Importance of Practical Innovation in Disability Services
17 December 2014 at 11:16 am
Celia Hodson, CEO of the School for Social Entrepreneurs (SSE) Australia reviews the out-takes of a recent panel discussion outlining the key challenges faced during the roll out of the National Disability Insurance Scheme.
Recently, SSE Australia hosted a panel discussion with Jim Longley, Chief Executive of Ageing Disability and Home Care, NSW Department of Family & Community Services; and Cain Beckett, Director of Consulting at PwC, Chair NSW Disability Council and Stella Young, Writer and Disability Activist.
The recent passing of Stella Young, writer, comedian and disability activist was tragic, too soon; but it is also a reminder that action is needed in the disability services sector to foster innovation amid the roll out of the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS).
With social reform such as this comes a series of challenges and opportunities that disability service providers must overcome and leverage. While innovation will be the key in the success of social enterprises operating in this sector, each provider needs to take a good hard look at their organisation and address critical ‘make or break’ issues.
Challenge – Governance.
No organisation can overlook the need for a strong governance model. Through the careful selection or recalibration of boards, social enterprises in the disability services sector will be able to reach their organisational goals of supporting those with a disability. An effective board will oversee compliance with policies and regulations, ensure the organisational vision is clearly defined and strived for, and add a layer of confidence to management. This challenge will help drive innovation from the top down – so careful selection is crucial.
Challenge – Quality Assurance.
When serving people with a disability, quality assurance is key. Purchasing power is now in the hands of consumers and people who vote with their wallets. As social enterprises scale up, much like any organisation, it’s important to keep quality in check. A product transformation will take place and all disability service providers will need to keep up.
Challenge – Workforce.
Attracting and retaining a quality workforce will be a challenge. According to Longley, NSW alone will require an additional 20-25,000 new employees in the sector (and that’s without attrition) so the disability services sector will become an even more highly competitive market when it comes to employment. Innovative employee acquisition and retention practices will need to become standard practice in a competitive market.
Challenge – Management and Accounting Systems.
While often seen as ‘the boring part’, these key tools will need eagle-eye attention and mention to ensure the business does not fall over. Customer Relationship Management systems will provide previously untapped information about new customers; and the use of this data will provide insights previously unseen by the sector.
Challenge – Consumer Education and Empowerment.
A key challenge will be understanding the impact of a more empowered consumer in this sector. People who have a disability are new consumers in this space and it is hugely important to understand customer-centric modelling. People with disabilities, now and rightfully so, have the freedom of choice and will be more empowered to choose who and what they purchase.
During the panel discussion Beckett outlined that “given the sector has not had a customer approach for quite a few years there will be a lot of low hanging fruit”. This insight suggests that a sector that has been focussed on winning Government Tenders will now be targeting a new audience – a customer that is the end-user.
The link between customer centric modelling and product innovation has always been strong and for a sector that will be redefining their customers, there will be a range of organisations that will focus on the ‘low hanging fruit’. Implementing innovative practices to understand, market to, and service customers will drive success and transform this into a key organisational opportunity.
While these challenges can be overwhelming for providers in the sector, it is important to rest assured that they can quickly be transformed into opportunities for both existing providers and new-to-the-market social entrepreneurs.
On a final note, while the above outlines the importance of supporting disability service providers through a phase of uncertainty, we must recognise that “the NDIS will improve the lives of people with a disability by giving them greater control over their care” (Oppes).
And it was Young that made this statement ring true at the SSE Australia panel discussion with the very firm statement “People with a disability are not seen as sophisticated humans, and not marketed too in the same way. There is an opportunity to stop presenting people with a disability as a problem that needs a solution. We are not a problem. The time for inclusion is over. The time for infiltration is here”.
In March 2015, the School for Social Entrepreneurs (SSE) will launch the NDIS Accelerator, Australia’s first enterprise-based learning program to support disability organisations to develop market oriented, client focused business models in response to the opportunities the NDIS presents.
About the Author: Celia Hodson is the Chief Executive Officer of the School for Social Entrepreneurs (SSE) Australia and has a wealth of experience in supporting and advocating for social entrepreneurs, as a business person, entrepreneur and founder of one of the UK’s most successful social enterprise schools, The Eastern Enterprise Hub. Hodson’s latest initiative is the Partnering for Scale and Impact initiative aimed providing financial and resource-rich support for early stage social enterprises with a $1.5m fund.
Hodson’s previous UK based roles included Deputy Chief Executive at Social Enterprise UK, Chief Executive Officer at Cambridge Co-operative Development Agency and Chief Executive of regional development agency Choose Suffolk. She has also held numerous board positions with UK based Not for Profits and social enterprises.
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