Sparking social change

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.

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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

.Social Innovation Pitch Event Format

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.

shout out Maari Ma

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

A Social Innovation Experiment

Twitter is a wondrous place, I believe it is more equal than Facebook and LinkedIn and it seems anyone can get traction on an issue with a little help from clever hashtags and virtual friends. I recently thought I would try a social innovation experiment, I tweeted “Who wants to help me organise a  Hackathon for disadvantaged youth in Wagga Wagga. In a matter of hours, with a little help from two new twitter friends – Dez Blanchfield @dez_blanchfield and Dev Mukherjee @mdevraj we started #WaggaWaggaHackathon and a google document, in a week we had eleven people including the Dean of Science at Charles Sturt University – Tim Wess, Wagga Wagga Mayor – Rod Kendall, and representatives from NICTA, Telstra, Google, NSW Government, CodeClubAu, and others. The list of stakeholders is growing and we now have the start of a roadmap to get young people, NGOs and community prepared to participate in a Hackathon in Wagga Wagga in October this year. The Hackathon is not the end game, rather it is the platform for new partnerships and collaboration and a demonstration of how technology can support innovation in solving social problems. It presents an incredible opportunity to empower communities to co-design solutions. The journey to the October Hackathon starts in July with a launch meet-up to explain the process of a Hackathon. Communities have to prepare to identify and pitch their “problem” , monthly meet-ups around the problem will identify the data needs and the types of project teams needed. We want to include a range of experts to support community ideas which could range from starting a social enterprise to developing and APP. I call this a Social Innovation Hackathon because its focus is beyond technology. The amazing experience for me and my colleague Donna Argus @Dargus is that people care, they want to help and are incredibly generous of their time, talent and resources to make things happen. Each stakeholder has a different skillset and without the likes of Dez Blanchfield, Tim Wess and Dev Mukherjee we would have found it difficult to progress the technical logistics of such an ambitious event. While we are definitely agile in our thinking there are stakeholders to manage – community, government and private sector who also have their needs and this prototype will help us show stakeholders the magical possibilities that come from cross sector collaboration for social good. Those that know me know how passionate I am- but this experience has blown me away, I am humbled beyond words at the generosity and willingness of people in tech to help those disadvantaged communities – especially in regional areas. As far as I am concerned this is just the beginning of limitless opportunities of a prototype for social innovation and ultimately social change. It is bringing together unlikely partners and collaborators that are willing to give this idea a go. Frankly I have no idea what this will look like but what I can say is that the journey is opening the hearts and minds of so many people to overcome usual constraints and barriers and to work together to improve the lives of disadvantaged young people in a regional area. If you want to get involved, connect with me on Twitter @ChiefDisrupter or follow our hashtag on twitter #WaggaWaggaHackathon Trsust and see what happens