Support Line Added For Home Stretch Of Manitoba Open Innovation Challenge

With over a month to go in the very first Manitoba Open Innovation Challenge, challenge organizers have added even more resources to help everyday Manitobans elevate childhood literacy and numeracy in our province.

“Coming up with innovative ideas can be hard to do in isolation so we wanted to make sure that isn’t a barrier,” said Jeff Ryzner, President of North Forge Technology Exchange and one of several professionals who are now available to work one-on-one with community members developing submissions. “We know from experience that the best solutions come from people working together, and we’re happy to offer whatever expertise we can to bring community-driven ideas to life in support of such an important cause.”

The cause Ryzner refers to is a strikingly low ranking from the Organization for Economic Co-Operation & Development (OECD), which places Manitoba youth 8th and 9th out of all ten provinces when measuring literacy and numeracy skills. Provincial research also shows that this gap begins at a very early age, with data showing in some Manitoba communities up to 77% of kindergarteners are not ready for grade 1 literacy and numeracy curricula.

The Manitoba Open Innovation Challenge was created to mobilize all of our province’s minds to generate new and innovative solutions for this complex problem. And now with an army of innovation experts available for individual consultations, taking an idea from glimmer to concept has never been easier.

Along with Ryzner, Al McLeod, VP of Innovation with Wawanesa Insurance, is another industry partner working to mentor challenge participants and is quite excited by what he’s seen so far.

“Child literacy and numeracy is an issue for us in Manitoba so it’s been incredible to see people from all walks of life engaging to solve the problem,” said McLeod. “This is a rare opportunity where we have the ability to work together to help children across the province in a way that will impact their entire lives. It’s a privilege to be part of it and I look forward to helping as many people as I can get their ideas down on paper.”

Suzanne Braun, Founder and Managing Director of Relish New Brand Experience, is another member of the challenge mentorship team and encourages participants not to overthink their initial submissions.

“Some of the people we talk to have the misconception that ideas need to come in the form of twenty page proposals and that’s just not the case,” said Braun. “The bottom line is we’re looking for great ideas, whatever form they come in. So if someone has an idea on how to improve literacy and numeracy for Manitoba children don’t hold back, check out the website and tell us about it.”

The deadline for the Manitoba Open Innovation Challenge is February 22, 2018. Submissions or requests for guidance can be made online at wearethesolution.ca.

Seeds planted in rural areas helping Innovation Challenge grow

Stephen Ross registered for the Manitoba Open Innovation Challenge the moment it hit his inbox.

As Superintendent of Schools & CEO of Western School Division, and as Chair of Manitoba Education Research and Learning Information Networks, participating in an initiative to improve literacy and numeracy skills for Manitoba’s children is a natural fit. But he says his role as a Manitoban is what motivated him the most.

“One of the greatest things about being Manitoban is when you get to see people from all walks of life come together to solve a problem,” says Ross. “You can’t expect things to change if you simply try harder doing the same thing and diversity is crucial to developing innovative ideas.”

The Manitoba Open Innovation Challenge was launched earlier this year by North Forge Technology Exchange to harness community input to address prominent social issues. As its first initiative, North Forge is challenging participants to target our province’s low ranking in childhood literacy and numeracy skills.

 

The ranking comes from the Organization for Economic Co-Operation & Development (OECD), which places Manitoba youth 8th and 9th out of all ten provinces when measuring literacy and numeracy skills. Provincial research also shows that this gap begins at a very early age, with data showing in some Manitoba communities up to 77% of kindergarteners are not ready for grade 1 literacy and numeracy curricula.

The Challenge website, wearethesolution.ca, offers extensive information to help guide those wishing to take part, and Ross also attended an ideation session facilitated by inVision Edge on December 1st designed to generate discussion and creative ideas on the topic.

“To be honest, when I heard about the session I expected to hear a lot of stand pat ideas and stick-in-the-mud type thinking, but that’s not what I experienced at all,” says Ross. “What we were lead through was a very energetic and creative process that generated some really innovative solutions and outside the box thinking.”

One aspect Ross did feel was missing was a strong presence from the rural community, where he says there are even greater challenges when it comes to achieving desired targets for childhood literacy and numeracy skills.

“When you think about how hard it is to offer programs and find the parents that need help in an urban environment, just think how much harder that is outside the big circle of Winnipeg,” says Ross. “In rural settings it can be very difficult to develop effective programs to combat these trends as we’re often dealing with added transportation and poverty obstacles that make supporting rural families even more challenging.”

To make sure rural constituents had an opportunity to inject their ideas into tackling this issue, Ross approached North Forge to schedule a separate ideation session later this month, where community leaders from Morden, Portage la Prairie, Altona, etc. could offer their insight.

Ross believes one of the most important additions to this particular session will be the inclusion of rural high school students, which he feels will result in even more creative solutions.

“These kids are leaders in their respective schools… they’re working within the systems we’re looking to improve so their input is critical,” says Ross. “Plus change takes time, so it could very well be these kids who will be running with these ideas in the long term.”

For those looking to take part in this first ever Manitoba Open Innovation Challenge, wearethesolution.ca offers some suggestions on where to start:

  • Interactive solutions with parents/children that families can get excited about
  • Access to personalized services with at-home solutions or through publicly available resources (e.g. libraries, community resource centres, early learning and child care programs, and public health organizations)
  • The use of technology and social media to encourage participation and engagement with all Manitobans
  • Children with additional support needs/learning challenges, Indigenous children, newcomer children, and those living in rural, norther and remote communities including First Nations
  • Ideas that are play-based

For Ross, he believes the solutions for these types of social issues are almost always environmental, but not in the way most people think.

“You really have to understand a child’s environment to solve a problem for that child,” says Ross. “The gap we’re seeing in literacy and numeracy is at a very young age. Children that young are only exposed to what we expose them to so understanding the environment in which they live and dealing with the issue at that level is very important.”

Submissions for the challenge can be made online and ideas should be developed with the following parameters in mind:

  • Have a budget of $150,000 or less to implement on a small scale
  • Can be implemented immediately and get results quickly
  • Doesn’t require significant number of staff to implement
  • Are scalable across the province

Innovation Challenge Targets Critical Social Issue for Manitoba’s Children

What do you think of when you hear the words “innovation challenge”? Robotics? Artificial intelligence? App development? What about social change? For Jeff Ryzner, President of North Forge Technology Exchange, it’s one of the first things that comes to mind and is at the very heart of the inaugural Manitoba Open Innovation Challenge.

“When people think of innovation, the mind often goes straight to technology and million-dollar projects,” said Ryzner. “But innovation is about ideas and today it’s more important than ever to focus our very best ideas on how to make life better for the people around us.”
The thought of using innovation to create meaningful social change isn’t new to North Forge but it was a very specific issue brought forward to Ryzner that led to the creation of the Manitoba Open Innovation Challenge.

“When I heard how poorly Manitoba ranks when it comes to childhood literacy and numeracy I was shocked,” said Ryzner. “These are fundamental indicators for success where you can draw a direct line to economic and social well-being. The opposite is equally true – 360 degree failure if we don’t IMPROVE in these areas.”

The ranking Ryzner speaks of comes from the Organization for Economic Co-Operation & Development (OECD), which places Manitoba youth 8th and 9th out of all ten provinces when measuring literacy and numeracy skills. Provincial research also shows that this gap begins at a very early age, with data showing up to 77% of kindergarteners in some Manitoba communities are not ready for grade 1 literacy and numeracy curricula.

Through the Manitoba Open Innovation Challenge, Ryzner and North Forge believe real solutions for this complex problem can be found by engaging with the community at large. More information on the Manitoba Open Innovation Challenge can be found online at wearethesolution.ca and ideas should be developed with the following parameters in mind:

  • Have a budget of $150,000 or less to implement on a small scale
  • Can be implemented immediately and get results quickly
  • Doesn’t require significant number of staff to implement
  • Are scalable across the province

As for what types of ideas Ryzner and his team are hoping to generate, he says the most innovative solutions may not come in the form people might think. “If technology can help scale an idea that’s great, but this isn’t necessarily about software,” he said. “The reality is we’re looking for everyday people in our community to offer their own amazing ideas so we can help turn those ideas into meaningful outcomes.”

To help kick things off, the project website offers some suggestions on where to start:

  • Interactive solutions with parents/children that families can get excited about
  • Access to personalized services with at-home solutions or through publicly available resources (e.g. libraries, community resource centres, early learning and child care programs, and public health organizations)
  • The use of technology and social media to encourage participation and engagement with all Manitobans
    Children with additional support needs/learning challenges, Indigenous children, newcomer children, and those living in rural, northern and remote communities including First Nations
  • Ideas that are play-based

“Our first goal for this initiative is participation,” said Ryzner. “The challenge needs to help people feel empowered, and to identify a diverse number of ideas that can be tested and implemented to help solve a significant social issue for Manitoba.”

Idea Incubator To Be Held as Part of Manitoba Open Innovation Challenge

Walk into a room to discuss a significant social problem. Walk out with a solution. How often do you get a chance to try and do that?

Well that’s precisely the vision behind a December 1st Ideation Session being conducted by inVision Edge, one of several partners working together to help bring North Forge’s very first Manitoba Open Innovation Challenge to life.

The Manitoba Open Innovation Challenge was designed to engage the community in generating ideas to solve complex social issues. For this inaugural event, North Forge is asking the community to help solve the concerningly low national ranking Manitoba holds for child literacy and numeracy skills.

“When I heard how poorly Manitoba ranks when it comes to childhood literacy and numeracy I was shocked,” said Jeff Ryzner, President of North Forge Technology Exchange. “These are fundamental indicators for success where you can draw a direct line to economic and social well-being. And the opposite is equally true – 360 degree failure if we don’t achieve in these areas.”

The ranking Ryzner speaks of comes from the Organization for Economic Co-Operation & Development (OECD), which places Manitoba youth 8th and 9th out of all ten provinces when measuring literacy and numeracy skills. Provincial research also shows that this gap begins at a very early age, with data showing in some Manitoba communities up to 77% of kindergarteners are not ready for grade 1 literacy and numeracy curricula.

The Manitoba Open Innovation Challenge invites the community to submit innovative ideas on how to address this issue and get Manitoba on the right track. But Ryzner knew they had to take things one step further, which is where inVision Edge comes in.

“Like any other discipline, creating innovation isn’t magic, it’s a process,” says John Ferris, CEO of inVision Edge. “What our company has done is create a repeatable process that all types of organizations can use – private, government, not-for-profits – to develop innovation related to their particular industry.”
The process inVision Edge utilizes will be on full display for those joining their Ideation Session on December 1st, as they look to harness the energy and imagination of the attendees to solve this very real challenge for Manitoba.

“The more people in the room and the more diversity in the room, the better,” says Ferris. “We’ll use the first part of the day to frame the issue and then we use different tools to stimulate idea generation at the individual level, then moving to larger and larger groups.”

The process is very much based in business principles, but attendees expecting to work through your everyday “brainstorming” type of exercise will likely be in for a surprise.

“The standard flip-chart exercises are great at some things but not for creating innovative ideas because you’re just creating a list of thoughts that are already in people’s heads,” says Ferris. “Our process is specifically designed to stimulate new ways of thinking, which is what innovation is all about. So at the end of the session, our expectation is that the group will walk away with some very big ideas to address a very big problem.”

And for those wanting to participate but don’t believe they have what it takes to be innovative, Ferris has a very specific message.

“Absolutely anyone can be innovative if they’re given the right toolset, and that’s exactly what we provide.”

Wawanesa Sees Innovation as Key to Future of Company and Community

Oil and water. Cats and dogs. Insurance and innovation. At first glance all three may seem like equally odd pairings, but Wawanesa Mutual Insurance Company is making all the right moves to ensure their company’s future is one where insurance and innovation go hand in hand.

“Technology is turning our industry on its ear,” says Wawanesa’s VP of Innovation, Al McLeod. “It is changing customer expectations across the board. People have come to expect speed and convenience in all transactions and we need to meet or exceed those expectations.”

What McLeod and Wawanesa understand as well as anyone is that no industry is immune to rapid change in today’s economy. More than ever, if a company is standing still it won’t survive for long.

“It’s an incredibly exciting time right now for Wawanesa. We have over 3,000 staff who all have great ideas on how we can serve our customer better. Making sure we learn from them and build on their ideas will make us a better company.”

To drive innovation forward, McLeod and his team approach their work through five key focus areas:

  • Competitive research to stay on top of (and in front of) current trends
  • Innovation practice and implementation
  • Digital transformation
  • The Wawanesa Innovation Network – a group of academic, government, tech and distribution partners working to identify opportunities for innovation in the industry
  • Wawanesa Labs – an effort to draw innovative ideas from all staff across the company

To ensure these initiatives thrive, McLeod is working with John Ferris and the innovation experts at Invision Edge to hone his team’s skills in the identification, development and implementation of innovation opportunities within the company.

But what drives Wawanesa isn’t just the internal application of these skills, they’re also committed to using them to benefit the community around them. This is a philosophy that should come as no surprise to the philanthropic community – ask anyone in Manitoba’s charitable sector what Wawanesa has done for their organization and you’re likely to get a smile and a pretty touching story.

Currently, McLeod and Wawanesa’s innovation team have set their sights set on the Manitoba Open Innovation Challenge – a project created by Jeff Ryzner and company at North Forge Technology Exchange, with round one focusing on solutions for Manitoba’s low national ranking in literacy and numeracy skills.

That ranking comes from the Organization for Economic Co-Operation & Development (OECD), which places Manitoba youth 8th and 9th out of all ten provinces when measuring literacy and numeracy skills, respectively. Provincial research also shows that this gap begins at a very early age, with data showing in some Manitoba communities up to 77% of kindergarteners are not ready for grade 1 literacy and numeracy curricula.

Through the Manitoba Open Innovation Challenge, North Forge is looking for community-generated innovations to help solve this complex problem – something Wawanesa is thrilled to be a part of.

“We dedicate time to building houses for those in need, plane-pulls, etcetera, so why should this be any different?” says McLeod, with Wawanesa supporting the initiative both financially and by involving their own staff in generating ideas. “Right from the outset our goal with our innovation program has been to hold back some of our capacity for community projects and this seemed like a perfect fit.”

The Manitoba Open Innovation Challenge was announced in early November and those wishing to submit their ideas have until January 11th, 2018. To help guide participants and lead them through a unique innovation development process, North Forge and Invision Edge are holding an Ideation Session on Friday, December 1st – something McLeod and his team from Wawanesa are also proud to support.

“I’ve lived in Winnipeg my whole life. I love Winnipeg because I see limitless potential if we’re able to harness all the talent and resources our province has at its disposal,” says McLeod. “Using that talent to help develop something like child literacy and numeracy skills has a huge multiplier effect that can positively impact our province for generations. We at Wawanesa look forward to working with parents, students, teachers, early childhood educators, community leaders, youth and representatives from the private sector on this noteworthy initiative.”