After months of waiting to hear, SoJo is excited to announce that we've been awarded an NSERC research grant! This grant will be dedicated to research and development of backend technology for www.thesojo.net that will help to customize the learning experience for each person who visits SoJo. SoJo is all about supporting people through their journey of learning and launching their ideas, but we know everyone learns differently and requires different kinds of support and encouragement to get them moving. And so while we can provide a range of diverse content for people, its imperative that the design of the website is such that its delivery is diverse and customized as well.
For this project we've partnered with Dr. Ebrahim Bagheri, a visionary professor at Ryerson University in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, as well as another industry collaborator, PetaCube. Dr. Bagheri has been an indispensable supporter throughout this process and will be leading the research project, with SoJo providing support and consultation on technology development along the way to ensure the product developed meets the needs of our users.
This grant is hugely exciting for a few reasons. First, the fact that we even got it! While we here at SoJo are always trying to stay focused on being positive, we definitely entered into this application process with a chip on our shoulder. We knew that to build the product we want to build, we would need some serious R&D behind us and the best place to go to get that was NSERC. However, when we shared our ambitious with others (advisors, colleagues, peers, mentors) everyone told us we were wasting our time applying. Why would NSERC - the 'hard sciences' research arm of the government - support something as fluffy as social enterprise? we were asked. Because its a good idea and a solid proposal, we responded. Still, we faced a lot of doubt and dismissiveness from pretty much everyone. However, we stayed focused and committed to the process anyway, believing that if our proposal was as strong as we thought it was, it would speak for itself. Luckily, the good people at NSERC - the only people who really mattered - agreed with us.
Second, this grant really will give us the technological heft behind our website that we will need to realize our vision of creating a customized and personalized learning environment for every user at SoJo. While it will take us a while to get there - the grant is over two years - it lays the groundwork for a very solid future and puts us on the path to get there.
SoJo has now received funding from two very different sources - the Ontario Trillium Foundation, which is focused almost exclusively on social impact, and NSERC, which is focused on technology and innovation. This diverse funding base is reflective of SoJo's refusal to be defined by one sector or another - and with it, we have essentially formalized our non-conformist approach into our funding structure, ensuring we will continue to straddle multiple sectors for years to come.
Most importantly, this grant has reinforced that the best thing we can do for SoJo is stick to our vision and convictions and ignore the naysayers. Because when we do, awesome stuff happens.