How can a community be a force for social innovation?
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Our communities are where we work, play, learn, and grow – but they are often seen as only obliquely related to success in life.

Obliquely related? Algoma University researcher Gayle Broad, who studies communities as “social economies,” would strongly disagree. And she believes these social economies need entrepreneurs, an opportunity well-suited to younger people, to contribute to their overall success.

“Just as there are entrepreneurs in business, entrepreneurs are needed in the social economy,” she says. “Social and political structures have completely changed.”

Social entrepreneurship can come in many different forms, from environmentalism to Aboriginal rights protection, but they all fall under the same umbrella of creating positive change for a community.

“We have to be open to exploring new ways of doing things,” says Broad. “We need to incorporate diversity of knowledge. We can’t ignore ideas or solutions.”

Many institutions that exist to address issues such as homelessness – shelters and soup kitchens, for example – were established decades ago in a much-different historical context and find it difficult to adapt.

“They don’t necessarily have the flexibility and adaptability to respond to a swiftly changing environment,” says Broad. But when communities are equipped with the skills, knowledge, and expertise to tackle social issues, the communities themselves will be able to start finding solutions that meet their needs.

“We now have creativity in a way we haven’t seen before, and we need to find ways to support people – and communities – in achieving their potential,” she says.

Supporting social entrepreneurship with the same level of resources provided to business entrepreneurship can give people much-needed tools, to address pressing social issues as well as personal ones.

“We know that networks of support are vital. With today’s technology we can start to create networks not only across the province, but also globally as well,” she says.

By showing youth that social entrepreneurship is a valid career option, Broad says “we can support them and help them recognize that their communities provide the context of the issues – and the solutions.”

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