The value proposition of social prosperity

I was at MacDonald Island, along with several hundred others, as people like Paul Born, Ray Floyd, Nancy Mattes, and Cathy Brothers kicked off the Social Prosperity Wood Buffalo (SPWB) project in 2011, though the name and the brand came later.  Many of the movers and shakers were there: politicians, senior industry leaders, vice presidents, executive directors -- the decision makers and influencers.  In April 0f 2015, the five-year community capacity building effort will complete its scope of work.  The steering committee of SPWB and some stakeholders in the social profit sector, spent the entire day - also at MacDonald Island - reflecting on the activities, learnings and outcomes.

These are some of my observations about what emerged from yesterday's deep dive.  They are my interpretations and recollections, and are in no way official conclusions or meant to represent in any way, shape or form the views of the SPWB project, steering committee, funders, drivers or stakeholders.  How's that for a disclaimer?

1.  The accreditation preparation workshop series, designed and developed by SPWB to help organizations prepare for Imagine Canada's Standards Accreditation program is highly valued, not only for the piece of paper they get upon their successful completion, but for the process itself.  The very act of getting policies, procedures and processes in order strengthens social profits, and by extension, our community and region.

2.  The Heart of Wood Buffalo Awards has already become an integral component of our social profit ecosystem.  It never even got mentioned in the first three hours of dialogue yesterday morning.  We fully expect the lights to turn on when we flip the switch; what is there to talk about?  This "encouraging the heart" outcome of SPWB continues to be lauded and acknowledged for its impact and importance.

3.  There were several conversation streams that talked about how partnerships and collaborations have evolved to be a natural way of doing business.  "Before we started the Social Prosperity process, if I called up another organization to see if I could copy a form or policy, the answer would be no," shared one participant in yesterday's discussions.  "Now, there is no hesitation.  'What else do you need?' is more likely to be the response."  Several specific examples were cited of multiple groups coming together to realize efficiencies, avoid duplication, and share resources.

4.  The academic function was/is critical.  The role that the University of Waterloo played in doing and providing the research, and being that "neutral" third party enabled people and organizations from all corners of the sector to authentically engage.  The "establishment" and the groups on the "fringes" all felt like their voices were being heard and captured by the academic minds who were synthesizing and distilling a whole lot of information and ideas.  I heard loudly and clearly that maintaining the academic function, post the SPWB project, is important, though there could be many advantages to finding a local source for that function.

5.  This was less about quick wins or identifiable successes, and more about the process.  I am guilty of pushing for tangible and saleable outcomes, but I can see now that I was wrong - though I keenly remember the compelling driver to convince the naysayers.  Almost four years along, and we can clearly see how the process has facilitated organic strengthening of organizations, created meaningful partnerships, and in one case, inspired an amazing merger of three organizations.

6.  Leadership is key.  That point came up several times during our day-long reflection about the Social Prosperity project.  The Suncor Energy Foundation and the University of Waterloo provided the vessel and the breeze to get this ship sailing and has kept it moving.  If the processes entailed in this project are to be sustained, then a champion is going to be required, a champion that ensures the voices from all parts of the sector are heard and valued.

7.  There is great value in failure.  Things were tried, new models tested, and ideas run through the wringer during the SPWB process.  Some took root and took off, others bore fruit but died on the vine.  It was nice to talk about the need to encourage and celebrate things that didn't work in equal measure to those things that did.  We want to engender a sector that can tolerate risk, encourage experimentation, and facilitate innovation.

8.  How often do you hear the term "nonprofit" in Wood Buffalo?  In an organic kind of way, the legal descriptor of the sector was supplanted by the term "social profit" following the first iteration of Convergence YMM.  Now, if you use the n-word people in our community, people look at you funny.  Many of us have begun the process of exporting this notion to other places.  When I was at Yale University a few weeks ago I shared with a group of MBA students how we've changed the language.  "Can we steal that?" they asked.  "Steal away," I said, "just remember where it came from."

You will hear more formal presentations and read well-crafted reports about Social Prosperity Wood Buffalo as this project winds down and as the community explores the "What's Next?" question.  For now, I feel assured that time, patience, dedication and trusting the process has had a measurable, substantial, and hopefully, sustainable impact on our region and the social profit sector.


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