Not All Quiet on the Western Front

Michele F-GGuest Blogger: Michele Frugel-Gartner is the Executive Director Social Venture Partners Calgary. Prior to this role, Michele was employed with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and participated in Rotary Internationals Group Study Exchange to Saitama, Japan where she studied the role of philanthropy and Japanese civil society.  She received her M.A. degree in International Studies and Diplomacy at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London and is an alumna of the Asia Pacific Leadership Program at the East-West Center in Honolulu, HI.

Note about this post: Michele and I are on the planning committee of the Innovation Exchange.  This blog originally appread on the Social Finance site.  It has been reposted with permission from the author.

A year ago, I started quietly along a path to understand the legal and regulatory structures and challenges of social enterprise. It was a quest for knowledge and was parlayed into a course on public policy for nonprofits. For six months, I diligently read everything published on the topic with the hopes that my knowledge in the topic would expand and I'd be able to influence the topic. Starting out slowly and independently, I never imagined how quickly the ball would start to roll.

New to Calgary, but astutely aware we're a city that 1) likes to stay competitive and 2) add our own flair to things, it hasn't come as a surprise that we're both impressed by what has come to fruition in Toronto, Vancouver, and Montreal on the "socials": enterprise, finance, and business - and also a bit annoyed that we haven't been able to get our own version up and running. The sense of impatience and urgency is quite palpable.

It's quite likely that my own bias and interest simply opened my eyes to others who were thinking the same way - and gave us a common sense of connection. From entrepreneurs looking to do more than charitably donate, to returning expats who want to build something new in Calgary, to nonprofit funders looking for the next wave of ideas, to business people who have an idea that might just change the world - socially - there's an undeniable momentum that is gathering.

On the last Wednesday of the month at St. James Corner, you'll find a portion of these folks assembled at Innovation Exchange Meetup. With a design-thinking mentality, the Exchange is a meeting place for the doers, the funders, the thinkers, the activists, the dreamers, etc. to gather for ideation and hopeful, prototyping of new ideas and projects.

It's from here that conversations are brewing and actions starting. Throughout Calgary, there is thinking and work being conducted in the many areas where we have seen Toronto and Vancouver take the lead - social funds, debt/equity instruments, co-working spaces, and social enterprise/business ideas. While there is an eagerness to getting started, there is also a reverence to what has come before. We want to learn - but you can expect, we'll add our own flair.

From all of my discussions in Calgary and readings across the space, the piece that challenges me the most - particularly in Calgary - is whether folks will actually "ship". (To use Seth Godin's term.) We are an educated, industrious city - blessed with talented engineers, designers, builders, and creatives. These are exactly the type of minds we will need to prototype products that will change the world.

While many minds are at work on projects already, there is no doubt - more are required. How will we entice and incent these folks to leave their comfortable jobs for a new world of blended value and social return? How do we convince the talent that makes oil and gas so profitable and attractive to put their minds to work to change the way we live?

Without the brains and force to turn our ideas into reality, we will not be able to move with the impatience and urgency that we feel. Regardless of our strides in the theory behind enterprise, investing, and finance, without the folks who will actually be ‘doing the doing', we're likely not to get very far. For Calgary and perhaps the whole of the movement, we need to figure this piece out. We need to broaden our community.

If you are in Calgary next Wednesday evening, July 28, drop by the Innovation Exchange.