Where’s the Community Innovation When We Need It Now More Than Ever?

As the result of years of experiencing collaborative learning alongside brilliant colleagues and community stakeholders, working ridiculous hours, and dipping into hard-earned savings for startup costs, I have now been the Principal Collaborator of a social enterprise called Campus for Communities of the Future for ten years.

I should be proud to have kept it afloat. And yet, my reality is that I stumble whenever I talk or try to explain the initiative.

It seems my mixed emotions are the result of the push and pull experience of wanting to make a difference, and needing to be an entrepreneur in order to make it happen.

For me the truth is that my personal journey has always been less about making money, and much more about social innovation and hoping to make the world a better place.

The challenge is that the big dream is about making a contribution to community, economic and environmental well-being, at a time when our systems and sectors reflect very different measuring sticks of success.

What is so much clearer now is that no one sector has all the answers. The good news is that each sector - business, social profits, and government – has its own strengths. Additionally, the wisdom and potential role of residents and households is often untapped.

Businesses have the expertise to potentially help social-profits and government nurture innovation and entrepreneurship, improve products and performance, generate revenue, and reduce costs. However, generating dollars is only one measuring stick of success. Additionally, using business-thinking may not always help with the complex social issues and challenges that typically require thinking and measures more aligned with fairness, human rights, and positively impacting people and planet.

Government has the opportunity to serve as a catalyst for pulling diverse stakeholders together, however they may not have all the answers either because much of their responsibility is focused on ensuring basic security, social order, protecting democracy and the public interest, physical infrastructure, and making decisions in the best interest of society. 

Social Profits
Most social profits (also known as non profit organizations or charities) are focused on responding to one or more specific issues. As such, they are typically focused internally without the resources to work with external partners and stakeholders to address underlying root causes rather than responding to symptoms. On the plus side, they work to ensure everyone has access to the support and services they need to develop their full physical, mental, and spiritual potential.

Residents and other Stakeholders
Not always given due consideration, residents bring strengths and assets that don’t necessarily have an allegiance to solutions that involve only government, or only social profits, or only business. They want the best solutions that will often involve all three sectors.

Better Together
The bottom line is that each of the above have their own respective priorities, assets, and mandates. As a result, all four have important pieces of what’s needed to build a healthy and vibrant community, economy, and environment. As such, each has the potential to play a significant role in bringing innovation and change to our communities - and ultimately the world - at a time when change has never been needed more.

What does that mean in terms of action? If not already there, begin with two simple changes in thinking. 

Accept that you and your stakeholders only have one piece of a very complicated puzzle and will benefit from working collaboratively. After all, regardless if you are a business, social profit, or government, if you take care of your community, your community will take care of you.

Secondly, seek opportunities and prioritize working externally to develop partnerships and collaborations trusting that it is the collective that will find the innovative solutions and next steps. That also means being okay with calling the meeting before the answers are known. 

Is your community innovating? If so, we’d love to hear more.

Posted on 08-23-22

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