Admitting "I don't know": Vulnerability as a catalyst for social innovation at RECODE

Zoya Jiwa is a 3rd year student at Simon Fraser University studying Sociology and sustainable community development. She continuously seeks to understand the complexity of systemic social and environmental problems and thrives when she’s immersed in an atmosphere of growth that fosters creativity, community, and ideas with a positive impact. Zoya was thrilled to join the RADIUS team in Toronto as a Student Ambassador at RECODE: Ignite conference, and shares her experience here.
A highlight of RECODE: Ignite was the role of vulnerability as a catalyst for building a socially innovative community. While eagerly listening to students from across Canada explain the projects they are working on, I noticed that their eyes sparkled with sincere enthusiasm. Their pace would quicken as they smiled, sharing the story of what inspired their move to action. Diverse initiatives included social entrepreneurship events, developing mental wellness apps, and inventing medical equipment.  Interestingly, in each scenario, the student recognized that their ideas could have failed. In fact, some of them did in early stages. However, they explained their dedication to the iterative process, to thoughtful design, and to the unique experimentation required to tackle important problems and generate resilient solutions.
As conference discussions unravelled, the dialogue surrounding vulnerability emerged amongst students and faculty members. We gave voice to our fear of failure, to the reasons why we avoid conversations about what is not working in organizations, and to the anxiety of admitting: “I don’t know.”

Zoya Jiwa, a 3rd year student at Simon Fraser University, joined the RADIUS team in Toronto as a Student Ambassador at the RECODE: Ignite conference.

Zoya Jiwa, a 3rd year student at Simon Fraser University, joined the RADIUS team in Toronto as a Student Ambassador at the RECODE: Ignite conference.

None of us were alone in these obstacles.  From that moment, we shifted the narrative of our vulnerability. We reclaimed it as a birthplace of our innovations, creativity, and community. Our personal and professional connections grew authentically.  Together, we envisioned our ideal student experiences at our post-secondary institutions. An overflow of ideas explored interdisciplinary learning outcomes, new measurements of success, and ways to introduce more social innovation opportunities to students throughout their degree. This new space to openly share led to further ideation and strategizing sessions (which are still ongoing online!).
In seeking to understand and address complex, systemic problems, we have to engage with overwhelming issues willingly and courageously. Perhaps this means initially feeling lost in new questions and taking risks in attempting to find answers. This may mean finding a balance between being inclusive and disruptive. This may mean bringing our heads and hearts into challenging conversations. Although it is not an easy journey, it is certainly meaningful. It is fuelled by exciting opportunities and continuous growth, embracing the collective strength that results from our individual vulnerability.
RECODE: Ignite showed me that social innovation and change – whether on a local, provincial, or national level – requires sustainable, catalyzing collaboration. As presenter Zahra Ebrahim said, it involves “finding comfort in ambiguity, the willingness to share half formed thoughts to put the pieces together.”  It’s about trusting and trying, placing boundless possibilities and purposeful processes above perfection.  

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