are missing and needed before I can act?
Have I appropriately included Indigenous voices in the planning/early stages of our work? In the delivery of our work? In the evaluation of our work?
Do I have the Indigenous cultural competence needed to make the decision before me?
Can I communicate with Indigenous people to serve them better?
Resources to support your daily inclusion practices.
No matter how you answer the questions above, there is always room for improvement when it comes to inclusion and equity. Here are some resources that can help you and your organization. For a deeper dive into our research and recommendation read our report.
Diversity and Inclusion:
Cultural competence and safety:
- Follow Indigenous organizations, advocates, and activists on social media.
- Be informed by Indigenous media voices.
- Conduct regular stakeholder research with Indigenous populations.