How EWB Toronto wants you to help fill Canada’s ‘Innovation Gap’
By: Francis Lee, EWB Toronto Professional Chapter
As Canadians, we are really good at being normal. Even in today’s uncertain global environment, marked with terrorism, recession and revolution, Canada has largely stood out, for the most part, for remaining stable. We are really good at keeping the status quo. Yet all the praise for our strong banks and steady economy belie a long-standing issue that stands to seriously erode our future well-being. In these uncertain times, the balance of world economic, political and even intellectual power is being dramatically redistributed and redefined. In order for nations to remain relevant and affluent in the coming decades, the ability to change and adapt is crucial.
The GEIC & GEIS
In recognition of Canada’s innovation problem, the Toronto Professional Chapter of Engineers Without Borders Canada is launching the Global Engineering Innovation Challenge (GEIC) and its sister event, the Global Engineering Innovation Symposium (GEIS) as part an initiative to inspire and spur the discussion needed to address systemic issues in Canadian society.
The Global Engineering Innovation Challenge is a case study / policy design competition geared towards senior university students and young professionals of all fields. Featuring real-world problems contributed by Canadian industry and businesspeople, the GEIC tasks its participants with tackling specific, relevant issues with novel, marketable ideas. GEIC finalists will be eligible for a $2000 cash prize, in addition to the opportunity to present their ideas before media and leaders of business and industry. For its inaugural year, the focus will be on urban transportation, a very relevant topic for Toronto. As one of the most populated and commercialized urban centres in Canada, the GTA is known as having some of the longest commute times in the world.
“We are entering a new global normal. Things will not be as they were.”
– Kevin G. Lynch, Vice Chair, BMO Financial Group
“Toronto’s transportation problem has been often highlighted as one of the most pressing issues in GTA,” says Joseph Yang, current GEIC lead and former EWB Toronto president. “And we’re looking use the creative problem solving skills of business, engineering and policy students, as well as professionals to [solve] problems that matter.”
In support of the GEIC, the Global Engineering Innovation Symposium serves as the main platform for multidisciplinary discussion and collaboration on Canadian issues. Featuring expert speakers and judges from Canadian business, industry and academia, the GEIS will also showcase the final prize round of the GEIC. The event will also feature targeted discussion sessions as well as media and networking opportunities for its attendees.
Canada’s Innovation, Competiveness & Productivity
In a 2009 article by the Globe and Mail, John Curtis, a former chief economist for the Department of Foreign Affairs commented that, “We are declining relative to many other parts of the world. You don’t really feel it unless you’re cosmopolitan and travel a lot… But our cities – and the country as a whole – are quite clearly relatively less well off than before.”
There is little discussion in Canada outside of government or business circles about innovation, but our reputation is quite poor. Various statistics on labor efficiency, economic complexity, etc. indicate that Canada is significantly behind in terms of both creating and adopting novel ideas/methods that have value. In 2008, Canada ranked only 15th in business R&D amongst OECD countries, while in 2011, Canada ranked 30th in labour productivity growth. In the same year, Canadian businesses lagged as much as 25% behind US businesses in productivity, investing in only 75% as much in leading-edge industrial equipment and only 47.9% as much in new information and communications technologies. In the logging industry, Finland has become a world-class provider of advanced logging technology, while Canada is now locked-in with low-cost players from emerging economies in producing basic pulp. While the law of comparative advantage is a thing, in practice, it is not a static thing. Economically, the ability to innovate – to create or adopt new or better ways of doing things – has real consequences on a country’s productivity, influence and overall competitiveness.
Canada’s disproportionately small number of successful multinational firms indicates a systemic weakness in nurturing and protecting innovative Canadian ventures. While studies show that research funding is plentiful at the University level, there is little facility for actually implementing improvements or commercializing novel ideas. Moreover, the absence of broad public discussion on the issues surrounding Canadian innovation ultimately show a lack concerted effort to change the status quo.
As it stands, there are complex systemic problems that hinder Canada’s economic prosperity and its ability to change. However, experts agree that with the right kind of leadership, change is possible. The need therefore, lies in cultivating this ‘right kind of leadership’.
Through the GEIC, EWB is seeking to be a facilitator in highlighting systemic Canadian issues such as the innovation gap and inspiring the dialogue and cooperation needed to solve them. History has shown that no one group holds the solution to such complex problems, so a broad, multi-disciplinary approach is essential. It is EWB’s belief that the leadership Canada needs can only come about by bringing together the knowledge of professionals, with leaders to champion change and students and young professionals to see change through.
We are entering a new global normal and things will not be as they were. As the modes of global economic, political, military and intellectual power shift, Canadians must no longer be complacent, no longer remain content with our sense of status quo. The world is rapidly changing and we must step up to ensure the high quality of life we desire for ourselves and for future Canadians. Furthermore, we must strive and adapt and improve to ensure that Canada continues to be a bright and hopeful influence on the new world that is dawning.
About the GEIC and EWB Toronto
The Global Engineering Innovation Challenge (GEIC) is part of an initiative by Engineers Without Borders (EWB)Toronto Professional Chapter to engage Canadian students and professionals on pervasive systemic issues in Canadian society, with the end goal of enabling Canadians to make stronger contributions at home and abroad. To accomplish this, EWB Toronto is holding both a design competition and an educational symposium to act as a platform for highlighting and discussing Canada’s need for innovation and to address specific systemic issues affecting Canadians. Through these activities, EWB Toronto aims to be a facilitator of positive change in Canadian society and ultimately in the global community.
Registration for the GEIC closes on February 15th, while the challenge submission deadline is March 1st. The symposium is set for March 23rd at U of T’s Victoria College, with ticket information forthcoming. Prospective contestants and attendees are encouraged visit the www.geic.ca for the latest news and info, as well as links to social media. Also, please follow us on Twitter @GEIChallenge, like us on Facebook at facebook.com/GEIChallenge or join our group on LinkedIn.
EWB Toronto Professional Chapter is a group of passionate professionals working to create systemic changes in Canada and in Africa by strategically engaging with key organizations and stakeholders, and actively involving the Toronto community through member learning and outreach events. Please visit http://toronto.ewb.ca for more information on EWB Toronto Professional Chapter.
An Innovation Agenda For The Public Sector, Lawson Hunter & Peter Nicholson, from “The Canada We Want in 2020: Towards a strategic roadmap for the federal government,” Canada 2020, November 2011
Canada’s Innovation Gap, Konrad Yakabuski, The Globe and Mail, July 2009: http://bit.ly/QSHcBw
Canada’s Productivity and Innovation Failures: Questioning The Conventional Wisdom, Jim Stanford, from “The Canada We Want in 2020: Towards a strategic roadmap for the federal government,” Canada 2020, November 2011
Desperately Seeking A More Innovative Canada, Kevin G. Lynch, from “The Canada We Want in 2020: Towards a strategic roadmap for the federal government,” Canada 2020, November 2011
Innovation and Business Strategy: Why Canada Falls Short, Council of Canadian Academies, June 2009
The Atlas of Economic Complexity, Mapping Paths to Prosperity, Hausmann, Hidalgo et al., Center for International Development at Harvard University