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Social sciences get cash boost

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By Lana Hall

Technology related startups often snag the spotlight, but after receiving a $500,000 grant, Ryerson plans to focus on student-run programs in the social sciences field, too.

The J.W. McConnell Family Foundation gives out a total of $5-million to 18 post-secondary schools. The funding is under the foundation’s Project Recode, encouraging social innovation and entrepreneurship across private, public and non-proft sectors.

“We’re using a very broad definition of social innovation,” said Wendy Cukier, Ryerson’s vicepresident research and innovation, although she adds the criteria for such projects will “be centered around social goals: things like alleviating poverty, human rights and increasing access to employment.”

Ryerson matched its grant, totaling the funding to $1 million.

Most of the grant will go towards seed funding for up to 60 startups or projects. Some of these will be developed with the aid of Ryerson’s new Social Venture Zone, which is affiliated with the faculty of arts.

“Historically there has been a lot of attention paid to entrepreneurship based on technology,” Cukier said. “We’ve been working to level the playing field for social sciences students wanting to innovate.”

According to Ryerson’s Recode application, approximately 25 per cent of ventures developed in the Digital Media Zone (DMZ) have social goals.

“Social innovation needs three things,” says Chad Lubelsky, associate program director for Recode. “It needs durability, scale and impact. Ryerson has been a pioneer in that kind of innovation. You can see it in how much they’re investing in these programs, like the DMZ.”

Last week, student and faculty representatives from all 18 postsecondary institutions met to discuss their projects.

“One thing the McConnell Family Foundation feels very strongly about,” says Cukier, “is that they want the various schools and agencies to collaborate on initiatives.”

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