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Social Innovation StartUp Camp

7 May 2011 4,265 views 8 Comments

Today I went to the first Social Innovation StartUp Camp. It was hosted by Social Innovation Sydney – a community led by Kate Carruthers and Michelle Williams to share and further ideas that have a positive influence on society.

There were around thirty people. I don’t know where everyone came from, hopefully we’ll get a delegate list tomorrow, but there seemed to be a lot of marketing experience in the room. I arrived late – thanks to a big night out in Manly :) – and everyone was already in groups discussing their work. Each group was focusing on one social innovation project – I think they had gone round the room to hear everyone’s ideas first. Throughout the day we workshop-ed those ideas and it was interesting seeing how the ideas changed & evolved as the day went on, increasing/ decreasing in their complexity, and clarity. All of the projects in the room that I heard about are still at development stage. Work in Thailand, with its four-day existence in the public domain, is a relatively mature beast so I didn’t mind that I hadn’t tabled my idea and enjoyed playing with the other projects instead.

We chatted generally about the projects and then got down to some more specifics: working on the particular problem, discussing solutions and narrowing down to the ‘best’ three solutions to pursue. The exercise really drew focus to what each project was hoping to address and then threw us wide open to the many, many ways that we could take action and move forwards. I’m lucky enough to have been taken through this process by some very smart friends (thank you Murray and Daniel) so I’ve had the experience of seeing and feeling my idea change as I’ve got to grips with the real opportunities. And there was certainly some morphing taking place around the room as we all got our heads down.

Dev Singh – consultant & coach for social & creative entrepreneurs – then gave a talk on how to look at our ideas, our messaging and our target customers as part of the project development. He’s a sincere speaker with a clear vision of what it takes to succeed in this space. We talked about looking at demographics and psychographics and how to communicate to different audiences – investors, clients, beneficiaries etc. I also spoke with Dev afterwards and he had some really quick, insightful feedback for me about Work in Thailand – free consulting advice yee!!

Lunch was pizza and that adios-ed the last of my hangover then we did more work on our target market. It was another three-step process: identify the target customer, determine the key message for them, discuss the best possible platforms to deliver that message. Figuring the target customer was a real challenge for some projects as the potential market was huge. Dev recommended that we try to envisage one specific person as the target market and really build a picture around them. The exercise also helped to move us towards even more clarity about the projects.

Following that we talked more about the marketing, particularly online, options. In my day job I’m used to thinking about the value of different marketing channels and how to integrate marketing messages but for many of the target customers here the usual channels simply weren’t viable – they don’t have internet access, their details aren’t available for direct marketing, they’re in remote locations etc – so this was tricky, and interesting.

Michelle talked about how to build a community around our projects and shared the ways that Social Innovation Sydney have built their community since launching last year. We then discussed the best ways to apply these ideas and more to our projects. And finally Kim talked about how to gain resource to support developing projects, different ways of looking at project development and identifying the immediate next steps to make progress.

Here’s an outline of the different projects that were worked on in the room throughout the day:

  • Travel Mule – an agency that connects travellers and NGOs so that the travellers can bring things the NGO needs.
  • Carbon neutrality – a movement to encourage superannuation funds to invest in more environmentally friendly companies.
  • Friendly packaging – developing and promoting packaging for take away food that is more environmentally friendly.
  • Indigenous photography – developing a site to share and sell photography by indigenous photographers, and a training program for indigenous teenagers to learn digital photography.
  • Product traceability – a service to provide transparency on the background of the goods that we buy.
  • Promoting the voice of indigenous elders – given the high value of indigenous elders in the community, encouraging people to connect with them.

What I noticed was how big some of the ideas and projects were. When I first started to think about how to support orphanages in Thailand my ideas were huge, they would have required a great deal of infrastructure, research, resource. I was reminded along the way to keep things simple, focus on what I really want to achieve and decide how that problem actually needs to be addressed. Then keep it even more simple. I like to think about the ideas I’m aware of that have been really successful, like the town in Australia that wanted to be the first to have no water bottles. That was a simple idea, I have no idea how much work was involved, but it was very successful. Over lunch I chatted with someone who’s idea is to set up community choirs as a way of connecting people and giving them a common interest. I loved this.

They day was billed as an opportunity ‘to crowdsource ideas for creating new business models for social good’ and I think it was a huge success. I enjoyed spending the day with like-minded people and working on our project. I took away some really valuable nuggets for Work in Thailand that I’ll be looking forward to implementing. The biggest thing I realise is that you can never have enough clarity about the idea and enough refinement about the message.

Not sure what tomorrow holds… will be interested to see what else there is to learn and if we’re going to develop the same projects further.


  • Dev said:

    Thanks for this well written, comprehensive recount of the day, Lucy. And of course for the very kind shout out! Was a pleasure on all counts that you mentioned, and like others in the room, your passion and determination to move swiftly on your idea will definitely see you makes great, effective progress. Hope the second day is just as awesome and then some!

  • Kay said:

    From working successfully and unsuccessfully with groups in the community on practical and [mainly] research projects I found that before an idea gets too far advanced we need to talk informally with the intended social beneficiaries of an idea/project. Most community groups (whether small, like a group of Aboriginal elders in a country town), or huge (mothers of under-3s), need to feel that they “own” an idea/project. You need to work with THEM, rather than think up a huge plan involving marketing before you leave the conference room! It’s great to have a list of ideas and plans, but keep them sketchy until you’ve met the real humans. I was able to teach the general principles of child development to Aboriginal teacher-education students after listening to some of their stories and seeing them with their family and friends. Then I was able to incorporate examples and methods immediately relevant, with elements they could relate to and smile at! It’ also important to get feedback frequently and be prepared to alter things a bit along the way. A project “incubator” group like TACSI deliberately tries ideas on small groups before getting wider programs going, perhaps with state government policy endorsement.

  • Inspired and delighted with people’s willingness to work for positive change #sibsyd said:

    […] a nice round-up of the first day from @lucyjjames on her blog; and a some feedback from the participants on Social Innovation Sydney. Tweet Related […]

  • lucyjjames » Blog Archive » Social Innovation StartUp Camp Day Two said:

    […] I was on my way to day two of the Social Innovation Bootcamp I was feeling inspired by yesterday’s work and spoke to a friend, Charlie, to get some advice on next steps for Work in Thailand. Charlie is […]

  • lucyjjames (author) said:

    Hi Kay, thanks for reading and for your comment. I absolutely agree with you. Just as commercial business, I don’t think we can ever know enough about our target market: who they really are, what motivates them, what are their needs. Your project sounds excellent, congratulations on your approach and your successes.

  • Anf said:

    Nicely documented Lucy! There’s always value in meeting with peers in whatever work we do, in this case social innovators and entrepreneurs. All it takes is one person “A-HA!” moment to make the experience worth it. A different perspective is a good thing, and I encourage people to get several eyes on whatever ideas they have (we may think them good, but it’s what we’re not seeing because we’re too busy thikning our ideas are good that will either make or break the delivery). Solid advice from Kay on this topic. I’m sure the others in the room appreciated having your experience there, particularly as your project is more mature. Wish I was there!

  • lucyjjames (author) said:

    Thanks for reading Anf. I’ll connect you with the #sibsyd team so that you can speak/ participate if you’re in town for the next event.

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