Tuesday, 1 May 2012

Al Etmanski and the Positive Power of Social Innovation

This morning, I was sitting in my dressing gown, coffee in hand, while I perused the Globe and Mail on my Ipad.  A story caught my eye: "Using Competition to Fuel Social Innovations".

Social innovation is a concept that Wikipedia describes as new strategiesconceptsideas and organizations that meet social needs of all kinds - from working conditions and education to community development and health - and that extend and strengthen civil society.  


Excellence in social innovation worldwide is championed by an organization called Ashoka - and anyone excited about positive change in the world should google it.  The heroes of that organization are called 'Ashoka Fellows' and there are plenty from Canada.  One is my colleague in the disability movement, Al Etmanski.  The Ashoka Canada website describes Al's 'New Idea' as follows:


Increasing numbers of disabled people are living longer and the longevity means that many will outlive their parents. Al Etmanski addresses a concern that a steadily mounting number of parents live with: "What will happen to my son or daughter when I die ?" He redirects that question to "What does it take to make a life–however long–a good life?" He offers a new way of thinking about disabilities and citizenship and new insight about how to remove the barriers to a good life. His idea helps replace parents' anxious isolation with planning that realistically contributes to their children's safety, both while the parents are still alive and after they die.Relationships are the key. In Planned Lifetime Advocacy Network (PLAN), Al and his colleagues have created an infrastructure that systematically builds community, while dismantling the obstacles inherent in the social systems that control publicly funded services for the disabled. Al sees those systems as necessary and does not seek to replace them; rather, his work parallels the public bureaucracy and holds its feet to the fire by demonstrating what else needs to be done. For example, the Burnaby Association of Mentally Handicapped in Vancouver now pays for lifetime membership in PLAN for some people to whom it provides services. Al sees this relationship as "a good place for us." PLAN's ability to facilitate relationships for people who are isolated will continue to infiltrate bureaucracies and citizens' movements and a growing international constituency of families with disabled members.


Al continues to innovate for Canadians with disabilities and their families - the Canadian Registered Disability Savings Plan (RDSP) is a tax sheltered savings tool that enables wealth for those like my son Nicholas, who will never be employable.  The money in Nick's RDSP is substantial and all provinces in Canada have agreed not to claw it back at tax time.  Also, the RDSP does not negatively impact provincial disability pension benefits.  The RDSP was the brainchild of Al Etmanski and it's an idea that I championed from the get-go.  


Other Ashoka fellows from Canada include Mary Gordon, founder of the Roots of Empathy and Johann Olav Koss, founder of Right to Play.  The list is inspirational. 


Everyday, the news is filled with sad or disturbing stories of violence and injustice.  But sometimes, there is a good news story that inspires and the Globe story about Ashoka and the positive power of social innovation is one. 
Tomorrow, I will write about how the movement for social innovation is changing Canada.
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