Tag Archives: innovation

IMG_7600-rI’ve had lots of events this week with a common thread. In my capacity as the chair of the Community Engagement initiative for the University of Toronto Alumni Association (UTAA) along with a great team of volunteers and partners we held an event called UTAA Connected @ the Centre for Social Innovation.

It brought together about 100 UofT alumni to learn about the social innovation movement. For the 80 volunteers or want-to-be volunteers it was a chance to learn about the Centre and 14 (mostly) member organizations which do social good.

Our promise to the presenting organizations was to introduce them to potential volunteers who could contribute in professional or strategic ways. Our promise to the attendees was to introduce them to new ideas, interesting organizations and opportunities to give back in meaningful ways. And aside from under estimating how much food social innovators can consume, our surveys showed we did well.

If you have an idea – seek out these spaces, places and communities.
If you want to give back and have a business skill set – seek out these spaces, places and communities.

Two days later I was at an OCAD pitch competition and was surprised to see many of the same people that I had seen at my event. Of the 19 organizations pitching for mentorship or funding, about 3 were members of the Centre for Social Innovation.

What was interesting is how startups social or otherwise fluidly move between the constructs of shared workspaces, mentor programs, incubators of various organizations as their companies move through life stages. As their organizations evolve, they need to be around different resources. As they become clear about their goals, they want to be in a community of people doing similar things. It’s an interesting phenomenon to observe.

Never before has there been such a resource-rich time to be entrepreneurial with so many opportunities, some funded by governments and many supported by successful folks that are looking to both give back and revitalize their careers by being involved with young or new entrepreneurs.



Came across coverage for this interesting Toronto-based start up that allows you to apply your loyalty points toward tuition. There are limited educational institutions signed up but congrats to the University of New Brunswick and Centennial College for being early adopters. And right now it’s only applicable to Aeroplan points, which is a big player and looking for ways to distinguish itself.

What’s most interesting is the concept that you can be a “Nice Person” and donate your points to any student. I’m sure this program will be used by parents and extends easily to other family members and friends but the concept that you could support a student that might not be within your family circle is what I find engaging.

So if you have student you want to support at one of the partner institutions and you collect Aeroplan points, you too can be a “Nice Person.”

I was out on a short strategic volunteering trip sharing ideas and techniques on audience engagement. It’s a topic that a lot of folks are focused on these days in the flavours of customer, visitor, member, alumni or donor engagement. Inevitably any discussion of this kind calls into question broader issues of organizational strategy, an exploration of who are we, what do we offer, who is our audience – and quest for a best practice or model to follow.

When asked if I knew of any successful non profits that would provide a proven structure I couldn’t say that I knew of one. The biggies are good at raising funds but that alone is neither evidence of a sound structure nor necessarily a relevant model for every other non profit.

And while a non profit can look to its peers for some ideas and learnings they might be better served to look at for profit business models and examples. As much as it may be distasteful, this is where the drive for profits, growth, competitive advantage and even survival has lead to an endless exploration and experimentation around structures and strategies.

When seeking the best practice, your sector or industry may not cover all your options. Be open minded – just because there is profit motivation doesn’t mean there isn’t a viable idea to borrow. Objectively explore and learn, then make the idea yours.

I’ve been keeping busy with my volunteer work and will add a post for that, but today I can truly say I was inspired and my commitment to meaningful volunteerism was reignited.

I was asked to sit in on a special presentation supporting University of Toronto’s Boundless campaign. It’s a campaign that puts the stories of UofT’s great faculty, students and alumni forward to showcase their contributions and make the case that they are worthy of your support.

With the launch of Boundless: The Campaign for the University of Toronto, we are celebrating this tradition of leadership, community and generosity.

Instead of an executive recounting facts and figures, we were treated to 4 of the many scholars and educators at UofT that are making a difference in the field of public health. Representing a cross section of study areas and expertise, their perspective ran from innovative business models, to frugal medical equipment in Africa, to working in our far north, and integrating student health right into UofT itself.

Many of the stories were inspiring, the photo’s either breathtaking or tragic. To see their minds in action as they passionately shared their work was a privilege.

It inspired me to think about the great partnerships of philanthropy and innovation that happen when a person passionate about their vision meets a person who is equally passionate and commits to make it happen.

So can we take the concepts of eco-tourism or volun-tourism, and create experiential journeys for potential partners (donors) where they can be a part of innovation when and where it happens? Exclusive opportunities to see the needs, travel with the experts, be a part of the conversation and invited to make their own contribution.

Talk about Boundless Opportunity!

I get a lot of email from Convenant House, a non-profit in Toronto focused on helping street kids. Their timing hits home as their campaigns are perfectly timed with every holiday opportunity.

But this time, they’ve teamed up with ad agency TAXI to perfectly capture the power of Facebook with an ask to “Donate your Status.”

Please help us reach our goal of one status for every street kid.

At first glance at the email’s subject line I didn’t get it but one click in and a bounce over to Convenant’s Facebook page and I realized the brilliance. They’ve got an assortment of status lines that are consistent and hard hitting as all Convenant’s messages are. Make one of these your Facebook status to share the message. And then of course, there’s the text “youth” to donate $5 to the cause buying 2 meals for one of these kids.

Kudos to the cause and their agency for a brilliant use of a small but powerful feature of one of today’s biggest social media platforms.

I agree with the Globe and Mail’s caption of “Good Idea: Warehousing good intentions.”

Médecins Sans Frontières / Doctors Without Borders (Canada) has shopping carted giving. They’ve put all the supplies they need, urgent ones highlighted, onto a shopping type website where you can make a contribution big or small. $30 will buy a cholera treatment for one patient in Haiti or spend $18,750 and buy a full kit. $60 for a 5% share of a diesel generator or spend $1,200 and buy the whole unit. $90 buys a doctor for a day, $3,780 buys a 6 week mission.

The MSF Warehouse contains real items that Médecins Sans Frontières / Doctors Without Borders (MSF) uses in its field projects. When you purchase an item, you are making a contribution that supports MSF’s medical humanitarian aid work in general, and not just the purchase of that product. Your donation will be used where the need is greatest.

Complete with Twitter and Facebook integration, lots of pictures, stories, gift ideas this website is a great reinterpretation of giving. And just in time for the holidays.

It’s a great cause, and a brilliant use of web technology. Kudos to MSF Canada!

“Médecins Sans Frontières was established in 1971 by a small group of doctors and journalists. They were determined to find a way to respond rapidly and effectively to public health emergencies, with complete independence from political, economic and religious influences.”

An inspirational lunch talking social media had me looking at my blog again. I’ve added a couple of things to the right bar.

A twitter feed so that I can capture good ideas and easily post them for you. I was posting to Facebook, but that doesn’t do my blog readers any good.

And I’ve added the SocialVibe widget. Give it a try. It costs you nothing but a bit of time. It’s one of those tradeoffs – give the marketers some eyeball time and they’ll give money to charity. Sounds good to me.

Here’s a small post for a micro concept. It’s micro-blogging + crowd sourcing + doing good all in one.

The Extraordinaries allows people to complete micro-tasks for organizations, causes or people they’re passionate about, using a iPhone or web browser, in a few minutes of spare time. For organizations, The Extraordinaries is a powerful way to strengthen relationships while leveraging their “crowds” to complete real work such as photo collection, translation and research.

Take a look at the concept brought to you by a bunch of smart young folks in San Francisco, well funded and supported by those who know how to launch dotcoms.

Volunteers as a free labour force

People know what a volunteer is. Generally it’s someone who donates their time to do tasks that need to be done.

A great deal of volunteering is being the labour force or service delivery for a non-profit. Think of the sorters at the food bank, the folks that teach others to read, the people-power that staff events, and the delivery folks that bring meals to the needy. The demand for this kind of labour force is constant.

I certainly can do that, giving 4-8 hours a week to do a task. And I would fulfill many an agency’s dreams as I would give it a full commitment, show up on time, and do this with full energy.

Thinking like a Strategic Volunteer

But instead of having me give you 4-8 hours a week doing a task:

  • I could work with your agency to develop and execute a plan to recruit 100 volunteers that will give 4-8 hour a week.
  • The plan could be operationalized to recruit 100 people annually, with an efficient onboarding process to get them productive quickly.
  • It could also include a focus on volunteer satisfaction to ensure retention of this labour force.
  • There may be a marketing or PR portion of the plan to promote your agency as being top in its class for leveraging volunteers. This may get the attention of volunteers and partners.
  • And with results measured and internal teams acknowledged you add positive moral to your agency.

That is an example of Strategic Volunteering. Finding a core need, applying strategic thinking, operational perspective, teamwork and some innovative thinking to produce a result that sets the organization up for success.

Supersized ideas

In my old life, I used to say I supersized ideas. As a Strategic Volunteer I am waiting to supersize yours.

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