On March 12, the Second Annual Youth Innovation Summit brought 14 young social entrepreneurs from across Canada to Parliament Hill to share their innovative ideas on how to address the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). More specifically, they were here to pitch their social entrepreneurial projects to a panel of judges, social enterprise experts from Canada and the UK, and 100 invited guests—including government representatives from Canada and the UK.

The summit was a culmination of the Active Citizens Social Enterprise (ACSE) training program, developed by the British Council and brought to Canada thanks to a partnership with United Nations Association in Canada (UNA-Canada). The initiative provided young changemakers from across Canada the opportunity to be mentored on social enterprise and to sharpen their ideas to help tackle challenges in their communities. At the end of their training, a select few are chosen to present their impressive ideas, with the chance to win a prize of $2,500 and continued support.

Since its launch in 2009, the ACSE program was implemented in 54 countries worldwide, partnering with over 525 organisations, launching more than 6,232 social action projects and training over 155,000 individuals. In Canada alone, over 300 young Canadians between the ages of 18 and 35 were able to learn about and experiment with social innovation through intercultural dialogue and community-led action. Participants gained skills to help them tackle local challenges that align with the UN’s SDGs, leveraging the ACSE toolkit developed by the British Council.

With its far-reaching mission and focus on social innovation, there’s never been a better time for a program like this that supports young leaders in effecting change, says Mariya Afzal, county director of British Council in Canada. “The exchange of knowledge and ideas, and the nurturing of peer relations are of utmost importance for our youth to be more innovative and bold in their approach to entrepreneurship,” she shares. “Social enterprises are accelerating in both the UK and in Canada and through this remarkable project, we are able to provide a platform for young leaders from Canada to share their ideas.”

Kate White, President & CEO, UNA-Canada would agree. “UNA-Canada with the British Council has engaged youth in advance of this Summit to create a legacy of practical skills and social enterprise knowledge. This Summit is a culmination of what has been an inspiring process both for remarkable young entrepreneurs and the team supporting them.”

With the eminent Parliament Hill as its backdrop and illustrious guests like Mrs. Susan le Jeune d’Allegeershecque, CMG, British High Commissioner to Canada and Neil McLean, chief executive of UK’s Social Enterprise Academy, the young leaders took the podium one by one to share their ideas of change. Veronika Bylicki talked about CityHive and its mission to bring together civic institutions facing urban challenges with energetic young people who have the expertise to help tackle them. Janelle Hinds is working on Helping Hands, a social enterprise that matches youth with volunteer opportunities in their communities.

Through Fermata Inc., Daniel Hymans is offering music therapy for people with special needs. PhD student Chantele Joordens presented her social enterprise, Reset, an app that connects women fleeing from violent partners with important community resources to help get them back on their feet.

One by one these and other young innovators shared ideas that were met with applause and a sense of hope for the future, one led by these empowered and compassionate trailblazers. At the end of the day, the top prize was awarded to Rebecca Dunphy of Nova Scotia for Rampage, a social enterprise that will build portable and affordable accessibility ramps out of tires and other waste rubber. The goal is to make Canada more accessible while reducing the amount of waste in landfills too, she says.

 

Rebecca Dunphy accepting her award

 

The germ for the idea was planted while Dunphy worked at a summer camp for individuals with physical and cognitive disabilities. Enthralled with the environment, Dunphy would move up to assistant director within four years. “I tend to get pretty gung ho about things,” she laughs. On an outing to a museum on summer afternoon, Dunphy had to lug a child in a manual wheelchair into the building as it lacked full accessibility. “She looked so sad and defeated and didn’t have any fun cause all of the independence had been taken from her,” recalls Dunphy. “No one should feel like that,” she adds of an experience that would prove seminal to her role as social innovator.

She then got involved in Enactus, a student-run organization that encourages entrepreneurial thinking to solve community issues, where she was introduced to the concept of social enterprise. One thing led to the other and Rampage was born.

Though currently working full-time at Halifax-based Common Good Solutions, where the 23-year-old helps grow, develop and strengthen social enterprises, Dunphy and her team is putting every effort possible into the R&D stage of Rampage to help move the social enterprise forward. So far, they’ve been mostly exploring crumb rubber, she says, the type of material you find on turf fields or playgrounds (through a cryogenic process all other materials are removed so that only raw rubber is left).

But they’ve been looking into other ideas too, thanks to supportive allies like Michelin Tire, a willing supplier of the tire rubber waste as well as other waste streams. “We’re looking at what else can be incorporated into the ramp to make it safe and sturdy but also as recycled and eco-friendly as possible,” says Dunphy (the crumb rubber would form the top portion of the ramp, while the main base would be made of aluminum).

She’s also in discussion with other groups working on accessibility ramps, like Toronto’s StopGap, to share learnings and see how they can work together. “I’m all about collaboration,” Dunphy shares. “I just want Canada to be accessible, I don’t care how it happens.” Regardless of how it gets done, the demand for ramps is seemingly on the rise and Dunphy may have a busy future ahead. After all, the Accessibility Act in Nova Scotia is making it necessary for all businesses to be accessible and to comply by their standards by 2030.

As for ACSE, Dunphy was delighted to take part. “I was so amazed with the training they put on in the local region,” she says of the program that took place in Halifax and seven other cities across Canada. “The room was full of young eager innovators and it was so empowering.” Being selected to go to the summit was especially exciting. “To be in the room with these experts and young folks who will probably be changemakers for life, was one of the biggest honours,” says Dunphy, an avid participant in various student pitch competitions. And the connections with social enterprise leaders, experts and members of the British Council and the UN was simply icing on the cake, she adds.

As for other aspiring changemakers, Dunphy has these words of advice: if you have even an inkling of a social entrepreneurial idea, don’t hesitate; jump at the chance to take part in these types of programs. “It just helps you develop and improve your idea and really gets freaking exciting.”

Exciting indeed. The energy, smarts and optimism of the innovators were palpable in the room that day. And everyone in the audience felt it. For Afzal and other organizers, the opportunity provided hope for what’s to come. “Meeting with these young leaders makes me feel proud and gives me confidence that our shared future is in good hands.”

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