Tuesday, June 15th, 2021 - 11 am to 3 pm EDT

Aanii, Waaciye, Tansi, Tawnshi, She:kon, Kwei, Kwe’, Atelihai, edlanet’e, Oki, Bonjour, Hello!

The Indigenous Innovation Initiative and the Circle of Abundance at the Coady International Institute invite you to participate in a summer virtual celebration of Indigenous Innovation Leadership.  This will also be the launch of the Indigenous Innovation Initiative Paddles UP! fundraising campaign.

Each component of this celebration will acknowledge, amplify and tell the story of Indigenous innovation leadership in Canada, including:

  • Keynote Panel: Transformative Impact through Indigenous Leadership and Innovation

  • Meet the Innovators: Hear the stories, meet the champions, understand the difference they are committed to making and what they need next to achieve their fullest potential

  • Paddles UP! Fundraising Campaign Launch: Discuss deliberate and intentional action to fully activate the circle of support


Learn more about the Advancing Gender Equality through Innovation and Social Entrepreneurship Program here


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Dr. Peter A Singer

World Health Organization

Dr Peter Singer is Special Advisor to the Director General, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, and Assistant Director General of the World Health Organization. He supports the Director General to transform WHO into an Organization sharply focused on impact at the country level. Dr Singer co-chaired the transition team; was the architect of WHO’s strategy and its “triple billion” target; supports colleagues to guide consistent strategy implementation of WHO’s programme budget, results framework, delivery stock-takes, investment case, and innovation strategy; and provides leadership to the Global Action Plan for Healthy Lives and Wellbeing to strengthen collaboration among 13 multilateral agencies to accelerate the health-related Sustainable Development Goals.

Before joining WHO, Dr. Peter Singer co-founded two innovative, results driven, social impact organizations. From 2008-2018 Singer was Chief Executive Officer of Grand Challenges Canada. During this period Grand Challenges Canada raised CAN $450M to support 1000 innovations in more than 90 countries, which have the potential to save 450,000-1.6 million lives and improve 11-35 million lives by 2030. From 1996-2006 he was Sun Life Financial Chair and Director of the University of Toronto Joint Centre for Bioethics. He is also Professor of Medicine at University of Toronto.

In 2007, Dr. Singer received the Michael Smith Prize as Canada's Health Researcher of the Year in Population Health and Health Services. In 2011, Singer was appointed Officer of the Order of Canada for his contributions to health research and bioethics, and for his dedication to improving the health of people in developing countries. He is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada, the Canadian Academy of Health Sciences (where he was Foreign Secretary), U.S. National Academy of Medicine, and The Academy of Sciences for the Developing World (TWAS).

As a researcher, Dr. Singer published over 300 articles, received over $50 million in research grants, and mentored hundreds of students. He studied internal medicine at University of Toronto, medical ethics at University of Chicago, public health at Yale University, and management at Harvard Business School. He served his community as Board Chair of Branksome Hall, an internationally minded school for girls.

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Alex & Angel

Indi City

Angel and Alex are a 2S BIPOC couple and co-founders of Indi City. In 2017 they became the first global Indigenous Designers to incorporate wearable technology into traditional regalia.  Their first piece a Woman’s Traditional outfit called “ The Matriarch Speaks,” exhibited in Calgary, Ottawa and Shenzhen, China.  In the same year they both graduated from the Indigenous Women in Community Leadership Program at St.FX University in Antigonish, Nova Scotia.

Together they design and create fashion accessories according to the current indigenization of Turtle Island in contact with their ancestral roots. Indi City has grown from a small business on Instagram to a newly launched online store with products also found in shops and boutiques across the country. With an in-house multi-media productions company they work to curate a 100% Indigenous made brand through visual marketing and story-telling.

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Jeff Cyr

Raven Capital

For nearly 25 years, Jeff has provided strategic leadership for Indigenous, not-for-profit, and government organizations and now works in Indigenous social finance and the social innovation space.  Métis from the White Horse Plains area of the Red River Valley of Manitoba, Jeff is a proud husband and father of five.

He is a co-founder and Managing Partner of Raven Indigenous Capital Partners, CEO of the Raven Indigenous Impact Foundation and past Chair of the Indigenous Innovation Council at the Indigenous Innovation Initiative. He has helped create the $25M Raven Indigenous Impact Fund, pioneer the community-driven outcomes contract (a unique pay-for-success social finance model) and the Indigenous Solutions Lab process, which earned him an Ashoka Fellowship in 2019.

Jeff’s work enables Indigenous social innovation and builds Indigenous social finance in Canada, empowering Indigenous communities and innovators.

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Sara Wolfe

Indigenous Innovation Initiative

Sara is Anishinaabe from Brunswick House First Nation in Northern Ontario. She is a Registered Nurse, a Registered Midwife, and holds a master’s in business administration (MBA) from the Rotman School of Management. Working more than two decades primarily in sexual and reproductive health, Sara was the founder and managing director of Seventh Generation Midwives Toronto and co-led the development and implementation of the Toronto Birth Centre, Canada’s first mainstream healthcare facility to use an Indigenous governance and leadership framework.

Today, she is the Director of the Indigenous Innovation Initiative at Grand Challenges Canada, one of the largest impact investors in Canada. They are an innovation platform dedicated to supporting Bold Ideas with Big Impact®. Through the Indigenous Innovation Initiative, Sara is supporting innovators and communities to identify and solve their own challenges, drive inclusive growth, and improve peoples’ lives through Indigenous innovation. Their inaugural program is to advance Indigenous gender equality through innovation and social entrepreneurship.

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Justin “Jah’kota” Holness

Hip-Hop Artist & Entrepreneur

Justin “Jah’kota” Holness made history for being the first Native Hip-Hop Artist to drop a verse in the Senate 2016. He is an award winning entrepreneur receiving the 2018 CBC Trailblazer Award for TR1BE Music.

Currently he works for Futurpreneur Canada as a Business Development Manager for Young Indigenous Entrepreneurs. He is inspired by the mission that through entrepreneurship we can to achieve self-determination. He is also a passionate advocate for the rise of the sacred feminine and the rematriation of this nation.


Sparking a new generation of Indigenous innovation will ultimately benefit us all


Wed., April 28, 2021  The Toronto Star


When Europeans arrived at our shores, they quickly discovered that they suffered from a distinct technological disadvantage. The cumbersome boats they brought to navigate inland waters proved impractical for the lakes and rivers they encountered.

The canoe, perfected by First Peoples over thousands of years, solved this problem. Crafted from split cedar and spruce and covered in layered birchbark, these canoes were light but immensely sturdy and, when sealed with gum and charcoal, flawlessly watertight. Explorers and settlers seized upon these superior craft for their own purposes, using the canoe to overtake lands and resources from the peoples who were here first.

This story reminds us that there has never been any lack of inventiveness within Indigenous communities. Yet, Indigenous-led initiatives are rarely utilized to address problems facing Indigenous communities.

That makes no sense.

Indigenous peoples are, and always have been, innovative. The problem is that, steeped in colonial practice, the infrastructure that others use to turn ideas into enterprise is too often unavailable to Indigenous innovators. Worse, structures and systems exacerbate the disconnect between innovative thought within Indigenous communities and the tools needed to operationalize these ideas.

Grand Challenges Canada is seeking to correct that enormously missed opportunity using the “grand challenges” model successfully refined to support global health innovation development over the past decade. Backed by the federal government, this approach matches innovators with needed capital and supports to develop, test and scale innovative solutions.

The Indigenous Innovation Initiative aims to employ a similar but uniquely adapted methodology to support innovations developed by and for First Nations, Inuit and Metis people. The goal is to empower a new generation of Indigenous innovators and ignite bold new ideas capable of creating system-wide transformation.

From a roster of 238 proposals, 10 new projects have been selected and provided with a total of $2.5 million in proof-of-concept grants. The projects range widely from agriculture to health, media, to advanced drone technology. Each project intuitively applies thousands of years of sustainability practices to address well-being for people and the planet.

The ideas and talent exist. We simply need to stop looking past it.

Behind these 10 projects, more wait for funding. The most promising will attract transition-to-scale financing and support. There is an obvious and pressing need for public and private sector engagement: to look beyond the established language of financing and research, to understand the underlying brilliance of the ideas and the potential to advance reconciliation in our lifetime.


The grand challenge model has shown that at least one or two of 10 projects will fulfil the promise of being transformational, of being able to gain breadth and impact, of being able to advance outcomes — and of being able to generate both money and change.

These Indigenous innovations — and the positive impact they seek to affect — will be fully realized if those in the fields of finance, investment and discovery match their stated desire with action by getting behind Indigenous innovation directly — and the great, transformational designs so close at hand.

The canoe remains a remarkable example of Indigenous innovation. Developed centuries ago, it is also a symbol of discovery and our shared journey. Today, there is an opportunity to spark a new generation of Indigenous innovation that if realized will, like the canoe, ultimately benefit us all.