Sparking Conversations, Tracking Results

Six Shifts in Social Innovation

Coming off of two intensive days at the Social Innovation Summit with 650 changemakers from across the country, I’m equally excited and overwhelmed. I’m excited because I feel I like I found my tribe. I’m overwhelmed because I don’t yet know where to start to address the change I want to see in the world. I do know that the process of writing about my experience will help me channel the excitement and move the overwhelming into clarity and action. So here goes — six themes that rose to the top for me.

An Invitation

The summit echoed a disconnect I’ve personally been feeling in my role as a marketing and communications professional, specifically in the digital space. There is too much information and not enough invitation – thank you, Justin Dillon, Made in a Free World, for speaking this truth. Many presenters spoke to this throughout the summit when talking about connectivity, content and audience including Baron Davis, Baron Davis Enterprises and Catherine LaCouer, Blackbaud.

Others eluded to invitation in their shares like Aria Finger of’s rules to live by when engaging young people. Don’t give people a choice but give them a task (recycle 50 cans); use digital to drive, not replace, IRL (In Real Life) relationships; and move away from pushing content out via social media to messenger apps and group conversations oriented around activism. LOVE all of this! I know this 45YO young-at-heart is ready for it.

An Equation for Change

Changemakers, or Change Warriors, as Carly Fiorina, former HP CEO and republican presidential nominee, labeled them in our Bush Foundation–hosted intimate 50-person roundtable, need to be prepared to do battle. Change is not easy. She went on to define a 20/ 60/ 20 breakout of where the general population stands when it comes to change: 20% are Change Warriors, 60% are Skeptics and 20% are Hell No, We Won’t Go (or Change Resisters).

I’m calling it the #ChangeEquation. While I may have heard change categories segmented in this way, I don’t believe I’ve heard anyone place percentage allocations to the three groups. It’s incredibly helpful in our work to understand how people enact and respond to change and to be armed with tools to anticipate and manage behaviors. To innovate is to change, so if we are to take on social innovation we must change broken systems, communications and non and for profit business models. We must move through resistance while coming from a place of understanding and empathy.

Frustration to Fuel Passion

After doing an informal poll at the end of Day 1, it was clear that a 12YO black girl was indeed a highlight. Beyond just hearing what she had to say, she definitely made us feel something we will not soon forget. Marley Dias, creator of #1000BlackGirlBooks, wondered why she continued to read about white boys and their dogs in her sixth grade classroom books. Where were the books that reflected her story? That’s the question that started a movement.

More compelling to me was that her why was not about the movement success, rather the process she went through and her ongoing drive to help others be their best selves. Her comment about turning our frustrations into our passions was incredibly insightful on so many levels. You can be sure that the grown-ups jotted that quote in their notes.

Marley’s story, message and presence triggered two things in my mind:

Children are the ultimate creative and innovative beings;
I’m four times her age and she’s forty times more fearless #MarleyForPres

Transformative Volunteering

Volunteering in a broader sense can encompass volunteering of your time, talent and money. Increasing transparency, communication, access and influence continue to transform what it means to volunteer. Smart businesses and non-profit organizations are looking to their employees and consumers to inform new directions. These new models are moving the needle toward a broader social economy.

In the social economy that Catherine LaCour talked about – where social economy is anywhere good is produced – the individual is the currency. They are the ones driving the volunteer experience they want to have. It translates into concepts like individual activities (making Happy Ramadan cards), culture-immersive travel and service projects and business-led social innovation competitions like the MacArthur Foundation’s 100&Change, which financially rewards the winners to implement their innovation.

The gap between the extremes of volunteering — donating money to broad causes with little understanding of your donation’s true impact (must read: Charity Detox) or intensive service projects that require unpaid time off and travel – is closing. Opportunity is rich in the middle. Justin Dillon notes, “You don’t have to leave your life to make a difference.” He suggests asking the question, “How can who you are participate in the bigger stories around the world?”

Common Purpose

With so much soul-searching in our current political climate, we’ve asked many questions. Are there are any positives? Are those immersed in social causes finding the problems we’re facing too daunting? Several outstanding speakers from Van Jones, CNN Political Commentator to Michael Strautmanis, VP of Civic Engagement with the Obama Foundation, weighed in on finding answers.

Van touched on poverty, addiction, a broken criminal justice system and high death rates as top concerns. He asked, “Can we base our decisions on right or wrong, not right or left?” He implored us to come together around common purpose. Michael’s message conjured up the image of Yes We Can for the women’s rights movement. He then talked about a Yes You Can type support for a 2008-elected Obama to do work on our behalf to a Yes I Can mentality for each individual to do their part by 2016. He left us with this inspiration, “It’s up to us as individuals to solve the problems of our times.”

If we’re looking to individuals as problem-solvers then they must also be leaders. In the presence of one such leader, Carly Fiorina, we were prompted to think about leadership qualities of humility, empathy and collaboration. She noted, “The people closest to the problem understand best how to solve it.” Lesson here: We need to truly listen to the people we’re trying to help and empower them to be part of the change to make a sustainable impact.

Eighteen Years to Education

The stopwatch starts now. It will run for 18 years because that’s how long Aaron North, Kaufmann Foundation, predicts it will take to change the education system in America. Breakout sessions over both days with topics like improving health and wellness for all and creating access for underserved youth addressed barriers to education.

Kathleen Tullie, Director of Corporate Responsibility at Reebok International, added context around America’s mental health crisis and questioned, “Why are we not prescribing exercise?” Rose Kirk, President of the Verizon Foundation, talked about access to parents and changing hiring practices so employees reflect the students they serve. Other discussions talked about closer, direct correlation between highschool education and job skills. Perhaps insight by Seth Goldenberg, CMO and CDO of Intarica, could be infused here, “Imagine an audacious state, then reverse engineer it.”

Social Innovation Summit by the Numbers
Two days. Eight general sessions with up to ten speakers each. 131 presenters. Five, ten and fifteen minute mini-TEDTalks. Ten moderated talks. Three social innovation pitch winner presentations. One interactive roundtable. Two breakout sessions. Three receptions.

Notes: With 131 presenters, I am merely scratching the surface of insights to share. These views are my own and by no means conclusive on any topic, nor meant to be exclusive of anyone. I did not attend all sessions as that would not have been humanly possible. The caffeine content was above average, which helped with attentiveness.

Thank you to the Bush Foundation for their investment to send 50 people from the tristate area of MN, ND and SD to the summit. Incredibly generous! I believe our group established meaningful personal and professional connections to collaborate for years to come. Cheers and looking forward to change with this group!

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