NouLAB Academy 2015-16 cohort working on food security and rural revitalisation.
A social innovation lab at UNB created by the New Brunswick Social Policy Research Network and the Pond-Deshpande Centre is on a mission to create the “nouveau” New Brunswick.
Launched in late 2015, NouLAB was developed as the social policy research network sought to engage citizens in addressing the province’s most pressing challenges.
“We’re out to re-imagine New Brunswick, to make it stronger,” says Nick Scott, executive director of the research network.
“When we bring together business, community, policymakers and academics to discuss complex challenges, each person tends to view a challenge from his or her own perspective, and perceives his or her point of view as the most important,” says Mr. Scott.
“NouLAB emerged out of a need to develop a practice that would allow us to bring together people with different points of view, help them understand one another’s perspective and use the best evidence available to solve the challenges before us in New Brunswick,” he says.
In its first year alone, NouLAB brought together 35 people across seven teams to discuss issues such as food sovereignty, rebuilding rural New Brunswick, newcomer employment, adult literacy, social housing, policy approaches to wellness, and healthy aging. NouLAB teams pitched potential solutions to top officials within the provincial government as part of Innovation Week 2016.
NouLAB came to life with financial support from the provincial government and the J.W. McConnell Family Foundation, while the MaRS Solution Lab in Toronto and GovLab at New York University joined as content partners in the initial year.
Karina LeBlanc, executive director of the Pond-Deshpande Centre, says New Brunswick’s small size is a unique advantage as it responds to its social challenges.
“We are very closely connected to each other. So the difference between a person who has an idea, a person who can make a decision, a person who can change policy and a person who can invest is probably one degree of separation at best,” she says.
Directing the lab is UNB alumna Amanda Hachey, who grew up in rural New Brunswick but spent the early part of her career working in international economic development, gaining a uniquely global perspective from being involved in projects in the U.S., France, Panama, Vietnam and Sweden.
A 2004 graduate of the bachelor of business administration program at UNB’s Saint John campus, she eventually returned to New Brunswick, driven by a desire to make the province and the region of Atlantic Canada reach its potential.
“I travelled around a lot and was feeling a little hypocritical with this mindset of wanting to change the world but never coming to New Brunswick,” Ms. Hachey says. “I knew about NouLAB and I don’t think there is a position that’s better suited to what I like to do.”
She’s looking forward to the work ahead, noting that planning is already underway to engage new teams for the coming year on new issues of critical importance to New Brunswick.