The Social Impact Lab

United Way has partnered with local strategic design firm J5 to develop The Social Impact Lab, a physical and digital space where United Way agency partners, government, donors, businesses, community members, and corporate volunteers can come together to solve, rather than serve, complex social issues in new and innovative ways.

Located in the heart of downtown Calgary, The Lab is a platform to research, create, and test new services and business models, while creating capacity for our partners to deliver supports and services in our community.


What we do in the Lab

A man points at a series of notes on a wall

Find Opportunities:
Identify innovative and disruptive projects that form
the basis of strategic funding opportunities and
have the potential to transform our community.

Imperial Oil and The Social Impact Lab team

Connect Community:
Bring together a variety of stakeholders to facilitate multi-partner collaboration between agencies, corporations,
and citizens in digital and in-person spaces.

A man discusses ways on collaboration

Open Innovation:
Provide open access to participation in ideation, experimentation, and implementation of new solutions.

A group of people jot down notes together

Build Capacity:
Promote and teach a systemic approach to social innovation, research, and design thinking.


Current Projects

Children and Youth Mental Health
With the goal of improving mental health and wellness for children and youth ages 0-24, we are experimenting with solutions to increase access and awareness of mental health supports.

Learn more


e-mental Health Solutions
Working with Alberta Health Services, we are facilitating a process to test and implement e-mental health solutions for youth ages 14-24 in the province of Alberta.


This service model design program supports non-profit organizations to accelerate impact and improve services.

Learn more  Apply for Inspire


Virtual Reality
Using virtual reality, we are exploring innovative methods to experiment in building citizen engagement, connection, empathy, and giving.


Have questions or want to get involved? Email us at .

To learn more about The Social Impact Lab, go to

Everyone’s voice can be heard at
The Social Impact Lab.

Join in the conversation today.

Current Projects

Natoo'si Indigenous Healing and Well-being Initiative

The word Natoo’si means, “Source or giver of all life... everything on earth requires the sun in order to survive.” This name was gifted to United Way of Calgary and Area’s Indigenous Healing and Well-Being Initiative by a local Blackfoot elder.

About Natoo’si

United Way’s Natoo’si Indigenous Healing and Well-Being Initiative adopts a healing approach to address intergenerational trauma as a root cause of the challenges many Indigenous people in our city face.

Consistent with the Aboriginal Healing Foundation, this comprehensive healing approach incorporates cultural activities, therapeutic activities and legacy education. These three core activities support mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual well-being for Indigenous people.

Natoo’si Goal

Indigenous people are engaged on a path of healing and well-being to achieve success.

Alignment with United Way

This goal is aligned with United Way’s Foundational Goal 1.4: United Way and Indigenous communities have a relationship built on trust, respect, and reciprocity.


Natoo’si focuses on healing and well-being. Healing can be understood as a lifelong journey of finding balance, on an individual level, as well as within relationships and in connection with the natural and spiritual world. Well-being is part of the Indigenous way of understanding what it means to live a good life.

“Healing can take place within the context of an individual, a family, a community, an organization, an institution, and a nation. In this context, healing is not merely the absence of disease or challenges, but instead a holistic focus on well-being. This requires attending to the physical, mental, emotional and spiritual dimensions of persons, across the life span for children, youth, adults and elders.” 1

Natoosi Healing Wheel


  1. Enhance capacity in Indigenous-serving agencies to provide services using a healing approach
  2. Build capacity within United Way to advocate for the Natoo’si Indigenous Healing and Well-Being Initiative to donors and the community

1Family & Community Support Services Reporting Framework Aboriginal Indicators (Phase II),” 2014.

Phases of the Natoo’si Initiative

Phases of the Natoosi Initiative


Supporting healing and enhancing well-being has a positive influence on social issues such as poverty, addiction, mental health, and domestic violence. Encouraging healing within our communities through the Natoo’si Initiative is key to building a resilient and caring community where everyone thrives.

How You Can Get Involved

  • Educate yourself - read the Truth and Reconciliation Commission Report
  • Volunteer with Natoo’si programs
  • Attend the annual Connect Event, which supports healing, well-being and reconciliation
  • Spread the word - have conversations with friends and family about Indigenous issues and the importance of healing and well-being


A group of Indigenous drummers play and chant together while others dance. Photo credit: Elijah Beaver

The Issue

The mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual well-being of Calgary and area’s Indigenous population has been shaped by historical determinants such as the legacy of the residential school system, and several present-day policies and practices. These policies suppressed Indigenous culture, identity, and spirituality, resulting in significant loss of language, culture, spirituality, and traditional roles in Indigenous societies. As a result of this trauma, many Indigenous people in Calgary and the surrounding area struggle to lead healthy, rewarding lives.

These statistics advance our understanding of the issues faced by Indigenous people today:

  • Seven generations of children (150,000 kids) were removed from their families and sent to residential schools
  • 21% of Calgary’s homeless population is Indigenous
  • 4 out of 10 Indigenous children in Calgary live in poverty
  • 67% of United Way funded programs served Indigenous people in 2016

Our Response

United Way believes in leading by example. That’s why we’ve developed an organizational Indigenous Strategy. To advance this strategy, we’ve created an Indigenous Advisory Committee to the Board, which advises United Way staff and management on Indigenous worldviews, perspectives, knowledge, and practices for consideration and knowledge-building into our decision-making processes.

United Way invests more than $1.8 million in Indigenous programs annually under our Natoo’si Indigenous Healing and Well-being Initiative, which is focused on supporting individuals, children, youth, and families in healing from intergenerational trauma. Randy’s story explains the importance of this work and how it will shape the next generation of leaders in our city.

United Way has partnered with Pathways Community Services Association to develop Diamond Willow Youth Lodge (formerly known as the Indigenous Youth Hub). Launched in the fall of 2018, the lodge serves as an inclusive, welcome gathering space for Calgary’s Indigenous youth to connect and celebrate their culture in a comfortable environment. Housed in the basement of the Community Wise Resource Centre in Calgary’s Beltline, the lodge is a safe place for youth to drop-in to hang out with friends, connect with Elders, play air hockey or other games, get help with homework, or access supports.

A group of Indigenous drummers play and chant together while others dance. Photo credit: Elijah Beaver

The Indigenous Advisory Committee is a special committee of the Board. The purpose of the Indigenous Advisory Committee is to advise and support United Way staff and management on bringing forward Indigenous worldviews, perspectives, knowledge, and practices for consideration and knowledge-building into United Way’s decision-making process.

The Indigenous Advisory Committee advises on the implementation of United Way’s Strategic Plan and ensures alignment with the organizational Indigenous strategy. It assists the organization to create and operate in “ethical space,” which brings Indigenous and Western worldviews together in a safe and respectful space, to learn and feel comfortable in working together, and to build protocols, and common purposes.

The ultimate goal is to enhance the strength and nimbleness to respond to community need, and to create strong relationships with Indigenous communities that are based on mutual respect and reciprocity.

Members of the committee include United Way staff, local Elders, and Indigenous representatives from government, education, and corporate Calgary.

Builing a positive future for Indigenous Youth

United Way partnered with Pathways Community Services to develop the Diamond Willow Youth Lodge. Opened in fall 2018, the Beltline-located lodge offers a welcome and inclusive gathering place for Indigenous Youth to connect with peers and build positive, informal relationships with Elders in a safe setting.

Pathways, who has been working in Calgary and area since 1988, lead the development of the lodge under the guidance of Elders and in collaboration with local partners to ensure an array of holistic supports are offered.


Indigenous youth face unique, complex social challenges that stem from suppressed culture, identity, and spirituality. These complex challenges have had devastating outcomes as evidenced by Indigenous youth suicide rates being 5 to 6 times higher than non-Indigenous youth.


Led by a youth coordinator, Indigenous Youth Steering Council, and youth participants, Indigenous youth helped design the space to claim it as their own and base it on the needs and interests of participants. The lodge may is used for activities such as:

  • Connecting to Elders
  • Healing and well-being supports
  • Indigenous cultural awareness teachings
  • Mental health and addictions resources
  • Relationship building opportunities
  • Youth leadership courses
  • Skill building and employment preparation
  • Language classes
  • Indigenous art classes, drumming circles, and beading sessions
  • Recreation opportunities
  • Connection to programs and services offered by partner organizations such as Alberta Health Services, Canadian Mental Health Association, and the Calgary Public Library

The Diamond Willow Youth Lodge engages urban Indigenous youth on a path of healing and well-being to promote truth and reconciliation. It is a place where hope and sense of belonging are instilled.