Sustainable Waterloo Region, with the support of the Ontario Trillium Foundation, has recently launched research into the possibility of scaling up the work of SWR to regions and communities across Ontario. In the past we have informally coached communities in Niagara (the Niagara Sustainability Initiative) and Hamilton (Sustainable Hamilton), however we have yet to establish a strategy for ensuring successful resource and knowledge sharing across regions. This research will inform a pathway to changing this, and potentially lead to the creation of an association of eNGOs focused on advancingthe environmental sustainability of organizations within communities.

As Research Manager of this Community Partnerships project, I have had the incredibly exciting opportunity to work with a wide-range of different individuals and organizations who either have an expertise or experience in scaling social enterprise or have a direct interest in the successful implementation of a provincial-wide strategy. Organizations like Social Innovation Generation (SiG), the Center for Social Innovation, MaRS Discovery District, and Capacity Waterloo Region have been instrumental in informing the strategic direction of my research, as well as the direct input from already established community organizations. Here among other things, I have learned an important lesson in what it means to scale up as opposed to scale out: “scaling out” is replication of programs, products, ideas, and innovative approaches; whereas “scaling up” implies directing efforts towards larger scale variables and thus impacting the system that created the social problem in the first place.[1]

Sustainable Waterloo Region is in no way trying to replicate our programs and initiatives across the province, but we are certainly looking to enable systemic change in the provincial culture towards organizational sustainability. Based on our experience, we understand that true change comes from the ground up, necessitates community involvement, and involves measured, tangible action. Likewise, we recognize that each community has its own economic circumstances necessitating a homegrown solution to their regions’ organizational sustainability challenges. Just as Sustainable Waterloo Region empowered an External Working Group (EWG) consisting of members of our community to inform the Regional Carbon Initiative framework, we hope our experience in community building can help inform communities across Ontario to do the same.

Similarly, as we begin to define our strategy to scale up provincially, we are convening a working group of key stakeholders in our provincial network to help inform us what exactly it is the provincial community wants, what is missing at the provincial level, and collectively where we need to go to achieve social change. This working group will gather at the end of November at the Center for Social Innovation in Toronto, with the support of the Sustainability Network, to allow for an open and constructive discussion of shared interests and goals. Just as the EWG led to community engagement in the Regional Carbon Initiative, we hope this working group will lead to a shared sense of ownership and empowerment among stakeholders across our provincial network.

While the research is still young, and many questions remain, there is certainly a sense that if Sustainable Waterloo Region can continue to engage the right leaders in this field, partner with similarly aligned organizations, and build capacity to enable communities in need, there is hope we can catalyze greater systemic change in organizational sustainability across the province.


[1]Westley, Frances et al. (2011). “Pathways to Systems Change.” Working Paper – Social Innovation Generation.


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