By Sean Meyer
Innovation Works is described on its website as a 32,000 sq. ft. downtown London building designed to “attract incredible people, get them talking about one another’s ideas, and offer the supports they need to turn those ideas into an achievable plan.”
The problem is, for the majority of Londoners that definition — along with its ubiquitous label as a hub for social innovation — confuses the reality of how successful the operation has been since opening its doors in June 2016. Over the next 18 or so months, more than 170 different companies and organizations have found a home within the space, which works out to around 350 people floating in and out of the building.
In the coming months, the idea is to shift the narrative of Innovation Works by introducing Londoners to the stories that flow from the building on a daily basis and to keep the doors open for community to take a seat at this remarkable spot in the city’s downtown. Sienna Jae Taylor is the Innovation Works Community Animator, a term that stems from the idea of animation and bringing something to life.
When people hear animation, they think graphic animation, the idea of cartoons, which is really the idea of taking a sketch and bringing it to life. Sienna explains that her role is about supporting the individuals and organizations that work within the building, helping to create a sense of community and belonging, and supporting them in creating what they are trying to achieve. Her hope is that a wider discussion around what happens within the space will open eyes across the Forest City.
“I think my biggest hope is that the stories of the work the people in this building are doing gets shared out into the community,” she said. “Often when I’m chatting in my social circles about all the awesome things happening in this building, the response is often, “How do we learn about these things?” We have an opportunity to put these stories out into the world for people to absorb.”
Innovation Works is home to a myriad of organizations and individuals.
Some co-tenants are well known companies like London Life, RBC, TD and other financial operations. There are marketing and branding companies, website development and tech operations.
London Arts Council and London Heritage Council are firmly in place while mental and physical health supports like Mindyourmind, Brain Injury Association of London and Region, and international organizations like Heart-Links and Good Neighbors Canada, join with a wide number of nonprofits, social enterprises, coaches and consultants.
For those in this space, Sienna explains, social innovation is about, “doing something new, or doing something old in a new way.”
That said, the term social innovation remains difficult for some people to comprehend. Sienna explains that Londoners — for the most part — are raised and nurtured to believe that competition is what increases success. For some people it’s hard to imagine finding success when being vulnerable and sharing everything they’re working on with other people. Sometimes the physical space is a stretch for people too.
“It's been ingrained in our minds that there is a specific way to be successful and we’re saying no, let’s try something different,” she said. “Some people work best in this type of environment and so it’s here for them.”
Since the doors opened, Sienna said a lot of effort has been made to attract “the right people” to the space — organizations and individuals who want to create positive impact. Now, however, Innovation Works is in a position to refocus and reach out to the rest of the community.
“Social change doesn’t come from preaching to the choir. If the success only happens within these walls, then we haven’t really achieved our goal,” she said. “Our goal is to see positive impact and positive change in the greater London community and you can’t do that without including the greater London community.”
We are so thrilled to announce that Sean will be producing a blog series that highlights the stories of our incredible co-tenants. Keep your eyes peeled for our weekly postings!