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Impact Academy: Building skills for the greater good

By François Levesque on January 11, 2013

HUB Ottawa has now shed its beta status and is entering its most important year yet. The organization was launched a year ago as a collaborative space for Ottawa’s social innovators to network, build relationships, work on projects and learn new skills. To that end, HUB Ottawa has been hosting a number of brown bag lunches and talks on varied topics, including Apt613’s first ever live panel. However, there was a need for something more structured and systematic, with content tailored more directly to HUB members’ needs and ambitions.

Enter Impact Academy, which on January 15 will be launching its first series of classes aimed at building Ottawa’s capacity to create positive change in the community. The Academy is practitioner-led learning that focuses on resources and tools for developing, implementing and managing innovative projects. According to HUB Ottawa’s Executive Director & Co-Founder Vinod Rajasekaran, the founders of the Academy wanted a learning experience that students could immediately apply to solving problems in their community.

“We wanted students to be able to use what they learn in class in their work or other projects right away, whether they are new managers, young professionals just starting in the non-profit or charitable sector, or the social enterprise sector or whether they’re a younger entrepreneur that’s about to start something and that is looking for a suite of tools and knowledge he or she can use to do a feasibility study or develop a strategic plan.” Being a government town, I asked Rajasekaran if folks from government could benefit from this program. He said they could, since the program is comprehensive enough that anyone managing projects could learn something useful from it.

To develop Impact Academy, HUB looked at around 25 similar programs across the country. Many of these were one-year graduate certificate or 2 year MA-type programs that need full time commitment. Rajasekaran stated that one of the priorities for HUB Ottawa was to make this type of program more flexible and accessible to students. Accordingly, they created 5 morning sessions spanning 3 months, with a curriculum tailored to the local context and demographic. The classes are built around the professional development programs their partner, The Collaborative for Innovative Social Enterprise Development (CISED), and HUB Academies around the globe have been providing. HUB wanted its curriculum to be peer-supported, with content and speakers that cater to the non-profit, charitable, and social enterprise sectors. The first session, for example, will bring together Mike Lachapelle, a local management consultant, and Fiona Wright, a systems analyst and the Impact Academy coordinator, to discuss how to define a complex problem stemming from a broader issue and introduce tools to help solidify business models. Some of the sessions include homework and group work, although these decisions were left at the discretion of instructors.

The current cohort is quite diverse in terms of interest, age group and backgrounds. Some are seasoned professionals in the non-profit sector while others are starting out new social ventures. There will be a lot of relationship-building and peer support, which Rajasekaran sees as a key to the success of the program. When asked what another mark of success would be, Rajasekaran pointed to building the city’s capacity for positive change.

“Obviously, the hope is that students will increase their knowledge in key areas to push the sector forward. Developing new ideas and new talent – talent retention and creating the incentives to keep talented individuals that work in the non-profit, charitable and social enterprise sectors in Ottawa. We hope through this program they’ll be able to learn how to best maximize the impact they’re having on their organizations, and on their sector.”

While the first cohort of Impact Academy has filled up, HUB anticipates its second cohort to begin sometime in the Fall.  The program is $400 plus HST.