Food for thought

Chicken Soup Friends (or, why we built the RADIUS Fellowship Program)

By | Fellows, Food for thought, RADIUS Edu | One Comment

Jenn McRae built and piloted the RADIUS Fellowships in Radical Doing program, which wrapped up its second annual cohort this summer under the leadership of RADIUS Lead Educator Tamara Connell. Here, Jenn tells the origin story behind the Fellows program, and shares some of what we’ve learned so far. Feature image above and last three images by Fellow and pro photographer Jackie Dives.

It was a Friday night. I was at home, lying on the couch watching an episode of who knows what through barely open eyes. I was exhausted. Around 3am that morning, I’d gotten in a cab and taken myself to the Emergency Room. I was, the ER doctor told me, having a gallbladder attack (nice ring to it, eh?). Everything turned out just fine but I had to cancel some meetings on Friday and get some rest.

The knock on my front door startled me from my barely conscious state on the couch. When I peaked through the window before answering, I saw Charles, my (then) boss and friend standing there with something in his hands. When our eyes met through the window, he gave me a big grin and a little wave. I opened the door, and he said “I just wanted to make sure you are ok. And I made you some chicken soup so you feel better.”

I think I just stood and stared at him. I could feel a whole complex gaggle of emotions welling up in my throat. On the verge of tears, I stammered out some underwhelming version of “thanks” and invited him in. He gave me another hug and said he could not stay and told me to call if I needed anything.

Paul Born’s Deepening Community, our “Chicken Soup Friends”


February 2015 opening retreat for the first Fellows cohort on Bowen Island

Many months later, when I had moved on to work at RADIUS, Charles gifted me with a book by Paul Born called Deepening Community. Born posits  that deep communities — the kind where you trust one another and share stories, spend time together regularly, commit mutual acts of caring that lead to strong bonds and greater collective resiliency —  are the kinds of communities that enable us to do the difficult work of building a better world together.  Charles and I came to call the kinds of friendships and connections Born describes “Chicken Soup Friends.”

At that time, I was building RADIUS’ first leadership program for young changemakers. Born’s framework became central to my thinking in this endeavour. I’d even go so far as to say my ultimate goal was to build a network of Chicken Soup Friends. Now, you can’t really tell a funder “I want to build you a cohort of chicken soup friends!” and leave it at that. So we went deep on the research on social isolation, network theory, the livelihoods and career trajectories of impact-oriented young people, and gaps in the higher education system. We framed the program like this:

The RADIUS Fellowship program will bring together the next generation of untamed social entrepreneurs and innovators from SFU and the Lower Mainland who have demonstrated remarkable accomplishment in their pursuits and a relentless dedication to creating impact in all they do. Intended to identify, profile, support and catalyze these emerging Radical Doers, the Fellowships will provide the community, mentorship and tools needed to create deep social impact and pursue work with purpose.

What’s this got to do with Social Impact?

What we were really up to though was an experiment in deep community building, in ‘networking networks’. But why? Why are Chicken Soup Friends so valuable and what do they have to do with social impact?

I could write you a long listicle about the dozens of reasons why these kinds of deep social bonds are crucial to doing social change work, why they are so important that I would frame an entire program around the generation of deep community, but it really comes down to one big reason: connections like these make us resilient. Read More

Radical Ideas in Impact Investing: Bridging Gaps and Harnessing New Sources of Capital

By | Food for thought, RADIUS Ventures, Social Innovation | No Comments

dono trevor croppedRadical Doers – whether rooted in innovation or economic participation or both – need access to appropriate capital; in this post, RADIUS Ventures Director Donovan Woollard outlines the solutions RADIUS is currently working on and the ones that we seek to build in collaboration with other global leaders in social entrepreneurship.  

RADIUS is a place for Radical Doers. We connect, cultivate, and accelerate innovators and entrepreneurs working to build an economy transformed to serve social justice, resiliency, and ecosystem health and wellbeing.

Our Doers have had tremendous success. But through our work, we have gained clarity about the critical barriers and gaps in the entrepreneurial ecosystem. As a result, RADIUS is beginning to look beyond the individual innovators and entrepreneurs we support, and toward the systemic landscape that they thrive or struggle in.

One central challenge is access to appropriate capital.

Addressing the Capital Gap

The capital gap is particularly acute for those entrepreneurs dedicated to impact on multiple bottom lines.  Many investors are turned off by the term “impact investing”, thinking that it means “high risk, low reward”. But a growing number are starting to realize that innovation-based social ventures have the potential to align business, social impact, and investor returns. J.P. Morgan and the Global Impact Investing Network reported impact investments to have grown to US$60 billion globally in 2015.

More challenging are those ventures that have other values, such as economic participation, at their core.

The world that RADIUS envisions has a parallel focus on both innovation and economic participation, to cultivate the opportunities and wellbeing of all society. RADIUS has parallel strategies to promote both innovation and economic participation in our venture and fellows cohorts.  Read More

We’re letting go our Connected Kitchens collaboration: here’s why

By | Food for thought, RADIUS Lab | No Comments

How do you know when to pivot an ambitious idea to something more realistic? How do you let go of an idea that inspires you? LEDlab Program Manager Kiri Bird explores lessons learned from our Connected Kitchens project with Carnegie Community Centre and shares audio clips from a recorded project debrief. 

In September 2015, LEDlab launched with four graduate students matched to community partners seeking to accelerate community-driven social enterprise projects that would put money in the pockets of DTES residents. One of these  projects, Connected Kitchens — in collaboration with Carnegie Community Centre –was framed as an ‘inquiry-based project’ which would test the assumption that there is untapped potential for food startups in the DTES, specifically in the community kitchens programs of SRO (single room occupancy) hotels.

Carnegie and LEDlab planned to spend one semester (four months) in this inquiry phase and then decide if there was enough traction or uptake to continue the work into in the new year. Three months into Connected Kitchens, all the partners were disappointed with what had been accomplished.

We hadn’t been able to pin down a core team of DTES residents that would help lead the project, and we hadn’t started using community kitchens to produce food to sell. When we couldn’t find traction or community buy-in, we trusted ourselves enough to take a step back and reexamine our commitments and priorities. After careful discussion, the Carnegie team and LEDlab decided not to continue with the Connected Kitchens project for a second semester.

Read more and listen to clips from the team’s conversation on the LEDlab’s blog.

LEDlab is an initiative of RADIUS and Ecotrust Canada, and the current expression of RADIUS Lab