New Radical Profile #6: Social Innovation

12/20/2010 06:38 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011
  • Julia Moulden Speaker, columnist and author, 'RIPE: Rich, Rewarding Work After 50'

When I first met Geraldine Cahill she had just returned from a weekend of snowboarding and was glowing. I was impressed. Lots of native Canadians ignore winter sports, and this transplanted Aussie was out there - and loving it!

Here's her equally passionate take on her New Radical role.

What are you doing?

Working out what it means to be radical. My job appears "regular" -- I am the communications coordinator for a non-profit organization, Social Innovation Generation (SiG). For the first time in my working life I have health benefits and I work 9-5. I feel grown up, and a long way from my activist days in Melbourne.

In my last job -- independent news-making -- I got to wear the radical super hero cape, but this new job offers what I'd call "new radicalism".

Social innovation is about finding new ways to solve systemic social issues like poverty, violence and hunger. It's about understanding that the world is a complex place, and that to solve social issues, all sectors of society must work together.

For instance, we convened the Canadian Task Force on Social Finance. The task force's report -- Mobilizing Private Capital for Public Good -- sets out what's needed to establish the impact-investing marketplace, moving beyond traditional sources of revenue (such as philanthropy and government). We're talking about long-term, global change.

How did you get the gig?

A friend working at SiG told me that a position was available -- a contract to help develop "Net Change Week" (exploring how technology can support social change).

I'd never heard of social innovation. Compared to my previous job, it seemed tame. I thought it would be a good break.

Turns out, this job is testing every communications bone in my body! Not only am I on a quest to explain what social innovation is, but also to talk about what's possible if we apply our energy in socially innovative ways. Theoretically it's not a hard sell. Who wouldn't want to end poverty, end violence, end homelessness? It's the how that's hard.

What's the best part of your job?

The terrific people I work with and the opportunity I stumbled upon -- to explore and help support the development of new programs, new policies, new organizations that are trying to solve our most pressing social problems.

What would you tell emerging New Radicals?

I thought I had my life all figured out. I moved from Australia to Canada with dreams of making independent films. Then, I was introduced to Paul Jay, who was starting up the world's first online independent video news service -- I couldn't resist. I was there for 3 ½ years. Then, at just the right time, serendipity lead me to SiG.

I used to beat myself up for veering off course. I would tell myself that I wanted to be a film-maker and I should get back on track. But the opportunities I've explored have been more rewarding than I could have imagined and keep challenging me every day.

So, I would say - take your time. Explore. And risk the unknown. It won't let you down.

Geraldine Cahill may be reached at:

New Radical updates:

• Fabulous new campaign from the smart people at Public Inc.
The Power of 2 pits two of Canada's top celebrities against one another - to see who can raise the most money for their favourite charity. To make it more interesting, there's a wager: if Cheryl Hickey wins, Rick Campanelli gets his legs waxed on ET Canada. If Rick wins, Cheryl has to dance with the Raptors Dance Pak at the Dec 22nd game. Oh, yeah, who said Canadians weren't fun? Check out the launch video.

• Hats off to Educate!
Educate!, a non-profit based in Colorado and Uganda, has been asked by the government of Uganda and the United Nation's International Labour Organisation (ILO) to write the social entrepreneurship section of Uganda's national high school entrepreneurship curriculum. This is the first time social entrepreneurship has been taught as part of a national education system.

• Get a Head Start On Your Tech Resolutions!

From the Digital Media Zone at Ryerson University -- how to be tech savvy in 2011 (at least until things change again...).