Social Innovation on Big Issues

Some problems have deep roots, seem intractable and resist change. Our first social innovation might be understanding that change is possible.

Innovation is not just about making things better, it can also be about making things right.

Thirty years ago today the worst mass attack on women ever committed in North America took place. A male walked into a classroom in the École Polytechnique in Montreal, ordered all the men out of the room and then proceeded took 15 lives and wounded many others.

Thirty years later where are we?

This post is not just about what happened on that day, but the deep roots and persistence of the issues that come with it.

Two years ago in Toronto – just down the highway from Montreal — a man self-identified as an ‘incelkilled 10 people and injured 16 with a van in the middle of the day. The reason? Women were not showing him the attention he wanted. From brazen attacks to the myriad and often ‘hidden’ issues that have been surfaced via the #MeToo movement it is clear there is much to be done on the matter of stemming the tide of violence against women in all its forms.

This is an innovation problem as much as anything else — and seeing it this way might help us move from where we are to where we could be.

Better and Just

Social innovation is about bringing a systemic change and entrepreneurial mindset to large social problems.

Social innovation has many definitions, but at its core it supports people and organizations to co-create, learn, adapt and scale more effective solutions to entrenched social problems—making our human and natural systems more adaptive and resilient.

The McConnell Foundation

The thorny, knotted up set of issues that influence violence against women represent a problem with much wickedness to them, but are not unsolvable. We can do much better. This is what social innovation is for.

As many mark the occasion of the 30th anniversary of the Montreal attacks it is worth considering what it means to innovate on issues like this. Like many important problems it is worth starting out with better questions and better frames to these questions. It also means stretching our thinking beyond common narratives that haven’t helped (e.g., ‘bad’ men / women victims, services or prevention, cultural traditions).

I’ll simply leave these here to consider as we reflect not only on how to make our world better, but also make it just (please add your own) using a form of question-asking that is useful for innovation:

  • How might we support people – men and women, together and apart — in the sharing and communication of their thoughts, feelings, and needs in ways that enable them to be respected as people, supported, listened to, and understood?
  • How might we help men (and women) feel loved and valued across the lifespan in ways that recognize their worth without tying it to anything they do, have, or represent?
  • How might we reduce the barriers associated with people – women and men — leaving harmful relationships (e.g., financial, social, and those related to children) early across our institutions and communities?
  • How might we reveal, illustrate, and amplify the benefits to everyone — men and women of every gender identity and culture — of equity, safety, and respect to make change desirable and profitable across our institutions?
  • How might we support men in engaging with other men in meaningful ways to promote respect, equality, fairness, and safety for women and girls everywhere across settings, cultures, and generations?

This is a design challenge. This is an evaluation challenge. It’s also a challenge of the heart, mind, and soul as individuals and communities.

Take up the challenge. Let’s innovate violence against women and everything that comes with it out of existence.

Photo by Katherine Hanlon on Unsplash and via Wikipedia

Cameron D. Norman

I am a designer, psychologist, educator, evaluator, and strategist focused on innovation in human systems. I'm curious about the world around me and use my role as Principal and President of Cense Ltd. as a means of channeling that curiosity into ideas, questions, and projects that contribute to a better world.

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