Monthly Archives

July 2015

How do innovators learn to innovate?

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Above: Kyle speaks at the 2015 Starfish Canada Top 25 Environmentalists Under 25 celebration. Photo by RADIUS Fellow Ash Tanasiychuk.

RADIUS Fellow Kyle Empringham is a Public Engagement Specialist at the David Suzuki Foundation and the Co-Founder of The Starfish Canada. Follow him at @kbempringham.  Here he explores the need for personal and professional development for social innovators. 

Innovation requires thinking outside the box to come up with solutions to some of our society’s most troubling questions and concerns. To think creatively and to dream big, it requires vulnerability and honesty – something that many traditional businesses have suppressed, assuming that hard work in a structured environment where employees are developed professionally, and not personally, will achieve the best results.

I’ve seen that philosophy of hard-fast rule and regulation fail to produce results first-hand. I worked in a place where you were expected to work to a certain rhythm, and adhere to the pre-existing office culture. You were only allowed access to professional development funds if you were first to ask and it was directly within your scope of work.

More importantly, personal development and mentorship was non-existent – there were no options for you to learn and grow where you worked collaboratively with someone to achieve your highest potential. For me, it was a downward spiral. I didn’t have the tools to succeed.

Personal and professional development practices shouldn’t be siloed. They can’t be. If you expect yourself and the people you work with to form a team that values equity, honesty and transparency, then the approach you take to develop your team should be integrated. You can invest resources into being a great specialist in a certain field, but it’s equally important to feel empowered and supported while applying the practices you’ve learned.

As I reflect on my time in RADIUS’ first Fellowship cohort, I realize how important this integrated development approach is when I’m seeking opportunities to amplify my career. My current role as an engagement specialist requires me to be creative, work collaboratively, and to understand the diversity of resources I could tap into when I hit roadblocks.

I feel myself becoming increasingly effective at my job while feeling more motivated and inspired to work in my field. I credit our organization’s culture of understanding for my successes, which certainly transcend the traditional notion of professional development and focus on how to make people succeed (and feel great while doing so).

Social innovation is social for a reason – it’s about people. It’s about how we can work together to dream big, work together, find solutions, and have a great time doing so. My experience with the RADIUS Fellowship program has been transformative in the way I think about my work and how I can grow to be the best version of myself.

A RADIUS Fellowship Reflection: a space to share, support, & celebrate

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Zoya Jiwa is a RADIUS Fellow studying Sociology and Sustainable Community Development at SFU. Check out her latest project, As We Are: style strategies & stories to navigate health conditions, and follow her at @zoyajiwa.

The RADIUS Fellows gathered each Monday night, leaving our work days behind to be presently engaged in conversation and collaboration. Within the first month of our meetings, truthful dialogue emerged around busyness, burnout, habits, and the emotional demands of our work. Each of us was chasing an opportunity that was close to our heart. While this made our work meaningful and authentic, it also demonstrated challenges to create space for guilt-free rest and self-care. It was refreshing to connect with new friends on this level, supporting one another in finding balance.

Monday nights quickly became the highlight of my week, even after seven hours of university classes during the day. There were endless opportunities to learn. I frantically jotted down notes and eagerly listened to our insightful guest speakers, including Al Etmanski, Sue Biely, and The Habit Course duo Cole Nakatani and David Kohler. We explored ways to leverage our networks and resources to propel our ideas forward. We held one another accountable to make small, positive shifts in our routines that would help us win at daily problems. We played with design-thinking tools, discovered ways to listen more mindfully, and vulnerably expressed our needs to our group to deepen the impact of our projects.

With a foundation of community and trust, we learned what we could give to others. In every meeting, each person was seen, heard, and valued.  We spoke openly about ideas and possibilities that we might have otherwise hesitated to share. We generously offered our support, demonstrating both our heartfelt care and concern.

Train Tour Sunset

The result of these close connections was beautiful. We attended a variety of RADIUS events together, such as ConcAUCTION, the Failure Wake, and ReSchool conference. Additionally, we celebrated highly anticipated events coordinated by Fellows, such as the Frameworq upcycled fashion show, Starfish Top 25 Under 25 Environmentalist Awards, and the opening of Lupii Café – Vancouver’s first zero waste coffee shop. To wrap up the Fellowship, we embarked on a train tour from Vancouver, to Seattle, to Portland, and back to connect with a wider community of social innovators. It was a treat to spend the longest days of the year with bright leaders and learners. We caught a marvelous sunset on our journey home that was reflective of the trip.

The RADIUS Fellowship taught me lessons in personal and professional spheres. The Fellows saw each other through moments of excitement, stressful situations, and noteworthy accomplishments. We danced through changes and challenges, witnessed ideas come to life, and slowly unpacked big questions about ourselves, our community, and our world. During these five months, we were often left with bigger questions rather than clear answers. And that’s okay. Together, we shifted our problems into possibilities. The RADIUS Fellowship cultivated a sense of community that I longed for: abundant in rich connections, honest conversations, hearty laughter, and a genuine excitement to grow together.

Who is a Changemaker?

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Above: RADIUS Fellows Sarah Beley, Patrick Lee, Jeff McGregor, and Irina Molohovsky with RADIUS mentor Wes Regan (centre) at Promote the Vote’s 100 in 1 Day urban intervention in June 2015

by RADIUS Fellow Patrick Lee

Who or what is a changemaker? What makes someone a Radical Doer or a social innovator? Is doer even a real word? Am I a doer?

These were some of the questions running through my mind when I heard that RADIUS was seeking applicants for its inaugural Fellowships in Radical Doing program. The RADIUS Fellowship program takes emerging changemakers and accelerates their personal development through workshops, mentorship, and coaching. Over the course of five months, fellows support each other and get an introduction to Vancouver’s social innovation community.

In an effort to answer some of these questions, I turned to Google and found that doer is indeed a real word. Not surprisingly, it describes someone who does things. That being a relatively low bar to meet, I could confidently say that I am a doer. Huzzah! But a Radical Doer? A changemaker? I wasn’t so sure. According to the Fellowship program description, perhaps I was, but there was something about the label that didn’t feel right to me.


Fellows mingle with other Cascadia Social Innovation Train Tour participants at the Oregon Public House in Portland, June 2015

When I applied for the Fellowship program, it was on the heels of starting Promote the Vote, a non-partisan project devoted to increasing citizen engagement through dialogue. Promote the Vote provides workshops on dialogue skills to support and encourage everyday Canadians to dialogue with their friends and family about voting. Dialogue is about listening for understanding and being curious and open to other perspectives. These are practical communication skills that help people find common ground and areas for collaboration, especially when addressing big, complex problems. Promoting dialogue between Canadians about political issues should not be radical changemaking, but sadly real dialogue is sometimes missing from our day to day conversations.

Fortunately, my discomfort with the label changemaker did not prevent me from applying for and being accepted into the Fellowship program. As I attended RADIUS workshops and events, I met many different changemakers from very different backgrounds. From non-profit environmentalists to for-profit upcyclers, and innovative educators to entrepreneurial government workers, I was inspired by the diversity and depth of the social innovation community. The experience helped me realise why I am uncomfortable with the label changemaker. It is not because I do not think I am creating change. Rather, it is that labeling a person or group of people as changemakers implies that not everyone is one. My experience in the Fellowship program suggests the exact opposite – that we are all changemakers in our own way.


RADIUS Fellows Sarah Beley and Jeff McGregor

The belief that everyone is a changemaker is really at the heart of the Promote the Vote project. It is not only the belief that everyone is a changemaker in the voting booth. It is also about everyone’s role as a changemaker in conversations at the kitchen table and the water cooler. Everyone is a leader and role model to someone else in their life and has the ability to create change with every conversation they have with a friend, family member, neighbour or co-worker. I believe that dialogue’s focus on listening, understanding and respect has the potential to transform the way we talk about (and think about) politics in Canada. That transformation begins with each of us recognizing and embracing our roles as doers and changemakers within our communities.

For more information about Promote the Vote, visit

Team Guardian Competes at Unmanned Systems Canada 2015

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Artemis Technologies was recently awarded Social Innovation seed funding from RADIUS and Sustainable SFU. Here, they tell the story of travelling to Quebec this Spring to compete in the 2015 Unmanned Systems Canada competition. Written by Kris Gjernes.

Team GUARDIAN participated in the 2015 Unmanned Systems Canada competition which was held in Alma, Quebec. This year’s scenario is based on a train wreck that resulted in an oil spill near agriculture fields and infrastructure. Our team is required to survey the area to locate and identify damaged objects, train containers, and debris piles. 13 university teams from across Canada competed this year, making this the largest USC competition to date!

Day 0: Thursday, April 30

After suffering through a long and sleepless night of flying from Vancouver to Montreal to Quebec City, followed by a drive to Alma, we finally arrived at the competition grounds early afternoon. We claimed a work station in the hangar of the Alma airport and unpacked our team equipment. After a well-deserved nap, we worked into the night to further prepare our system.

Day 1: Friday, May 1

Team Guardian - 2Today the activities of the competition begin. After a brief welcome and guidelines of the competition, all the teams presented the overview of their team and system. The afternoon was spent doing test flights. Team GUARDIAN was the fourth team to test, and after witnessing crashes from each of the systems before us, we were nervous, but was unwarranted since our test went off without a hitch, performing well and executing a successful landing. Our success made us feel prepared for the next day’s evaluated flight for the competition.

Day 2: Saturday, May 2

Team Guardian - 3Team GUARDIAN was scheduled to fly late morning for our first flight that counted towards the competition. The scenario is a train wreck that has resulted in an oil spill in the region. Our task is to locate affected agriculture and any objects in the region such as cars, debris piles, and buildings. We were given 45 minutes for surveillance, followed by an hour to write a report. From the moment the timer started, our flight crew efficiently put the system together and were up in the air in very little time. Our efficiency was unparalleled at the competition thanks to our very coordinated flight crew! The flight was executed flawlessly with plenty of time to survey the entire area and fly over a second time to get additional details. We were extremely pleased with our performance at the competition so far!

Day 3: Sunday, May 3

Team Guardian - 4A second time to compete was given, but this time we were only allotted 30 minutes. From the time we were allowed to begin, it took us 2 minutes 50 seconds to get our plane in the air, half the time as our first flight of competition and significantly dated than any other team. We planned our flight differently, doing a flight at 200m to get a better overall map, and a lower pass at 80m to get better detail, such as the QR codes we were required to read. We were able to get better results this day and more effectively analyzed the images we received. Unfortunately our team did not place in the competition, but with our stable flight and efficiency, we feel that with focussing on our image system and processing, we could significantly improve our performance at next years competition. Team GUARDIAN is proud to have been mentioned by the judges as having the fastest airborne time from our flight today! We look forward to improving and testing our system this next year and competing again in 2016!

MBA student explores multicultural understanding

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MBA student Minghui Yu was awarded awarded Social Innovation seed funding from RADIUS and Embark for his project, termed the Multicultural Understanding Initiative. Here he explains who he has initiated this project, and offers an example of learning to understanding intercultural difference. 

I am very pleased to be selected for this grant. Multicultural understanding, or intercultural understanding, is important in our society, particularly in Lower Mainland, given the large percentage of immigrant population.

The purpose of this initiative is to help citizens develop cultural intelligence. Cultural Intelligence (CQ) is the ability to function effectively and efficiently in diverse cultures. As a result of rapid globalization, more and more people have some types of interaction with people from different cultures: neighbours, fellow colleagues, business partners, etc. Consequently, Cultural Intelligence (CQ) is becoming more and more important just like Intelligence Quotient (IQ) and Emotional Intelligence (EQ).

Multicultural understanding goes through three stages: knowledge, mindfulness, and skills. Knowledge is the cornerstone of multicultural understanding. Mindfulness is developed after possessing sufficient knowledge and requires in depth understanding of other cultures.

An example: Perceptions of the dog in different cultures

An event in a southern China city is creating a big controversy. The Annual Dog Meat Festival in Yulin receives massive protest online: millions of people have signed an online petition to call upon Yulin government to stop the festival. In China, thousands of animal welfare activists and pet lovers rallied in Yulin to protest this event, too.


I considered this event a good opportunity to promote multicultural understanding because it involves two key questions in multicultural understand:

1) Perceptions of the same thing (here in this example, dog) in different main cultures

2) Development of sub-cultures in one culture group

A few weeks ago, I invited a few students for a panel discussion on perceptions of dog in different cultures.  It was an interesting discussion. Local students who grew up in typical Western culture, who considered dogs are mankind’s best friends, were amazed to know that in Chinese culture, dogs are usually labelled as snobbish, dirty, cruel, and full of betrayal.  In the meantime, a debate among several Chinese students also showed the great different perceptions within the same culture.

Panel discussion participants suggested that I should make an easy to read comparison of dog’s perceptions in different cultures. I believe it is a good idea and will work on it.

Last but not least, an interesting videos about cultural difference:


Paid 8 Month Graduate Internship Opportunity with Ecotrust Lab @ RADIUS

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The Ecotrust Lab @ RADIUS is working with community to design, test and launch new approaches to sustainable urban economic development. Based in Vancouver’s inner city, our goals are to improve economic outcomes for inner city residents and to build the community’s capacity to advance future innovations.

Through close collaboration with inner city partner organizations and focused on helping the City of Vancouver advance key community economic development goals, your role will be to help research, test and advance high potential innovations for the inner city and its residents.

The Lab is an initiative of Ecotrust Canada with RADIUS SFU.

You must be currently enrolled in a Canadian graduate studies program to apply for this position. No exceptions, sorry!

Applications are due by July 26th – details below.

The Opportunity

We are looking for four pro-active, dynamic, curious and driven graduate students to join our team for eight months beginning in September 2015. In our inaugural year, the Lab will work with four core community partners on distinct projects with cross-cutting themes.

Each Team Member will have a key stakeholder (client) and a set of objectives and deliverables. You will receive orientation and training in design thinking, community economic development, social innovation, business model development, and developmental evaluation. You will be primarily responsible for determining appropriate methodologies for your work and project management, with close mentorship and support from the Lab manager and a faculty member connected to the RADIUS Social Innovation Lab and Venture Incubator at Simon Fraser University. You will be accountable to the Lab Manager, as well as your community client.

Position descriptions:

Carnegie Community Centre Position Description
DTES Street Market Intern Position Description
Recipes for Success Position Description
The Binners Project Position Description

How to Apply

Please thoroughly read all positions descriptions and apply to only one position. Apply by sending a CV and cover letter to by midnight, Sunday July 26th, 2015. Identify which position you are applying for in the subject of the email.

Please address the following questions in your cover letter:

  1. Why are you interested in a Team Member role with Ecotrust Lab @ RADIUS? (max 200 words)
  2. Briefly summarize what makes you a good candidate for this position. (max 300 words)
  3. What first steps would you take to initiate the project proposed in the position description? (max 300 words)

Interviews will be conducted Wednesday July 29th and Thursday July 30th.

The Fine Print

  • You must be currently enrolled in a Canadian graduate studies program. Master’s, PhD, and Postdoctoral candidates may apply. This opportunity is ideal for students who are mainly finished coursework and are in the internship or thesis stage of their degree program.
  • We are open to applicants from diverse backgrounds, but preference will be given to candidates with interdisciplinary professional and academic experience in, for example, design, business, community economic development, social innovation, economics, social or political science.
  • Experience working with marginalized or vulnerable populations a plus.
  • Funding for this position is provided by Mitacs Canada. Stipends are provided as fixed rate scholarship grants for current graduate students at Canadian universities (no exceptions, sorry!). This is not an employee position.

A Little More About You

You know there is something wrong with our current social and economic systems. You feel a deep sense of purpose in creating positive social change.

You’re part art and part science: you tap into your creativity and don’t shy away from voicing your most off-the-wall ideas. Meanwhile, you delight in observation, pattern identification and meaning-making. You’re willing to listen longer than feels comfortable and you are systematic in testing your hypotheses.

You’re motivated by challenge, love autonomy in your workplace and are self-starting. You value transparency, integrity and generosity and are jazzed on the idea of working on real problems and the real people affected by them.

Does this sound like you? Apply now!