What are Social Innovation and Social Finance?

Simply put, social innovation means working together to think outside the box to solve social and environmental problems.

Social finance is an example of social innovation that refers to investments intended to create a measurable social or environmental impact as well as to generate financial returns.

Why all the fuss?

In 2017, a Co-Creation Steering Group, appointed by the Government, engaged stakeholders from across sectors and regions to provide recommendations for a pan-Canadian Social Innovation and Social Finance Strategy.

In 2018, the Social Innovation and Social Finance Strategy Co-Creation Steering Group released its report, Inclusive Innovation: New Ideas and New Partnerships for Stronger Communities. This comprehensive report contains 12 key recommendations that would help communities tackle their toughest social and environmental challenges through skill development, unlocking private capital, increasing market access, and regulatory changes. In other words – it would be a game changer!

Unblock Social Innovation, Empower Communities

The federal government has committed to developing a Social Innovation and Social Finance Strategy (SISF Strategy) and, in 2018, announced a $755M Social Finance Fund and $50M Investment Readiness Program. BUT, the Social Finance Fund has yet to be rolled out; after a very successful 2-year pilot, the Investment Readiness Program is set to expire in March 2021; and there has been little action on the remaining recommendations.

We have a window of opportunity to push the government to implement a comprehensive strategy, expand the Investment Readiness Program, and accelerate the Social Finance Fund. Over the spring and summer, several mobilizing efforts, including by the People-Centred Economy Group, Impact Response, the National Impact Investment Practitioners table, and others, have urged the federal government to accelerate SISF as part of COVID recovery. This is a critical moment for a concerted push for continued action by the federal government to ensure that SISF is part of budget 2021.


There are two options for action. The first will have more of an impact in this campaign and will help you build a long-term relationship with your MP.

Option 1: High Impact

1. Set up a virtual meeting or phone call with your MP.
2. Share these key messages with them and ask them to write to Minister Hussen and Minister Freeland asking for Social Enterprise, Social Innovation, and Social Finance to be central features in the Government of Canada’s post-COVID economic recovery.
3. Let us know how it went.

Option 2: Quick & Easy

1. Send a message to your MP.


In line with our commitment to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, the Strategy contains twelve recommendations to improve our ability to put social innovation and social finance to work in Canada.

The recommendations for the proposed Strategy are designed to support an ecosystems approach, where each component complements the others.

Governance and Public Service Infrastructure
Recommendation 1
Anchor commitment and long-term policy action toward social innovation and social finance in Canada through federal framework legislation.
Governance and Public Service Infrastructure
Recommendation 2
Establish and fund a permanent multi-sectoral Social Innovation Council.
Governance and Public Service Infrastructure
Recommendation 3
Create a permanent Office for Social Innovation.
Capacity and Skills
Recommendation 4
Improve social purpose organizations’ access to federal innovation, business development and skills training programs.
Capacity and Skills
Recommendation 5
Establish a cross-sector Social Innovation Ecosystem Program to address gaps in early-stage support, capacity building and impact measurement.
Funding and Capital
Recommendation 6
Create a Social Finance Fund to accelerate the development of social finance ecosystems across Canada.
Funding and Capital
Recommendation 7
Ensure federal funding practices support and enable social innovation.
Market Access
Recommendation 8
Incorporate social procurement guidelines, tools and training into Government’s focus on a cohesive sustainable procurement plan.
Policy and Regulatory Environment
Recommendation 9
Address the legal and regulatory issues impeding charities and non-profits from engaging in social innovation, social finance, and social enterprise.
Policy and Regulatory Environment
Recommendation 10
Develop regulatory innovation capacity using ‘sandboxes’ to explore and experiment with new models.
Evidence and Knowledge Sharing
Recommendation 11
Establish a Social Innovation Evidence Development and Knowledge Sharing Initiative.
Awareness and Mobilization
Recommendation 12
Coordinate a national social innovation and social finance awareness campaign.

Indigenous organizations, communities, and individuals
First Nations, Inuit and Métis individuals and groups who were engaged saw a potential opportunity to adapt social innovation and social finance to their cultural perspectives, in their own manner, and with their own leadership. At a pace determined by communities and National Indigenous Organizations, the Government should further explore potential Nation-to-Nation collaborations. All community participants—and civil society—have roles to play too.

Stories of Social Change

Skwachàys (pronounced skwatch-eyes) Lodge and Residence at 31 West Pender Street in Vancouver is a unique enterprise created by social housing organization, Vancouver Native Housing Society. The building houses a fair trade Indigenous art gallery, boutique hotel, and an urban Indigenous artist residence.

Gateway Linens is an industrial laundry facility providing training and employment to people living in the shelter system. This social enterprise was birthed from a desire to help our friends on the street reintegrate into the workforce.

Located in Vancouver, Atira Property Management is a for-profit business, wholly owned by the registered charity Atira Women’s Resource Society. As a social enterprise, it not only delivers property management services, but provides jobs to hundreds of women and men facing significant barriers to employment. According to an assessment by Ernst and Young, for every dollar received in revenue to Atira Property Management, $4.13 in overall societal value was created in 2016.

The Halifax Music Cooperative is a feisty and passionate not-for-profit organization that provides access to high-quality music education for instrumentalists of all ages, backgrounds, financial circumstances and skill-levels in a safe, positive and collaborative community- environment, where everyone feels welcome, comfortable and connected.

Across all sectors of society ecosystems are forming, where a diverse range of organizations and individuals are working together to make their communities more sustainable and inclusive places through social innovation and social finance.

Letter from non-government members of the previous Co-Creation Steering Group in relation to the proposed federal Social Innovation and Social Finance Strategy, an invitation to help us to build awareness and support for the recommendations: