Kevin Vuong is a connector, city-builder, and military officer building healthier and safer communities with social innovation. For his service and impact, he has been named one of Canada’s Top 30 Under 30, Her Majesty The Queen’s Young Leader for Canada, and a Fellow of The Royal Society of Arts and The Aspen Institute. Kevin leads the Agency for Public + Social Innovation, where he is focused on innovating procurement for social impact. He sees social entrepreneurship as a vehicle for advancing the SDGs, and is playing an active role in its advancement as Canada’s Local Pathways Fellow for the UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network. Kevin also teaches at the University of Toronto – Faculty of Medicine in the Translational Research Program, and serves part-time in the Royal Canadian Navy at Her Majesty’s Canadian Ship York.

Q: What have you been up to since the Youth Innovation Summit last March?

Since we’ve last met there have been a number of things I have been working on, the most directly related is a report that looks at social procurement in Ontario which does a deep dive into what is the social and economic value of social procurement. It looks at the role of social procurement in poverty reduction, in income equality, in improved quality and quantity of life, in how to build prosperous inclusive cities, in sustainable development, and in the empowerment of marginalised populations. Naturally, there’s a lot of intersection with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and so this is a foundational document. What my researcher found is that no one’s really necessarily done this kind of report yet, at least not in Ontario, so this is really exciting. This also aligns very well with a UN Habitat Summit I hosted where we looked at how we can define the New Urban Agenda, which came out of Habitat III last year, into a Toronto context. If we’re going to build a city that’s inclusive, that’s healthy, that’s sustainable, what are the specific steps we, as well as different community actors, have to take at all levels of government. Another really exciting thing is that I will be one of two from Her Majesty The Queen’s Young Leaders that have been invited to the Vatican this year as part of their symposium to look at the Sustainable Development Goals with this year’s focus SDGs 8-11.

Q: Tell us more about the team you are working with

For the social procurement report, I have a health innovation researcher who was seconded to me from the Dalla Lana School of Public Health at the University of Toronto and who is starting her Masters of Public Health. I also have another researcher focused on community resilience. This includes research around social enterprise and health in particular. We’re looking at how we can go upstream and address the social determinants of health, including root causes that are leading to poor health, so poverty, lack of decent work and employment etc. When it comes to community resilience there are many of the same root causes. Isolation is not just bad for mental health, it can also lead to someone being more vulnerable to radicalisation or extremism. Ultimately, the vehicle that we see really to combat for health or building safer communities is social enterprise.

Q: You are a very motivated person, what helps you keep moving forward especially given the amount of responsibility and challenges involved?

I think the reason why I am particularly passionate about working with people who face barriers to work, education or otherwise has to do with the fact that not too long ago I was very similar shoes. My parents were refugees of the Vietnam War; we didn’t have very much growing up and if it wasn’t for people who decided to help even though they didn’t have to, I wouldn’t be where I am today. It’s a desire to more than just to pay it forward, it’s almost a sense of responsibility that I feel because if it wasn’t for others I wouldn’t be able to do this. I wouldn’t have the same opportunities that I do now. That’s why I actually really enjoy what I’m doing because I know how hard it is, how hard it can be, and I also know how much of an impact even a little bit of a hand, whether it’s connecting somebody or introducing somebody, or giving them the chance to work on a project, how much that could do for somebody.

Interviewers: ACSE team

Canada, 2017