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.”