By Ruth Ormiston, Gustavson External Relations co-op student. Photo: Armon Arani on Unsplash.

The inaugural cohort of UVic’s new MBA in Sustainable Innovation began their studies this September during a very critical moment – a moment in which all economic sectors have been forced to rapidly develop innovative and resilient solutions to endure the COVID-19 pandemic. The incoming MBAs gathered at their orientation to contemplate these circumstances during a panel presented by the South Island Prosperity Partnership (SIPP) and members of its Rising Economy Taskforce, titled “Innovation and Collaboration for a Sustainable, Inclusive and Resilient Future in the Wake of the COVID-19 Pandemic.”

The panel was led and moderated by Dr. Basma Majerbi, who brought together Emilie de Rosenroll, CEO of SIPP and Chair of the Rising Economy Taskforce; Suzanne Bradbury, Managing Director of Fort Properties and Co-chair of the Taskforce’s Real Estate and Construction Committee; Craig Norris, CEO of Victoria International Marina and Co-chair of the Taskforce’s Oceans and Marine Committee; and Rasool Rayani, entrepreneur, investor, and Co-chair of the Taskforce’s Finance and Capital Committee.

What is SIPP?

SIPP is a non-profit, government-funded alliance of more than 65 private and public sector partners in the Greater Victoria Area. Together, these partners work to ensure economic and social prosperity within the region. As CEO Emilie de Rosenroll explained at the panel, SIPP follows a tri-sector leadership model – it involves the public, private, and “third” sectors under the belief that problems are best solved through diverse partnership. In other words, one single organization does not have the tools to solve these problems alone. SIPP adheres to triple bottom line thinking (i.e. focusing on “People, Planet, and Profit”), seeking concrete ways to generate profit while respecting the planet and becoming more inclusive. In doing so, it aims to promote the development of an “inclusive, resilient, and productive economy on the South Island.” Among SIPP’s objectives are diversifying the regional economy, collaborating with Indigenous communities, increasing the region’s presence as an ideal location for new businesses, and, since the onset of COVID-19, running the Rising Economy Taskforce.

The Rising Economy Taskforce

Comprised of more than 120 stakeholders, SIPP’s Rising Economy Taskforce is the “largest coordinated industry-led recovery effort in British Columbia.” In response to the economic crisis created by COVID-19, the Taskforce’s primary mission is to establish a plan that will accelerate economic recovery in the South Island region. Its early initiatives include COVIDSafe, a verification app developed through the Government, Retail, Services and Restaurants Committee; micro-credential training through postsecondary institutions that will provide displaced workers with digital marketing skills; and business case development funded by the federal government. The Taskforce also plans to introduce its Regional Recovery Strategy during Rising Economy Week from November 16-20.

What do innovation and resilience look like during a pandemic?

When Taskforce members Emilie, Craig, Suzanne, and Rasool joined Gustavson’s incoming MBAs for their panel on Innovation and Collaboration, one of their most crucial takeaways was that COVID-19 has been a “great accelerator”: any planned innovations had to be urgently realized by businesses in order to adapt to the economic consequences of the pandemic. For example, businesses planning on expanding their online platforms and implementing e-commerce had to do so immediately when they went into lockdown – their plans had to be fast-tracked to ensure their survival. This great acceleration reflects a larger paradigm shift caused by the pandemic, one that has required businesses to expand and rethink how to remain innovative during an economic crisis. As discussed by the panelists and MBA students, here are three integral aspects of innovation that will contribute to a resilient economy in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Innovation involves embracing failure.

The pandemic has brought about immense uncertainty regarding what sectors are going to be affected and in what ways. While global trends can help inform long-term planning, it is important to remain flexible, adaptable, and open to failure. Taking risks by being creative and open-minded will ultimately lead to more innovative solutions, and embracing the possibility that these risks might fail is part of the process.

Innovation involves collaboration.

As SIPP’s model demonstrates, collaboration across all sectors is becoming increasingly crucial for innovation and sustainability. For instance, many non-profit businesses are looking for allies in the private sector to effectively address social issues and inequities. Collaboration is equally essential not only within the various levels of government but also between the government and its citizens, particularly as they adapt to the pandemic. 

Innovation involves thinking about people.

Businesses must consider the effect of innovation on labourers, since implementing new technologies will intensify existing inequities by excluding certain socioeconomic classes. How will businesses invest in their workers as they innovate?

The private sector continues to focus on its societal impact, playing an increasing role in green investment, sustainable policies, and addressing social inequality. Shifting towards a more politically-engaged business model also allows business owners to invest in the demands and concerns of their community.

Overall, thinking about people is essential to innovation, and this facet of triple bottom line thinking can be implemented in any sector. As this fall’s SIPP panel importantly highlighted, success in business does not mean abandoning a focus on people; in fact, it means quite the opposite – and particularly as we all endure the economic repercussions of a pandemic.