Diverse Okanagan community building around social innovation and entrepreneurship
The Okanagan Changemakers’ inaugural effort to build community around social innovation, social enterprise and social entrepreneurship is revealing the depth and diversity of interest in creating positive, sustainable change.
The Changemakers are holding monthly meet-ups, including most recently at Urban Systems Kelowna branch, where 40-50 people of all ages, and socio-economic and professional backgrounds are gathering to connect and explore about what’s happening and what’s possible.
Volunteer Andrew Greer says the Okanagan Changemakers are in pure start-up mode but already generating buzz.
“When you can get 50 people all together wanting to do something positive, that sort of energy is contagious, and you don’t know what ideas or conversations you’re going to have or what might happen,” he says.
Andrew recalls one meet-up where, after sharing the Changemakers’ vision, the attendees were asked, “Are you in?”
“And people stood up and said, ‘I’m in!’ It was incredible,” he says.
Themed “Social Innovation Spotlight,” the Sept. 5 meet-up at Urban Systems featured a casual question-and-answer session with two local social innovators from for-profit and not-for-profit organizations, as well as a chance to network.
“The purpose was to show people there are awesome things happening here in this community and innovative things happening that are driving positive change both here in the community and beyond,” Andrew says.
“We want to bring people together to build community and maybe shift the mindset a little, and inspire people.”
Dedicated to making measurable social impact and helping to solve longstanding social challenges through collaboration and action, the nonprofit Okanagan Changemakers have connected with Urban Matters. This social enterprise was launched by Urban Systems to utilize professional expertise, experience and connections to strengthen social impact in communities.
Urban Matters is supporting the Changemakers’ launch and early development as a like-minded peer organization through sponsorship and facility support.
The recent meet-up was the first one held in Urban Systems’ space.
Andrew says Urban Matters is an example of what’s already percolating in the community to foster meaningful social change. Other social enterprises are operating, such as a coffee shop run by the John Howard Society and staffed by people experiencing barriers to employment.
“What’s unique about Urban Matters is that it’s a project out of a for-profit company,” Andrew says. “And it’s about shifting the perspective around what a for-profit company can do to create social change, as opposed to just making money. And Urban Matters really drives it in a deep, community infrastructure way because of the focus of Urban Systems. It’s a unique way.”
Andrew notes that interest in social impact is coming from a wide variety of people. Participants at past meet-ups include nonprofits, charities, businesspeople, young professionals, investors, retirees, students and more.
“It’s a wonderful mix of people that want to create some positive change but don’t necessarily know how or where; some of them really are doing it, some social entrepreneurs who are coming to us are really doing it. Others are coming to learn how to do it, how to help others, and to connect with like-minded people who want to create that positive change,” he says.
Through their meet-ups, the Changemakers are moving toward their first goal, which is to build a community of innovators, citizens, organizations and business leaders focused on positive change.
“Once you uncover rocks, it seems you uncover a whole rock field and there are all sorts of people that are passionate about this or already doing this, and it’s just a case of mobilizing,” Andrew says.
The Changemakers also aim to create a social enterprise to support innovators and entrepreneurs and their backers to collaborate, and to develop an ongoing mentorship program to help build sustainable revenue streams — one of the challenges facing social enterprises.
Their next major endeavour is the Change UP social innovation pitch competition on Nov. 21 in Kelowna, with the audience hearing and voting for home-grown ideas to make positive social change locally.
Looking at the bigger picture, Andrew says the Changemakers are trying to engage the Okanagan community in a global social-change movement. It would be the ultimate dream, he adds, if local social innovators could create solutions for major issues not only affecting the Okanagan but also the world.
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