Don’t you just love a crazy idea? It takes a lot of courage to try something new, especially something that you don’t know will work, yet entrepreneurs and start ups pursue crazy ideas every day and thank heavens they do. How else would the likes of Apple, Uber or AirBnB come about? I love and admire the hunger of start ups, the pure unadulterated desire to make shit happen, because their life depends on it. Their belief in an idea that overrides all the set backs and even failures that pummel them, their ability to experience this yet keep their eye on the outcome enables them to adapt and do whatever it takes to make it happen.
I have worked in the field of social disadvantage for three decades – I started at the age of 16 as youth advocate, every job I have had was about finding a place to make a difference – journalism, policy, ministerial, state and federal government and NGO. While every one of those roles have a realm of influence to do good, I was always left wanting and believing that bureaucracy kills innovation and that we can do better.
I learnt long ago that in our ‘business’ , peoples lives are at stake and that means we’ve got to get moving to do all we can to innovate solutions to social disadvantage. I feel a sense of urgency with the state of social disadvantage in Australia, things a re getting worse not better and it seems despite the hundreds of billions of dollars and efforts we are not winning any ‘battles” against drugs, family and domestic violence, recidivism, suicide, child protection, poverty, homelessness and on and on. According to the Australian Council of Social Services “Poverty is on the rise in Australia, with more than 2.5 million people – and one in six children – struggling to fulfil their daily basic needs…” ACOSS, Poverty in Australia, 2014
I’ve seen it first hand in the state of NSW where remote communities are living in abject poverty, I’ve seen it in Sydney where thousands of passers by walk past a central park dotted with tents and a community of homeless, the people that have fallen through the cracks of a system that has failed its duty of care.
So rather than dwell on the system failures or limitations I want to give my heart and soul to finding solutions and showing government and NGOs a new way of working, empowering communities to collaborate for social change. For the past few years I have been developing a new way of working and I’m calling it Disruptive Social Innovation, a blend of social innovation, rapid prototyping and digital disruption. The status quo is unacceptable and I believe cross sector and discipline collaboration is the only way we can really make a difference to peoples lives.
“A social innovation is a novel solution to a social problem that is more effective, efficient, sustainable, or just than present solutions and for which the value created accrues primarily to society as a whole rather than private individuals.” (source Stanford, Centre for Social Innovation.)
On the 7th of July 2015 in Broken Hill NSW we tested a new way of working with social disadvantage, Kathryn Greiner AO facilitated and chaired the first Social Innovation Pitch Event.
The event was shift in usual practice of forums and consultations that repeat a status quo approach of talking about the problems leaving little room for solutions. The concept drawn from start up pitch events where new business ideas are generated and pitched to venture capital and angel investors. The format of these pitches are simple and clear – they start with a problem, and idea that is a solution and a clear ask of resources.
The event replicated this and tested the method in community setting where people from three communities were invited to pitch to local stakeholders (business, NGOs and government). Those pitching were briefed on framing their pitch and stakeholders were asked to be generous in offering time, talent and resources to support the local projects. The key to the event was shared understanding of local needs and a desire to collaborate for social change.
Each pitch focused on improving communities, in particular employment opportunities and young people. Maari Ma focused on digital inclusion and education of children and young people. Menindee Central School focused on vocational and training opportunities for young people. Out back Astronomy focused on Astro tourism, Aboriginal cultural tourism development and social enterprise in arts and local produce.
The social innovation pitch event covered three footprints – Wilcannia, Menindee and Broken Hill. This initiative has set a new benchmark to support community aspirations and change the way we manage and address social disadvantage in the region
The design of the social innovation pitch event is disrupting the way communities drive change, it disrupts funding cycles and the notion that government is the only answer. My hope is that we encourage this type of disruptive social innovation because it innovates the way we create social change and it flips the top down to bottom up – so the community decides what to support as a whole and government can get on with providing the right conditions for people to help themselves.
PITCH 1: Maari Ma – Wings Youth Centre Wilcannia
Wings Youth Centre provides an important service for children and young people in Wilcannia, a safe haven and a hive of educational activity. The young people love using the computers but they are old and there aren’t enough. The Centre has a mix of primary and high school aged children and expressed a desire to get tablets for the older children for privacy. They need programs and apps that support nutrition, health, well being, cyber safety and sex education.
We designed the pitches in a way that only asked time, talent or resources to help achieve a goal. People are willing to give in kind, participants were surprised how easy it was to help a project get off the ground, assist with writing proposals or sourcing the right avenue. As always when you bring people from different areas together, new partnerships and alliances emerged and even those pitching could help each other. For example Outback Astronomy is now going to take the kids from Menindee and Wilcannia on a tour, Family and Community Services will purchase the periscopes so the kids have them to use when on excursion; the PCYC has offered accommodation for the kids whilst in Broken Hill.
The pitch event was incredibly well received, initially with a healthy dose of skepticism, but with a determination to continue to the conversations with the whole community. The event brought a renewed sense of common purpose and collaboration and unlikely alliances and partnerships. It gave those pitching an opportunity to gain a wider audience and it gave the businesses, NGOs and government the opportunity to support community initiative. It expanded every person’s view of their community and the untapped social capital around them.
I love bringing together people from different paradigms – the Mayor, the chamber of commerce, all levels of government and NGOs, the corporate sector rarely get the opportunity to mix it up and exchange ideas – this is the alchemy of collaboration and it inspires innovation and it works when applied to social disadvantage.
I’d love to hear your feedback. I hope you will continue on this journey of disruptive social innovation, follow me on Twitter @ChiefDisrupter