Normalizing Social Innovation

St. Paul's GreenHouse

Mike Morrice doesn’t want other people to be as lucky as he was.

Morrice, the founder of Sustainable Waterloo Region and the executive director of Sustainability CoLab, reflects on his experience and how dependent he was on what he calls “luck and happenstance.”  Morrice is excited about GreenHouse precisely because it takes the luck out of the equation and instead “normalizes social innovation” as a viable and important career path.

Morrice, who planned to do high tech marketing as a career, integrated his environmental passion with his business training to start Sustainable Waterloo Region.  He says GreenHouse is in the process of making stories like his the norm instead of the outlier, by providing space, institutional support, likeminded peers, professors, and mentors.

Observing the massive changes in our culture and technology, Morrice believes “social innovation is about taking the existing world in front of us, asking why is it is the way it is, rethinking paradigms, and using the economic system as part of the solution to reinvent the way we do these things.”

He notes that historically we’ve had two separate groups: those who want to do good and those who want to make profit. ”Today, we’re moving away from that, recognizing that the GDP is not the only or best measure of success.”  Morrice believes it’s essential both to quantify social return and to ensure that there is an economic case to be made in social enterprise.

He gives an example of the economic and social impact of Sustainable Waterloo Region, recalling a start-up grant of $25,000. “Today, this program is financially self-sufficient with 70 businesses paying membership fees and investing in the local green economy. As a result of this program, we’ve reduced carbon emissions by the same amount as we would by taking 12,000 cars off the road.

“Social enterprise like this allows us to achieve other important goals that move our economic system closer to one that is in all our best interests. An institution like GreenHouse helps create an environment that does this.”

He notes that Waterloo Region has a long heritage of innovation and entrepreneurship, stretching back to the early Mennonite settlers through today’s high tech companies. “The fact that GreenHouse exists and has had success already is exciting. I’m eager to see what this community can do.”

- Susan Fish is a Waterloo-based writer who operates Storywell, an editing company, and who has two published novels (Seeker of Stars and Ithaca).

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