Reflections on the 2016 Getting to Maybe Social Innovation Residency

At a meeting of the Social Innovator Network of Calgary in November 2015, a colleague shared information about the second Getting to Maybe Social Innovation Residency that would be held in June/July 2016 at the Banff Centre. This sounded like a phenomenal opportunity to connect and learn with other people who also eat, sleep and breathe social innovation – until I remembered that I was the mom of a ten-year-old, and couldn’t just step out of life for an entire month.

And yet seven months later, thanks to the generosity of the Suncor Energy Foundation and the support of family, friends and colleagues, my daughter (accompanied by her pet fish, Carson) and I took up residency at the spectacular Banff Centre. I joined a cohort of 28 individuals from across the country who differed in age and project focus, but shared an openness to personal and professional exploration and a calling to create meaningful change. We were guided in this mountain adventure by brilliant faculty members and mentors, who were wonderfully generous about sharing their time and knowledge with our cohort both during and outside of our scheduled class time.

In we dove – very, very deeply. Using the metaphor of a six-stringed guitar, we sounded the intellectual, emotional, physical, spiritual, relational, and intuitive strings of our beings. We wrestled with questions related to how an idea can shift a complex system. We listened to stories of Trickster, who took the form of coyote and raven, teasing out our disruptive selves to challenge the status quo and embrace paradox. We invited in play and pushed our limits through improvisation and performance. We drank in the wisdom of mentors who reminded us, for example, that the most promising social innovations are those that build on or recombine elements already in existence. We learned the theoretical underpinnings of this wisdom, such as the “adjacent possible” and “bricolage”. 

Perhaps most important, however, for the most intense and hyperactive among us (our entire cohort, perhaps?) was the opportunity to stand still. Borrowed from a poem by David Wagoner that Frances Westley shared with us, the phrase “stand still” became a mantra. Whether through the early morning smudges, meditation, poetry, a solo on the land, or other contemplative practices introduced throughout the month, stillness crept in, nudging out frenzy and creating space for reflection. 

This contemplative space wasn’t always comfortable. What emerged from the depths to be reflected on the now still surface could be unpleasant – challenging what we believed to be true about ourselves and leaving us feeling exposed and vulnerable. Throughout, we were encouraged to remember Joseph Campbell’s quote, “where you stumble, there lies your treasure”. As I wryly reflected on how very rich I must be, I realized that this was indeed the most profound and potentially transformative learning that I would leave the residency with. 

When I look back on the residency, it is with immense gratitude for these resonant experiences and this new social innovation community that will continue to challenge and influence my assumptions, understandings, perspectives, and practices for years hence. Thank you!