Social Innovation Activators: Staying Composed Under Uncertainty

Amar Singh is one of our 2016 Student Social Innovation Activators. RADIUS launched the Social Innovation Activators program this year to bring together three emerging SFU changemakers who will help understand, shape, and activate a stronger social innovation community, engaging all faculties on all SFU campuses. Here Amar shares some learnings from his experience.
When I first arrived for my interview for the Social Innovation Activators Program, I was surprised to see three glasses of water across the interviewer’s seat. It turned out that RADIUS had decided to interview candidates in groups of 3 to see which team would get the opportunity to be the very first cohort for the Activators Program. Intimidated, I was expecting it to be a complete bloodbath. However, it turned out that the team-based interview were engaging, exciting, yet probing into our motivations for becoming Activators of Social Innovation. I’m not sure why, but I knew that this was the beginning of something special.
Why did I share this story? Because it adequately describes the experience I’ve had with the SI Activators program so far. I walk in thinking one thing and then have a curve ball thrown at me, requiring me to adjust and stay composed under uncertain conditions.
Beginning the program, I thought we would have clear goals and agendas followed by quick execution of tasks, creating a lot of game-changing impact within the SFU community in a short amount of time. However, I quickly realized that change is often slow for big institutions, and in innovation, there often isn’t a clear cut plan of attack. Innovation is uncertain and impact requires patience and perseverance. For me, this was tough as I’m used to having a clear plan, checking off the items on the to-do list with pace.
As Activators of Social Innovation at SFU, our first project was organizing the Social Innovation Speaker Series. The goal of this series was to create an access point into the world of Social Innovation and Entrepreneurship for SFU students and community members. I was quickly humbled as there’s a lot more to a speaker series than one may think. Organizing this event was a challenge given the short, one month time-frame. There was the stress of finding speakers, an appropriate venue with economical catering services, marketing the event, and figuring out the structure of how everything will go. Then there’s the dependencies. You can’t market the event until the venue and speakers are chosen. Speakers wont commit unless there are a solid number of people attending. So everything is interconnected like a clump of tangled yarn, and requires patience and perseverance to unravel.
To me, the speaker series was just like the initial interview. I walked in with one mindset, but realized that it isn’t as straight forward as one may think. So I had to adjust my mindset to perform to the best of my ability. Keeping an open mind allowed me to learn a lot from our experience organizing and implementing the
I learnt that there is a difference between being patient and being idle. As simple as this “ah hah!” moment may appear, it has had a profound impact on me. Previously, I wasn’t comfortable with being patient as I thought it meant being idle. To me, being idle is wasting time – the devil’s workshop if you please. I’ve learned that being patient is more about being proactive than about being idle.
With a successfully completed speaker series, we are on to our next project creating a map of SFU’s innovation and entrepreneurship ecosystem. At first I wasn’t too excited about making a map as it seemed neither exciting nor engaging. However, after adjusting my mindset once again, I’ve come to terms that creating a map is the first step in a more innovative university. I’m looking forward to learning how to approach this problem and create a map, because it acts as a foundation for being an engaging, innovative university. Who knows, this may be the beginning of another exciting and engaging project with profound lessons throughout.