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November 30, 2020
This article was first published in the Globe and Mail.
COVID-19 has tested our collective ability to muster a timely response to new realities, yet a “can-do attitude” at Humber College Institute of Technology and Advanced Learning illustrates that a culture of innovation can boost our capacity to pivot in times of crises.
“We don’t necessarily brag about it – we just get things done. And that’s a very Canadian attitude,” says Ginger Grant, Humber’s acting dean of Applied Research and Innovation. “We need an open mind towards doing thing differently, because that’s how we are going to adapt.”
An example comes from the college’s celebrated culinary program, which typically delights students and staff with tasty meals available at on-campus food service areas. As culinary training continued even when the number of people on campus dwindled due to the rise of online course delivery, were leftover meals bound for the waste bin?
“No,” says Dr. Grant. “The culinary team decided to send the excess food to food banks to help vulnerable community members. They worked together to mobilize supply chains and organize deliveries to make this happen.”
The Applied Research and Innovation office at Humber has also continued to provide valuable applied research to partner organizations throughout the pandemic.
These efforts reflect Humber’s dedication to providing students with opportunities to participate in applied research projects alongside industry and community partners. What’s more, due to changing market conditions, many partners – and especially small or medium-sized enterprises – rely on solutions that can allow them to stay competitive.
The college welcomes these collaborations, says Dr. Grant. “We are helping companies solve real problems. And, at the same time, our students get exposed to real-world challenges and work-integrated learning. That’s part of our focus for driving innovation and providing our country with career-ready citizens.”
While Canada has improved its overall performance in innovation – and earned a C on the latest Conference Board of Canada report card – “there is room to do better,” she says. “But innovation isn’t easy. Bringing new processes or products to the market requires a highly disciplined and collaborative approach.”
Humber’s innovation centres have an impressive track record for developing and testing ideas. “We have a combination of processes, expertise and infrastructure in place that provides a very solid foundation for building innovation capacity,” notes Dr. Grant. “And we are constantly tweaking it.
To enhance this capacity, Humber recently became the exclusive Canadian education provider for Innovation 360, a data-driven methodology and suite of tools for innovation management. It is estimated that organizations leveraging this methodology to align their capabilities and strategy can expect a 20 to 25 per cent increase in annual growth and accelerate product and service development by up to 30 per cent.
“My grandfather, who built cabinets, always said, ‘You measure seven times and cut once,’” explains Dr. Grant. “Innovation 360 enhances our ability to measure before we cut.”
At times like this – when we are facing tough questions like “How do we keep people healthy and productive? How do we keep the economy going?” – Dr. Grant suggests making use of every tool at our disposal to unlock the power of research and innovation, for which colleges and institutes are renowned.
“For tackling challenges like the pandemic, we need a growth mindset,” she says. “We need to tap our potential for taking ideas all the way to where they have an impact.”