Challenges that require Social Innovation in Quebec

But where the danger is, also grows the saving power.

– Friedrich Hölderlin

Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

– Albert Einstein


Historically, companies have developed new tools and methods to meet the challenges of their environment. If innovation is most often seen as economic added value or even technological, a new sense of the concept is becoming increasingly important: social innovation.

A social innovation can be defined as an initiative to provide an innovative and sustainable solution to social problems and that benefits the entire community. At the dawn of a new century marked by deep crises (political, economic and environmental) and inequality, social innovation is the hope of a model of development and co-existence that can provide new opportunities for a more equitable future for communities.

Challenges that require innovative solutions

The repeated crises that our societies repeatedly face, give the impression of exhaustion of a model, both economically and politically. Examples of aberrations abound, from financial scandals to environmental disasters, not forgetting mismanagement of public funds, usually in favor of a wealthy minority. Given this situation, a sense of alienation and cynicism is rising within the population; a political stall that does not help at all.

For many, the remedial measures set to tackle the inequalities generated by the neoliberal economy, which relies on the support of the United States as we have seen during the economic crisis of 2008, are now insufficient. It is important to fundamentally rethink the conditions of co-existence and the concepts that govern it.

In this regard, the movement of the commons brings new perspectives that may well allow a renewal of the economy, politics and housing planning based on collective and citizen support for living environments. Thus, several projects are emerging within civil society, which allow us to rethink development (economic, technological) and social life from a new angle: proximity, citizen participation, free access to the common areas and cultural property etc… The idea is to “work together” to appropriate collectively, living areas from the perspective of sharing and respect for people and the planet, unlike the concept of property that forces manners into a market logic.

Rethinking the goal of development

The utopia of the current model is undoubtedly one of infinite development in a world of finite resources. However, increasing environmental disturbances show us that this utopia is ultimately destructive to the entire planet. This concept of a market-oriented development seeking ever greater accumulation of profits and goods creates many inequalities, both economic and social, which are increasingly criticized by movements such as, for example, the Indignés or Occupy Wall Street.

In this context, the concept of social innovation particularly allows us to expand the concept of development to include its human and collective aspects, to those of profit and productivity. Social innovation, in addition to favoring a sustainable development impact, seeks to prioritize creativity, innovation and social change processes as well as the participation of persons referred to throughout the development process.

By promoting a diversity of approaches to the same problem, social innovation allows us to understand a problem from several angles and in a broad manner, so as to arrive at a multidimensional response that meets its complexity. It also develops dynamic feedback with stakeholders, in which its ownership is also taken into account in order to promote sustainability.

Quebec has already seen a number of social innovations grow on its territory, starting with the cooperative movement, particularly credit unions. For several years now, many civil society players and even some governments have used the process of social innovation to address various issues. However, in a political and economic context in which neoliberal ideology dominates, to what extent can social innovation fundamentally reverse the sources of inequalities and problems it seeks to address?

Some social innovations in Quebec

  • The cooperative movement
  • The FabLab movement
  • Tohu
  • Long Distance Learning
  • Imaginons Saint-Marc


  • How can we promote social innovation in Quebec?
  • How can governments put in place the conditions for the emergence of social innovation?
  • How can we foster the emergence of commons in different sectors? What models (governance, organizational, etc.) could support them?