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Humber CSI’s Social Innovation Journey: A Q&A with Interim Director, Joanna Amirault, PhD.

an illustration with text that reads "what is social innovation?"
3 minutes

Humber College’s Centres of Innovation play an integral role in the research and innovation ecosystem at Humber and beyond. For this issue of SPARK, we interviewed Joanna Amirault, PhD., Interim Director of Humber’s Centre for Social Innovation (CSI). Read on to learn more about the CSI and Joanna’s views on social innovation.
What are the key priorities of the Centre for Social Innovation?
While social innovation has been occurring at Humber for many years, the Centre for Social Innovation (CSI) launched in September 2022. The CSI is fully integrated into the Faculty of Social & Community Services, and a key focus of the Centre’s initial work has been cultivating experiential learning opportunities for students via work-integrated learning opportunities and social innovation funded research projects. The CSI has also been engaged in ongoing stakeholder consultations and has been working closely with faculty to identify the best ways to translate ideas and questions into social innovation outputs.

Can you share a little about the CSI’s work with the other four Centres of Innovations (COIs)?
As the CSI is in its first year of operation, the exploration of collaboration with the other COIs is ongoing. We are excited about the possibilities to come.

G Building at Humber's Lakeshore Campus
The Longo Centre for Entrepreneurship building at Lakeshore campus is  part of the Humber Centres of Innovation Network.

How would you describe social innovation and what about social innovation inspires you?
Social innovation is a construct that has been in use for many years, and it has a multitude of definitions. What excites me most about the approach to social innovation that the CSI is taking is the goal of co-creating sustainable solutions alongside community partners and the foundational role that students will have in developing these outputs.

Can you tell us about a social innovation project that you were involved in?
In December 2022, Humber signed an MOU with Othram Inc., which is the leading forensic sequencing laboratory for law enforcement and the first purpose built private DNA laboratory intended to specifically apply modern parallel sequencing to forensic evidence. One of the key goals of the partnership is the development of tools to measure the social and criminal justice impact of the application of forensic genetic genealogy on families and criminal justice professionals. I am thrilled to be leading many of the initiatives connected to this partnership, and I am excited to see how the work generated from this collaboration will cultivate social impact opportunities.

Would you like to share with us the recent updates from the CSI?
On March 1st, the CSI hosted an inaugural Social Innovation Workshop, with two subsequent workshops on March 22nd and April 1st. These sessions provided students, faculty and community members with the opportunity to network and discuss obstacles to social innovation, but more significantly, strategies and projects that have led to success. The ideation that emerged from these workshops will help to establish the work ahead.

How does the CSI measure the impact of a social innovation project? What are the metrics?
While challenging, identifying methods and metrics for measuring innovation impact is a key priority for the CSI. The work is ongoing and will continue to evolve. 

About Joanna
Joanna Amirault is the Interim Director of the Centre for Social Innovation and an Associate Dean in the Faculty of Social & Community Services at Humber College. With almost a decade of experience in the Ontario college sector, Joanna has extensive experience in fostering innovative solutions to multifaceted challenges and brings a wealth of experience in supporting faculty and students to engage in meaningful applied research projects. Joanna completed her PhD. at Simon Fraser University and has engaged in a wide range of scholarly activity investigating the impact of criminalizing terrorism specific offenses on sentencing outcomes, risk assessment for unique offending populations, and desistence from crime.