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Echoes of Impact: Noteworthy Quotes from Responsible Disruption

  • 10 mins

In recent months, I transcribed the first season of The Social Impact Lab's podcast, Responsible Disruption. Being an avid podcast listener, I wanted to improve accessibility. If you're curious about the importance of transcriptions, check out my article here. Each episode offered unique insights, and I've compiled some of the most memorable quotes covering topics from AI to Indigenous youth activism. You're bound to find something that catches your interest.


With a plethora of compelling episodes, I've divided this blog into two parts. To explore the remaining half of the list, please refer to part 2.

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Episode 1: Meet the Hosts

"Innovation" is a term frequently tossed around nowadays. It's often linked with the tech industry, but it's crucial to recognize that innovation should permeate every sector, including non-profits and social services. Moreover, it's not solely a product of management; rather, it necessitates a collaborative effort involving frontline workers and stakeholder engagement. This episode serves to reignite the optimism and passion of service designers, fostering a sense of unity, and provides listeners with a preview of Alberta's future landscape.


James Gamage, 12:08: “ organization called Give Directly and they in the developing world, they give cash. They don't work through NGOs or the agencies to provide services to the people in less developed countries. They give cash and that's completely disrupted... completely against the system and it's completely disrupted the way that aid is distributed…”


Sydney Johnson, 32:55: “…if we're talking about scaling a Lab, if we're talking about the system, it is about people coming together, it is about partnerships and it is about relationships and so much of the work the first thing we have to start with this relationship building and the reason that we've come as far as we have is because of the relationship that we have.”


Monique Blough, 36:52: “...if you're thinking about systems change, systems change cannot occur solely with the nonprofit sector or can it not only occur with academia. It needs to have everybody at the table, including corporate organizations and the role that they play in their community, right?”

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Episode 2: The Lab’s Story

J5 Design, a design firm led by John Vardalos, provides a compelling insight into the origins of the Social Impact Lab. He highlights the significance of organizations such as the Platform and UCeed in effectively aiding startups and innovators in product creation, yet emphasizes the existing void in addressing intangible systemic challenges. Issues such as mental health cannot be solved by a single product or organization. This episode sheds light on the gaps within our system and underscores the necessity for a lab that concentrates on addressing upstream factors.


John Vardalos, 8:58: “And that really was the turning point for me to say, you know what, the stuff that we do in the corporate space, we can do for the nonprofit space, but how do we do more of it? So when I got connected to Karen, that was my motivation. My motivation was, how do I do more of the work that my employees are telling me matters and makes them feel differently than the work that we do in the corporate sector…”


Karen Young, 14:47: “We can give out grants. That's wonderful. We have amazing agency partners, but how do we, in that social system of care work more together and be more integrated in terms of the system that we're trying to create, but ultimately, how can we influence the system to make it better for people and so that we don't have some of these issues prevailing over time, but we can actually… prevent them in the first place by going a little bit more what we call upstream, up the river, as opposed to going downstream and trying to pull people up out from those challenges.”

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Episode 3: Women of the Lab

Acknowledging the pervasive influence of implicit and explicit biases, Sydney Johnson, along with her co-host Monique Blough, underscores the importance of embracing the discomfort that accompanies them. While striving to foster secure environments, they advocate for confronting the inherent ambiguities of our current system. This episode focuses on navigating the unpredictable and provides motivation for job seekers or those seeking empowerment on their personal journey.


Sydney Johnson, 24:11: “I'm a big fan of bilateral mentorship. If you're looking for mentorship or you're looking to be mentored, both of those groups of people —and sometimes you belong to both — have value. You could be at the beginning of your career. You could be in school. You can still provide value to people in the community. And so, you just have to find the confidence to know that.”


Monique Blough, 18:58: “I started in education, took business, focused on marketing. And as I worked through my career and started to think about, well marketing is all around the user, it's all about the customer. So when I'm speaking to students, or anyone that asks me for that matter, I always say that the path you see before you may not be as obvious as you think.” 

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Episode 4: Building a Better Alberta

The concept of social entrepreneurship often elicits conflicting perspectives. While some view it as an oxymoron, others perceive it as a utopian pursuit. The perpetual conflict between profit and sustainability adds further complexity. Complications arise as the not-for-profit sector operates with a distinct language compared to the business sector, resulting in a notable divide. Bridging this gap can indeed be daunting. Fortunately, Jordana Armstrong and Christine Spottiswood offer valuable tips and insights in this episode, guiding us to identify the unconventional allies within our workplaces who can actively engage in conversations that ignite social innovation.


Jordana Armstrong, 25:00: "There's a concept that I want to introduce that I learned about in the system social innovation world. It's called positive deviance. So who are the folks in your community that are agnostic to where they're from the resources they've had access to. Who have been able to really make positive change in their community through their work and their advocacy, their innovation, whatever it is and once you're able to identify those folks. And I know Monique, part of your question was, how do you find them to begin with? But I think you find them through networks and you find them through being intentionally observant of when people are doing things a little bit differently. And then you identify those folks…”

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Episode 5: The Social Impact Lab Alberta

Non-profits, like corporate enterprises, must expand to maximize their impact and form new partnerships. But how does this process work? How do they choose communities to assist, who to collaborate with, and where to find inspiration? Funding is also a crucial consideration. In this episode, discover how Monique Blough navigates the challenges of expansion, taking the Social Impact Lab to different communities across Alberta.


Monique Blough, 12:31: “...when we work alongside communities, we need to be really cautious that … and I'm just going to say it this way. The Big City people are coming into the communities and think they know better and that the reality is that is not what we believe. That is not how we see our experiences and the reality is that our community members in these real communities might be seeing us that way.”

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Episode 6: Building Communities Together

The perception of urban areas as hubs of innovation often sidelines the rural context, where challenges like low graduation rates and limited internet connectivity prevail. Initiatives like Communities Building Youth Futures have united 19 communities nationwide to collaboratively design a digital strategy aimed at enhancing service accessibility. Shifting away from a top-down approach, this program empowers affected youth to identify issues, leverage existing resources, and spearhead the development of a service delivery model. Tune in to this episode to explore how young leaders drive service delivery design projects, revitalizing rural communities in the process.


Raïsa Mirza, 16:17: “If there's a funeral, everyone goes. You can’t go in with your research agenda talking to people on a funeral day. It's extremely disrespectful. And then you get that clash of the urban researchers, designers, whoever, who've come in and are like, yeah, but my budget... I have two days budgeted to be here and the hotels here. It's too bad. You're going to break the trust of the people; if you break those social codes. I think there's very different social norms that exist from community to community…”

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Episode 7: Designing for Community Impact

Design is a concept that resonates with all of us. We've all engaged in some form of design, often linked to tangible products or architectural structures. Yet, design can manifest in the subtlest of gestures, such as placing a mirror in a lobby to ease wait times for elevators. Within the realm of food insecurity, effective design encompasses extensive research, interviews, ideation, prototyping, and beyond. Dive into this episode to uncover the intricate crafting and design process behind the Pay What You Want market, spanning from labeling strategies to the spatial layout.


Sydney Johnson, 27:56: “We have a few examples of folks who would go to the greeter and say, hey, I can't pay anything, but I don't want to tell anyone and I don't know how to move through this space and then that greeter would actually move through with them. And so we never would have gotten to the place where we were putting a greeter at the front if we hadn't done that testing and found and people were reporting to us that like, oh, actually this moment of testing felt uncomfortable, even though it was play money at that point, and they weren't actually buying any food, so that's just really the power of what prototyping can do.”

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Episode 8: Collaboration, Not Duplication

Across all sectors, including non-profits, numerous organizations often engage in similar initiatives, inadvertently resulting in service duplication. This issue is apparent in the multitude of city-based organizations striving to combat food insecurity through conventional means, such as food hampers. In this episode, we delve into how Lourdes Juan and Nikita Scringer, the founder and Director of Operations of Fresh Routes, identified collaborative opportunities to create Alberta's first-of-its-kind Pay What You Want Market


Lourdes Juan, 6:46: “So 'pay what you want' is a more dignified approach to saying it, because if we say 'pay what you can', it's sort of…derogatory in a way. Just pay whatever you can, because we need the money, but really we want to be able to offer a really inclusive experience, so if you are using the language of pay what you want, I think invites not only people trying to decide what they want to pay, but also a conversation around food and how much they need at their table to feed their family or to feed themselves.”


Nikita Scringer, 15:13: “The dignity piece is especially important and choice. I think, in the food insecurity space when you're having conversations with people, there's still some of that stigma that people that need help should just take what they can get and that there shouldn't be choice with that.”

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Episode 9: Indigenous Youth Wellbeing Circles

Indigenous youth straddle two worlds, making the Indigenous Youth Wellness circles crucial in building holistic support systems within their communities. Recognizing the similarities between Indigenous and Western principles is enlightening, urging a shift in perspectives to appreciate their differences fully. This episode captures the vibrancy of Indigenous youth, youth elders, and a supportive community of mentors.


Meghan Finnbogason, 28:47: “...I remember one other sessions at the end we were gifting the young people that attended and they're like 'well, why are you giving us a gift?' And I said, 'Because your voice matters and I don't expect you to offer us feedback for nothing.' I would do the same with an elder if I'm asking for something. And I think it's important because I've seen that lots where because people are young people, it's easy to exploit. It's easy to take advantage because they don't necessarily know how to advocate for themselves yet…”


With a plethora of compelling episodes, I've divided this blog into two parts. To explore the remaining half of the list, please refer to part 2.

All images courtesy of the Social Impact Lab.


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