What are the conditions necessary to successfully graduate School of Community Services and social justice students into leaders in social innovation and social entrepreneurship? What are the conditions necessary for industry partners to successfully support community members from marginalized lived experienced groups to generate their own social enterprises or social innovative projects? What was successful about the model of the Social Innovation Hub and what support and resources are required for it to scale in efficiency to address its vision and mission?
These were the questions that Natalie Wood, professor at the Social Service Work Program (SSW) at George Brown College (GBC) and EUC PhD student, asked in a recently concluded study on GBC’s Social Innovation Hub (SIHub), a second and third year alternative placement, connector and early stage incubator for students in the School of Community Services. SIHub provided training in social innovation and social entrepreneurship for students to generate their own social enterprises, projects, and initiatives within a supportive environment.
Unique in the sense that SIHub had a high percentage of Black, Indigenous, People of Colour, queer, trans and women hubsters who created social ventures that impacted their respective communities, a dedicated space for the members of the SIHub to imagine, design and connect with mentors and other hubsters was deemed by the study as critically important. The connector role of the SIHub also lent itself well to a social justice-oriented approach that championed change within GBC and the hubsters’ local communities. Further, the entrepreneurial initiation processes that formed part of the hubsters’ experiences led to the transformation of students to leaders, social innovators, and social entrepreneurs.
Though successful, questions remain on the sustainability of SIHub as an approach and model that can be emulated by other community colleges and maintained given the necessary infrastructure and resources to support its initiatives. As part of the knowledge sharing methodology, the research team came out with a publication aptly titled Zineovation that celebrated the works of the research team and hubsters who contributed to the development of social entrepreneurs, innovators and leaders within their communities.
Wood, a cofounder and coordinator of the GBC Social Innovation Hub from 2014-2018, provides consulting services in the field of social innovation to other educational institutions and community-based organizations. She believes that the platform gave the college community a sense of pride and achievement: “It’s an indication of the leadership and creative potential of our students in the School of Community Services and at GBC, where, with the right kinds of opportunities for testing their ideas, they can become the next social and economic innovators in their communities,” she remarks.
Born in Trinidad, Wood describes herself as a queer African-Caribbean-Canadian immigrant, academic, social justice warrior and artist who uses the tools of art, social innovation, and education to create, empower and transform individuals, institutions, and communities. She sees herself as wearing 3 kinds of bowties: 1) a social innovation specialist who designs and performs change within institutions and communities; 2) a PhD student using her research to challenge the devastating impact of anti-Black racism through documenting and developing Afro-Caribbean diasporic-inspired community organizations and models of empowerment, healing and inclusion; and 3) an award-winning visual and multi-media artist who works to expand the number of creative, entrepreneurship and leadership opportunities for marginalized communities. Wood is part of the founding team of the EUC Black Caucus and a resident artist at Wildseed Centre for Activism and Art. In August 2020, FES (now EUC) hosted a webinar where anti-racism and community meet design thinking -- a framework to solve complex problems with innovative solutions -- with Wood as a speaker along with other notable educators like Kimberley Tavares, Dori Turnstall, and Vidya Shah.
As a mid to established contemporary multimedia artist and curator, Wood creates and exhibits artwork that cohabits the areas of popular culture, education, and historical research. Her work includes the use of recyclable materials, drawing and painting, encaustic wax, printmaking, video, performance, and web-based art. Her videos and performances have been presented in venues such as L Space Humber, OCAD Gallery, Inside Out Film Festival 2015, Nuit Rose, Trinity Square video, The Caribbean Tales film festival 2014, T&T film festival 2013, New York Mix Film and Video Festival, Images Festival 2006 and Mpenzi Film and Video festival (where she won the Audience Choice Award in 2006). Her art works and collaborative art practices have also been presented nationally and internationally in solo exhibitions at WARC, Zsa Gallery, Caribbean Contemporary Art Centre 7; several group exhibitions (Occupy Space 2016 @ Humber Art Gallery, TSG 2016 @ Gladstone Hotel, The Church St Mural Project 2014, Peterborough Art Gallery 2012, Prefix Institute of Contemporary Art 2007), International Art Fairs (Artist Project Toronto 2010, Nuit Blanche 2007, Toronto Alternative Art Fair International). She has received awards from the Toronto, Ontario, and Canada Council for the Arts, the 2006 New Pioneers Award for contribution to the Arts in Toronto and was nominated for the 2006 K. M. Hunter Award for Interdisciplinary Arts Award for her web-based project Kinlinks. Wood’s artwork is represented by Paul Petro Contemporary Art and she has an upcoming art show on March 26, 2021.