Feb. 11, 2021

How social innovation and sustainability can kickstart a personal transformation for UCalgary students

Leading student changemakers share their experiences, offer tips, and point to resources at UCalgary

Reflecting on his first year at the University of Calgary, Sam Agostini-Sarabia remembers feeling isolated and unsure of himself. He lacked a deep connection to the campus community.

Now, as he prepares to graduate with a plethora of work, volunteer and professional development experiences under his belt, the once-shy student refers to himself as “a confident conversationalist ready to take on the world.”

When asked about the metamorphosis, Agostini-Sarabia lists several factors: UCalgary’s sustainability community, the innovation ecosystem, and programs and workshops offered by Leadership and Student Engagement.

My journey in sustainability and social innovation at UCalgary has been a transformative experience for my university career.

Not only did it allow me to break into several roles in my targeted industries, but also facilitated my personal evolution by helping me to hone my communication and leadership skills,” says Agostini-Sarabia.

Agostini-Sarabia shared these thoughts and other lessons at the recent Sustainability and Social Innovation webinar. Hosted by the  Office of the Vice-President (Research), Office of Sustainability, Hunter Hub for Entrepreneurial Thinking and Innovate Calgary, this inspiring event allowed UCalgary social innovators like Agostini-Sarabia to share how undertaking social innovation work shaped their experiences at UCalgary, as well as insightful tips to help others launch their own social innovation projects.

Panellists included Julia Imanoff, a doctoral student in nursing, CEO and co-founder of COLO families; Julia St. Amand, an undergraduate student in business and kinesiology and co-founder of Retinalogik; and Agostini-Sarabia, an undergraduate student in urban studies, former student engagement co-ordinator in the Office of Sustainability, and associate at the Calgary Social Value Fund.

The event recording is available online here, but if you’re looking to learn more about social innovation and sustainability at UCalgary right away, here are some answers to get you started.

What is social innovation?

According to Dr. Penny Pexman, associate vice-president (research), “Social innovation is an approach to solve complex societal challenges that takes many different forms.” Social innovators use policies, markets and culture to create change and think of ideas that, once adopted, will help communities respond to challenges more effectively than before.

What are the benefits of social innovation?

Social innovation invites us to codesign new approaches and create inclusive partnerships to tackle today’s toughest problems. By establishing mutually beneficial relationships, social innovation research creates opportunities for deepened collaboration with industry and government, bringing evidence-informed solutions and enterprising models together.

How are social innovation and sustainability related?  

Social innovation and sustainability are fully intertwined. “Social innovation and sustainability are about empowering people to drive change on intractable problems such as poverty, inequality and the climate crisis. Problems that no one person or organization can address in isolation,” says Joanne Perdue, associate vice-president (sustainability). “These are challenges that require diverse contributors to build effective solutions. At its heart, sustainability and social innovation together are about addressing social needs in a social way.” 

Advice from the innovators

  • Identify gaps in knowledge and think about ways to address them.
  • Don’t limit yourself to one box. Pursue your passion, even if it leads you to multiple disciplines.
  • Network with faculty and professionals whose work aligns with your interests. Ask them questions and have conversations. You never know where they might lead!
  • Be patient and break things down into manageable steps.
  • Celebrate the small wins and see any movement as a success. With long-term initiatives, you might not reach your goal for years, so take pride in every milestone along the way.
  • And when all else fails fake it ‘til you make it. Put on a brave face and don’t let imposter syndrome hold you back!

What supports are available to me?

A number of resources are available to help campus changemakers kickstart their sustainability and social innovation journeys. Learn more about the types of supports.

Innovation@UCalgary is the ecosystem that supports innovation activities at UCalgary, bridging the transition from discovery through to delivering solutions for society. We work with our on-campus community, the Calgary community, government, industry and other institutions to accelerate this process for the benefit of humankind. Solutions can take many forms, including via businesses, knowledge engagement networks, non-profit models, among others. Learn more.

The University of Calgary’s Institutional Sustainability Strategy provides a roadmap for continuous improvement in our pursuit of excellence and leadership in sustainability. We aim to be a Canadian post-secondary education leader in sustainability in our academic and engagement programs, administrative and operational practices and through supporting community and industry in their aims for leadership in sustainability. Learn more about UCalgary’s leadership in sustainability. 

Created with a generous gift from the Hunter Family Foundation in 2017, the Hunter Hub for Entrepreneurial Thinking is UCalgary’s central community hub that transforms lives and economies through fostering entrepreneurial thinking in students, faculty and the community. Our mission is to create and support game-changing innovators and accelerate their ideas from conception to impact.

The Hunter Hub contributes to the University of Calgary’s strategic vision to be the most entrepreneurial university in Canada.