Rural’s Role in Innovation

Many Paths for Innovation
Leadership in university and colleges comes in many forms, from the instructor teaching computer aided design and entering competitions, to break throughs by researchers, to creating a mandate for innovation at the senior level. Among the many articles, activities, and supports for innovation, what is often missed is the role of rural in an otherwise urban story of innovation. Yet, located in the largest metropolis in Canada, Dr. Vivek Goel, VP of innovation at the University of Toronto, recounts the importance of rural in their medical innovation dating back to 1913. He joins many others pointing to contributions of rural people and places to the growth and prosperity in Canada through contributions of innovation.
Dr. Goel offers five strong messages to Canadian post secondary institutions, businesses, instructors, students, and investors in his Globe and Mail opinion piece on entrepreneurship.
– First message: rural matters. It began in a barn north of Toronto. This was ground zero for the University of Toronto’s hub that grew into a world class medical centre of development. Now the Connaught Antitoxin Laboratory and university farm, provided accessible vaccines to fight diphtheria and polio.
– Second message: government investments were and are needed to realize an innovation strategy. With a $800 million budget over the next four years, the Federal government will be deciding on how best to target this investment. What needs to be said here is the importance of investing a portion of this funding across rural hubs to coordinate and facilitate entrepreneurship, that draws upon assets and knowledge in rural regions, while adding innovation curriculum in education, in business training and research activities. Such a distributed model of innovation is practiced across the three campuses and needs to find its way to other rural and northern areas in Canada.
– Third message: diversity of approaches. Goel wants researchers selecting their own model that works for them and their circumstances, and not dictated (by funders).
– Fourth message: innovation can and does start in the classroom. Students are important. We can all be seen as learners, as innovators, young, older, new arrival, single, married, or more. All can be inspired and have passion.
– Fifth message: regions hold great promise. Goel mentions the Toronto region. His message is equally poignant to direct funding to rural regions, to mobilize knowledge and know-how and resources in develop and ignite what are often informal rural innovation ecosystems.
What is needed is a model of funding innovation in Canada that bolsters established ecosystems Goel argues and I argue purposely invests in rural regions combining passion, knowledge, and institutional support.
Source: Goel, Vivek. 2016. There’s no magic bullet, no single path for innovation. Opinion. Globe and Mail. B4. August 4, 2016.
Submitted. Bill Ashton, PhD. Director, Rural Development Institute, Brandon University, Brandon, Manitoba.

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