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United Way Blog

Fast Tracking Social Innovation in Calgary

Beth Gignac’s varied experiences perfectly prepared her for the world of social innovation.

She has 20+ years of experience in municipal government, specifically in arts, culture, community planning, development and previously worked as a consultant in open space design. Beth brings her expertise in innovation and design principles to accelerate social innovation at United Way of Calgary and Area. As Chief Operating Officer, Beth leads the strategic vision for The Social Impact Lab to transform the sector from serving to solving urgent social needs.

In response to disruption in the social sector, The Social Impact Lab creates new ventures to address social challenges while unifying the corporate, social and academic sectors. There is demand for new ideas, products, services, stakeholders, and relationships to overcome pressing societal challenges, and yet demand for support continues to outpace the supply of funding and services.

The Social Impact Lab is responding to this disruption by investing in innovation and creating strategic partnerships that support the social sector not only to serve but to solve social issues. They are focused on responsible disruption and how they might create and lead a social ecosystem focused on solving complex social problems. In 2018, United Way Calgary and Area and J5 Innovation + Design launched The Social Impact Lab with a focus on two tracks: 

  • A physical and virtual innovation space to design new or reimagined solutions to persistent social problems
  • Inspire: a training program to guide agencies through business models and design thinking tools

In the same year, the team began deep listening and learning to understand opportunities to improve child and youth mental health in Calgary. The Lab crowdsourced ideas from agency partners, mental health practitioners, community members, and youth with lived experience to prototype solutions on how they might support children and youth mental health concerns. Discussions and expertise from agency partners, mental health practitioners and community members demonstrated a positive connection between natural supports, relationships that occur in daily life, and youth development. 

The Natural Supports Simulation, the Lab’s most recent solution, is an online interactive experience to raise awareness and assess readiness for the natural support role. In an ever-changing landscape of new realities, loss and anxieties, it’s important to look outside and uncover opportunities for innovation. The Social Impact Lab has launched a webinar and podcast series: “Responsible Disruption: The importance of innovation in times of changes”. Through these virtual sessions, they explore the importance of innovation and response, recovery and resilience during these challenging times.