SFU Community Summit explores the future of innovation

The sea level along Vancouver's coastline is projected to rise by 1 metre by 2100.

Experts, innovators, and artists gathered at venues throughout the city last week to discuss the implications of innovation at SFU’s third annual Community Summit.

Hosted by SFU Public Square, this year’s summit, titled, “Innovation: The Shock of the Possible,” explored the impact of new ways of thinking on the most important social, environmental and economic issues in British Columbia, Canada, and beyond.

In an editorial published in the Vancouver Sun, SFU president Andrew Petter explained, “Innovation is not just about technological developments, although there are groundbreaking examples of technological advances to celebrate. Innovation also refers to new ways of imagining our society, of reconfiguring our democracies, and of reinvigorating our social contract.”

The week kicked off on October 19 with the Young Innovators Crawl, which invited community members to explore studios and open houses of local innovators under 30.

“We didn’t want to have just another youth conference where young people are just discussing what innovation is,” Shauna Sylvester, the executive director of SFU Public Square told the Vancouver Sun. “We wanted to look at how they’re innovating.”

Later that evening, opportunities for innovation were explored at RISE, a competition addressing sea level rise in Metro Vancouver. Teams were invited to pitch their ideas for how people in the area can “adapt and thrive — faster than the waters that surround us.”

Teams competed for a $35,000 grand prize, pitching their ideas to a panel of experts from the government, the media, and academia.

On a similar topic regarding an uncertain future, Ray Kurzweil, director of engineering at Google, and Richard Florida, a world-renowned urban theorist, joined forces at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre on Wednesday night for a talk titled, “Will Innovation Save Us?”

One of the talks that was most relevant to SFU students concerned the production, adoption, and use of open textbooks at post-secondary institutions. The province has already invested $2 million dollars to date in the BC Open Textbook project, which creates free open source textbooks for the most popular courses in the province.

Simon Fraser Student Society (SFSS) president Chardaye Bueckert, who was on the discussion panel for the event, spoke to its value: “It’s good to hear about the various developments that are going on in open source and what [students] can do to advocate for the use of them in their own classrooms, and how to engage in conversations with their professors in a way that’s productive and encourages them to get involved in the movement.”

Other events included a discussion on how to make Metro Vancouver a zero waste city, and a presentation on the viability of values-based businesses.

Overall, the week provided an opportunity to connect SFU students with faculty members as well as with innovators in the greater community and beyond, an effort that mirrors SFU’s commitment to being an engaged university.

Bueckert commented on the significance of that effort: “Instead of having our university as a bit of an ivory tower, it’s more out there and engaging with the public.”