Innovation is the path to a better future for a post-COVID Canada

Posted on Wednesday, June 17, 2020

Author: Teresa Marques

President and CEO, Rideau Hall Foundation
Advisory Council Member, ISSP, uOttawa

By its very nature, innovation can be noisy. It demands change, flexibility and innovators to loudly champion how they’ve shaped the future for the better. That noisiness is not always in line with perceptions of “Canadian politeness”. Post-COVID-19 Canada will require more noise about innovation; not only to get us through the immediacy of the global pandemic, but to inspire innovative solutions to address longer-term critical global challenges.

New results from the Rideau Hall Foundation’s second annual Culture of Innovation Report paint a picture of a country that values innovation and sees innovation as a driver that can improve our everyday lives. However, Canadians don’t necessarily see themselves as connected to innovation, nor do they include Canada among the top countries for creating a culture of innovation. In fact, 65% of respondents believe that Canadians are risk averse, and only half said they try to innovate in their own daily lives.

We undertook our research in February. Would the storyline hold true today? Do we still see ourselves as a quiet and stable nation, or has this crisis moved us to collectively overcome our aversion to making noise and embrace innovation as central to our national identity?

Very early on in the pandemic, individuals, governments and companies across the country started to ask what they could do to help their loved ones, their communities, their nation.

The barriers of age and technological savvy fell as we embraced virtual ways to connect with and support our loved ones and neighbours. The RHF’s Culture of Innovation Report tells us about a generational divide in terms of innovation, with younger generations seen as the key to Canada’s innovative future. But, that was before. COVID-19 has forced us to rethink how we live and work. More importantly, it’s shown us what Canadians young and old are capable of.

Communities found novel ways to make sure that no one was being left behind. When they could, small businesses and offices rapidly transitioned their operations online. Industry scaled-up production or re-tooled manufacturing lines to produce goods to help in the fight against the virus.

Our pre-COVID research told us that Canadians found government slow to embrace change with fewer than a third of respondents seeing the government as innovative. But in this crisis, governments too responded swiftly . They developed, implemented and adapted policies and programs to help Canadians navigate the uncertainty. Schools rolled out online learning in a matter of weeks so that our kids could keep learning.

And, through it all, together made a lot of noise. We shared what we were doing and how we were doing it. The media highlighted stories of ordinary Canadians making extraordinary contributions. Innovation has become a word we use in our everyday conversations. Together, we’ve embraced a culture of innovation.

As the economy begins to open up and as the distance between us starts to shrink, there will be many challenges left to tackle. We must work together to reconstruct our economy and our communities post-COVID. It won’t be easy, but we can do it. We have proven to ourselves, and to each other, what we can do when we have a united purpose. We have evidence now of the positive impact of taking risks and experimenting with new solutions to difficult problems.

Imagine what we could accomplish together if we put that same spirit of innovation to work to combat other global threats. Threats like the climate crisis or food insecurity. A culture of innovation is an essential element of the better, noisier future that we must commit to building together. For surely, the reward is worth the risk.

Teresa Marques is the President and CEO of the Rideau Hall Foundation (RHF). The RHF is an independent and non-political charitable organization supporting a range of nation-building initiatives linked to innovation, leadership, learning and giving.

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