Colleges and Polytechnics across Canada are undertaking a major role as catalysts of social innovation in almost every sector in society, and present a clear path to encouraging future progress in this area. At George Brown College, we have undertaken more than 30 projects related to social innovation, including 11 projects funded by the pilot program of the Community and College Social Innovation Fund (CCSIF), through the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC), which supports social innovation research projects at colleges and polytechnics. This pilot initiative will connect the talent, facilities and capabilities of Canada’s colleges and polytechnics with the research needs of local community organizations.
With the support of this fund, George Brown has been able to increase their capacity to work within communities, with the goal of developing partnerships that foster social innovation in areas such as education, integration of vulnerable populations, health and community development. One example of this research is the project titled “From Margins to Center through Education: Integrating Victims of Torture and Political Oppression”. This 2-year project’s goal is to establish innovative outreach for people seeking to integrate into Canadian society following experiences of torture and war. It is a community-based participatory action study to determine the specific needs, barriers, and expectations of victims of torture pursuing higher education; the creation of a workshop and course curriculum that addresses the higher education needs and goals of victims of torture; and the pilot implementation and evaluation of an educational program designed to address the needs of victims of torture. This project is in partnership with the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) and the Canadian Centre for Victims of Torture (CCVT).
It is however difficult to find sources of funds for these types of research projects. An example of this difficulty is seen in the allotment is SSHRC’s CCSIF fund: many projects that were selected as successful applications and declared eligible for funding but could not be due to insufficient funds. The expertise for social innovation, and the desire to undertake such research, exists and thrives within the College and Polytechnic environment. Looking towards the future, Canada should establish permanent research programs open to Colleges and Polytechnics, which are proven to be catalyzers of social innovation, with projects impacting virtually every area of our society.