Big Thinkers Positive About Social Innovation
23 May 2017 at 8:25 am
South Australia has a burgeoning startup community of people who want to make money and make an impact, says Allyson Hewitt, the first primary thinker for the new Adelaide Thinkers in Residence program.
Hewitt, a senior fellow at the MaRS Discovery District in Toronto, has been in Adelaide for three weeks as part of the Social Capital Residencies, run by not-for-profit think tank the Don Dunstan Foundation in partnership with the university, business and community sectors.
The series, which will run over 18 months, aims to help redesign the social innovation ecosystem so that the private, public and not-for-profit sectors are all helping to grow the economy and do good at the same time.
Hewitt, who has attended around 60 meetings and met with more than 1,000 people during her brief stay, told Pro Bono News she was excited to be here.
“It is an amazing city and an amazing opportunity to be able to do this,” Hewitt said.
“Bravo to South Australians for being open, because a lot of people are not open to outside thinking, so right away you are off to a good start.”
Hewitt said there was “lot’s going on”.
“I think generally the ecosystem is relatively nascent compared to some other places around the globe but with tons of interest and with people who really want to do good, better,” she said.
“There is a burgeoning startup community of people who also want to make money and make an impact.
“There are new networks around social impact investing, and measurement, there is lots of energy coming out of the universities, that is often driven by the students who want to think about new business models and ways to do things differently, and Adelaide is the home of TACSI, which is The Australian Centre for Social Innovation, who have really been taking the lead in new ways of thinking, particularly at the systems level so that we don’t continue just to solve the symptoms, not the problem.
“So there is lots going on and lots of interest but like in any emergent ecosystem, it is fragmented and the big opportunity – because the population is manageable, and everybody is sort of within 0.5 degrees of separation they say – is to be able to leverage those incredible networks and really put a systems lens on it.”
The program aims to focus on supporting job creation, attracting investments and driving knowledge-based exports.
Hewitt said she was encouraged by the conversations already taking place.
“One of the big challenges that is facing the not-for-profit sector for example is the National Disability Insurance Scheme, and I heard the letters NDIS quite a lot in the past couple of weeks, and yet when we got people around the table they said: ‘We don’t actually get to sit around the table with each other very much’. So success number one,” she said.
“Number two, they said things like: ‘I just was doing some research and 33 per cent of my staff are also employed by others in this space, why don’t we think about a shared employment scheme and that way don’t people have less precarious employment, or other kinds of opportunities and what about navigation systems, or what about shared backend systems because we’re all trying to develop the same CRMs or the same IT but we’re all doing it fragmented and nobody has the time, money, energy or resources, so how do we do that together’.
“To see that kind of conversation pop up, and people are all over it, was incredibly encouraging.”
Hewitt, who will be supported by a range of “supporting thinkers” throughout the residency, said the first few weeks were about awareness raising and giving people a shared language but she left them with “homework”.
“I am actually leaving people with homework, should they choose to pick it up, which is to advance the kind of things we’ve been talking about, to create multi sectoral tables and, this was a huge lesson for me and I am hoping that people have been able to pick this up, is not to wait for government to set the table,” she said.
“I was kind of surprised by the reliance on government, and the more time I spent here, I completely understand it. Government has a huge history of innovation, and they have a huge role in people’s lives, and that shouldn’t stop but there are limitations of working within government, particularly around risk taking and innovation.
“So let’s make sure our government is at the table but let’s not wait for them to set the table.”
She said it was about bringing everyone together.
“Being able to put issues at the centre and to pull in academics, and journalists and researchers and end users, who should be at the centre, and not for profits and corporates, there is a real interest from corporates to begin to get into this space, there is a real interest in b corps,” she said.
“So let’s pull those folks together, let’s see if we can really think differently about how some of our issues are currently defined and then lets move on some solutions.
“This is not just a one off workshop but a real desire to join up and do things differently by redefining problems.”
She said attracting innovators into the space was about creating a narrative that appealed to them.
“Everybody uses jargon and it feels a little alienating, so one of the first things we did was set up a glossary and we’re trying to find a compelling narrative that resonates with people, so we began to map the ecosystem to see who the players were and then we can identify where there are gaps,” she said.
“We had a terrific cross sectoral meeting, kind of a workshop, there was about 45 or 50 people and we began to map the ecosystem and that I think will give us an opportunity to say we have some corporates but not enough, let’s go after them, or we have an over-representation of not for profits, so let’s see who can represent them, wonderful conversations like that and if we can find a narrative that meets people where they are at, but brings them to a place where they know they are a part of it but they are not all of it, that they can achieve something bigger than themselves, that’s when I think we’ll have people running to come and play with us.
“If they can see the value in it for them and enabling them to make money and make impact, then who doesn’t want that.”