Hello Canada

Exploring the beating heart of social innovation in Canada in 2024, and exploring the Future of Labs.

Hello Canada
Photo by Guillaume Jaillet

When I think of the country I've taken most inspiration from in the last 15 years, outside of where I've been living - I think it might well be Canada. The quality of thinking, practice and sharing in the field of social innovation and the types of labs I write about, is quite excellent - but I've never had the chance to visit, until now.

Back at the beginning of the year, an email landed in my inbox from Tim Draimin which made me sit up and take notice. It was an invitation to the Future of Labs Gathering which had a bold call:

At the Future of Labs, we are assembling some of the most experienced pioneers and innovators who steward and design collective problem-solving lab practices. Future of Labs will be a catalyst for shaping the next ten years of effective lab approaches and a rare chance to connect experienced lab leaders who share the common goal of creating more impactful practices. The resulting work will support more people and systems to get better at tackling some of the most wicked challenges our world is facing today. Through pre-gathering research with diverse lab practitioners from across Canada and beyond, and through thoughtfully designed workshops, we aim to look deeply into what’s been working, not working, and what could be the next practices that labs and lab practitioners need to consider and build.

I didn't know how I could make it happen, but I felt deeply called to be in that room, as it was speaking to my last 15 years of work and where I believe my next ~20 will likely be spent too.

Fast forward to today and somehow my flights to Canada are booked. I have to take a moment to extend deep thanks to Monash Sustainable Development Institute, Monash University, the Future of Labs Gathering team and Social Innovation Canada for finding a way to co-finance this trip.

Exploring places, spaces and relationships contributing to Lab practice in Toronto, Vancouver and Cortes Island

I'm delighted to say I have a three part trip, across which I'm planning to explore, reflect on and build relationships (and perhaps partnerships) with some amazing folks.

body of water under white cloudy sky
Toronto by Berkay Gumustekin


I'm only in Toronto for a few days (29/4 to 2/5), but my plans already include University of Toronto's living lab (and perhaps the Future living lab also at UoT and Visionary Communities), and I also hope to spend some time at the MaRS Discovery District, and the amazing Centre for Social Innovation (and their Climate Ventures team) with the indominatable Tonya Surman & friends. I'd dearly like to meet the incredible folks behind Turtle Island Institute too.

city with high rise buildings near sea during night time
Vancouver by Matt Wang


My time in Vancouver is likely to be split across two short stays either side of the Gathering (3 & 4/5 and 9/5), but I'm already hoping to connect with the excellent living lab work happening at University of British Columbia, City of Vancouver Solutions Lab, the Zero Emissions Innovation Centre, SFU's RADIUS social innovation hub, and perhaps an evening with Social Innovation Canada (shout out to Geraldine Cahill & co), Systems Sanctuary (with the amazing Tatiana Fraser) and perhaps even Tamarack Institute & others too.

Cortes Island courtesy of Stephen Hui

Cortes Island, BC

4 days on a very special looking island, with a very special group of people from a range of labs and organisations focused on complex social and environmental challenges, at the Future of Labs Gathering, hosted at the beautiful Hollyhock Retreat Centre.

As I understand it, Cortes Island has a special place in the history of social innovation in Canada, and I'm looking forward to better connecting with the landscape of place and purpose.

Image by Alex Perez

Want to connect?

I wrote this post to shine a light on some amazing organisations, initiatives and people who I've been in dialogue with through various iterations of life and work over 15 years now, and to extend my thanks for the warm reception from so many already.

But I also am writing to cast the net out for any folks heading to the gathering, and any of those who can't make it but might be able to coincide with the Toronto or Vancouver trip. If so - feel free to contact me via work.

The tour is now in full swing - read the Reflections - Part 1 post