Lessons [Un]Learned: Reflections on 2020

26 Sep 2023

Great disasters often lead to innovations and positive social change. Think of all the great fires in cities like Toronto, Chicago and London that led to innovations such as the fire hydrant system, the entire insurance industry, and countless other innovations that changed the world. As Derek Thompson notes in the Atlantic, “Natural and man-made disasters have shaped our greatest cities, and our ideas about human progress, for millennia.” So, the question is, how will we use the disasters of 2020 to shape our future? At SSE we help people unlearn deeply-held beliefs and societal conventions to help them develop new solutions to the world’s greatest challenges. Here we use unlearning as a tool to reflect on 2020, a year no one will forget any time soon. It’s been a tough year but here are some unlearnings we’re paying attention to.

One example of progress born out of the Covid19 pandemic is the greatest digital transformation the world has ever experienced. Within weeks, millions of people were working from home. The disability community has been advocating for more opportunities for people with disabilities to work remotely for decades but the common refrain was that it just couldn’t be done.The most common excuses were a lack of technology and safeguards. But, clearly, it could be done and this pandemic has shown that the real issue was about inclusion. A deep unlearning is required if we are to create a future of work that is equitable and inclusive for people with disabilities. How can we use this opportunity to help ensure people with disabilities have a better future of work?

This year has also brought calls from around the world for racial justice prompted by the killing of George Floyd in May. Letters of support and public proclamations are not good enough. A lot of people are doing the hard work that it takes to become anti-racist but this unlearning will not happen overnight. SSE was created to offer a space for people of all backgrounds and we are committed to doing that hard work that is needed every day to ensure that we don’t stray from our beliefs and values. There are a lot of amazing resources available to help you on your unlearning journey including The Great Unlearn with Rachel Cargle which we recommend. Here is a list of anti-racism resources compiled by our colleagues in the UK and another that includes books to read and films/tv to watch. Please reach out to us if you are interested in how we use our unlearning framework to help people create businesses that are equitable and inclusive through our Unlearning Journeys.

This summer was also marked by scandal in Canada in the charitable sector, something that rarely occurs, but, with some reflection we can see that the root causes are quite widespread. Canada is a small country that is run by a small group of people and those tend to be White people of power and privilege. The federal government decided to contract WE Charity to manage the $912M Canada Summer Student Grant without an open competition and this generated much outrage from the public. As the scandal unfolded the damage to the charitable sector and social enterprise was obvious. This is a sector built on trust, and that has eroded, but the trust our community has in SSE has never wavered, and for that we are grateful. We know that is because our focus is on grassroots leaders with lived experience, and building a community to support them. That’s why after eight years in Canada (and almost 25 years in the UK), after other social entrepreneurship programs like WE Charity have come and gone, we’re still here. We are more than a building and some programs. We are a strong community and you can’t close a community.

Progress is often born of disaster but only with deep reflection about what we need to unlearn to chart a new, and better path. We hope that a lot of people begin their unlearning journeys before the end of 2020. Reach out to us if you need some help along the way.