CEO year in review

It’s been a big year of growth and learning at The Australian Centre for Social Innovation. Our Sydney team, alongside some new impact focussed partnerships, has enabled us to think more strategically about how we find and build solutions that match the scale of the challenges we’re all trying to solve.

But with this ambition comes many big questions. Questions that have shaped our, soon to be released, strategic directions but also questions about how to structure a social innovation business. This has led us to experiment with new ways of working, learning and organising ourselves and we look forward to sharing more about how this all unfolds over 2018.

As we farewell 2017 I want to acknowledge and thank all the amazing individuals, organisations, communities and families we’ve had the privilege of working with. As our world continues to change at an exponential rate, never has it been more important to join forces and seek to find the untapped potential that exists in our communities. Whilst 2017 has been one of our most challenging in terms of growth and learning, it has been without a doubt, our best in relation to finding brilliant people and partnerships.

Wishing you all a wonderful 2018 and stay tuned for a jam packed year from The Australian Centre for Social Innovation.

Place and potential – 6 learnings from Dr Ingrid Burkett, Director, Learning and Systems Innovation

Over the past year I’ve been particularly reflecting on systems innovation in ‘place’ – and on the potential of people living in diverse places to innovate in order to create great futures.

In 2017, we had the opportunity to work in a range of amazing communities, with great people who are facing big challenges in the places where they live and work.  We’ve spent time in Dandenong, Broadmeadows, Dubbo, Condoblin, Lake Cargelligo, Logan, South Auckland, Bourke and Geelong to name just a few!  In all these places, we have met and worked with local innovators – people who are trying to make positive changes, who are working together to try, test and learn about what works to build a stronger community and positive futures.

We could say that in all these communities there are variations of a ‘place-based approach’ to address systemic challenges.  As the year draws to a close I thought I’d share six learnings for doing systems innovation in place.

1. Place-based approaches provide great opportunities to see and work with systems. Places are systems in micro-form and can make systemic innovation concrete – because otherwise it can all be a bit abstract and conceptual;

2. In ‘place’ we can see the power of linking ‘big data’ to ‘thick data’. Big data can give us clues about what is going on across the place, and in particular pockets, and thick data can help us to make sense of this, and work out how and with whom to create changes;

3. Working in ‘place’ is always relational, and yet often we talk about places as though they were just numbers, and not where real and diverse people live their lives. It never ceases to amaze me how many reports are written about places and how many stats are quoted about what is wrong with places without engaging with people who their lives in those places.  Place-based work is not desk-focused – it is people focused and requires engagement with people not just numbers;

4. Place-based approaches need to involve bottom-up, top-down, and side-by-side work. Just focusing on working with communities will not recognise some of the structural barriers that exist that often create barriers for change or stops people building positive futures.  In working in place, we need to work across levels, sectors, structures and not just expect change to happen when we work only one-dimensionally;

5. To work in ‘place’ we need to act both more quickly and more intentionally. We’ve seen too many instances where action has been delayed until all the plans are in place, all the stakeholders have learnt to play nicely, and all the numbers are crunched.  This does not lead to better outcomes – it just leads to inertia and lots of ‘know-about’ rather than ‘know-how’.  There is no evidence that getting all the ducks lined up before you start acting leads to better outcomes.  Very often acting thoughtfully and intentionally and then learning from what works and refining action based on that learning means that work gains momentum, people learn how to collaborate as they work together, and we develop practice-based evidence about what works and what doesn’t;

6. Place-based approaches involve working with people, so this inevitably involves risk. Place-based work starts from the premise that local people are experts in their lives, and that this expertise is central to any workable change.  But expertise is not fail-safe, as any expert knows!  So, there are going to be things that don’t work, or that could work better.  But as long as people know this from the beginning, people are usually completely fine with that risk – even people who are labelled ‘vulnerable’.  What people are not fine with, is continuously being promised the latest super program which will change their lives, but that has been developed without them, and which inevitably doesn’t actually change very much.  Often people living in places that have been the subject of lots of interventions over many years are very used to failed programs. The biggest risk of place-based approaches is not about openly and honestly involving people in something that may not work – it is about not involving people, or not doing anything different, or just presenting the same old programs with more bells and whistles.  The biggest risk is not doing anything and not doing anything differently.

From practice to policy by Matt Ryan, Director, Public Policy and Strategy

Twelve months ago, when I penned some aspirations for 2017 one of them was to do more to help us tell stories that inspire and guide others so that we could unlock new ways to help people lead better lives.

Throughout 2017 we’ve done that in several ways – from submissions to policy reviews, to sharing personal stories and hosting international speakers.

In February, we offered up our view on how to create the best social impact investing market in Australia by ensuring we carefully design and test the things being invested in and by building in innovation as a discrete part of investments.

As implementation of the National Disability Insurance Scheme gathered pace, and its cost-effectiveness came under scrutiny, we put forward our ideas about how we could realise the NDIS ambition and control costs in the long run.

Pregnant at 16 and facing a lifetime of dependence, Nicole generously shared her story of breaking the intergeneration cycle of disadvantage – and how she’s gone on to help many others confronted with similar challenges.

In October, we finished the year with a bang, helping to host Indy Johar at Open State, who inspired us with his call for the “boring revolution”.

We’ve reached thousands more people with the message of what becomes possible with social innovation but so much more remains to be done.

Big battlegrounds for broadening opportunity remain in our health and education systems which continue to dominate social purpose spending but whose efficacy is being increasingly questioned.

The challenge for 2018 will be to build communities for change around these areas to ensure bold ideas that are created can, and are, implemented successfully.

It’s a book! What we’re reading over the holidays

For those having time off over the holidays our trusty innovation team have compiled our top 20 (plus one) list of light (and not so light) reading to stave off boredom, entertain, delight and amuse.

1. Take Back the Economy by Katherine Gibson, Jenny Cameron and Stephen Healy

2. Video Night in Katmandu: And Other Reports from the Not-So-Far-East by Pico Iyer

3. Falling off the Map by Pico Iyer

4. How to Thrive in the Next Economy by John Thackara

5. Systems Thinking for Social Change by David Peter Stroh

6. The Entrepreneurial State, Mariana Mazzucato

7. The Burnout Society” Byung-Chul Han

8. Beyond Empowerment: The age of the self-managed organisation by Doug Kirkpatrick

9. New Humans of Australia: Nicola Gray

10. I’m Australian Too by Mem Fox

11. What money can’t buy. The moral limits of markets. By Michael Sandel

12. Everybody Lies: Big data, new data and what the internet can tell us about who we really are – by Seth Stephens-Davidowitz

13. The Call of the Reed Warbler by Charles Massy

14. Dark Emu by Bruce Pascoe

15. Decolonising Solidarity by Clare Land

16. Becoming Wise by Krista Tippet

17. The Sun and her flowers by Rupi Kaur

18. Salt by Nayyirah waheed

19. The Retreat of Western Liberalism by Edward Luce. One of The Economist’s best books of 2017.

20. Everything’s an offer by Robert Poynton

And one for the road…

21. Everything Tastes Better Crumbed by Dave O’Neil

A big year for Family by Family – Danielle Madsen

What a year 2017 has been. Looking back at the year, both coaches and the families have been through a lot!!

In S.A. we were adopted into a new family, Uniting Communities. It has been an exciting transition and the team have worked hard to keep the essence of the Family by Family program strong throughout this scaling and integration. With excitement, we have seen the true potential we have to influence a new system, while walking humbly alongside the families and coaches that make this possible.  It heralds a new future with Uniting Communities who will bring new learning and experience to the Family by Family program.

Early on in the year the Family Coaches started by going ‘back to the basics’ of the program and focused on the values, goals and strengths of families in order to set firm goals on what it means to create change, and whom we can best make change for.  We did this by working throughout the year to understand the WHY, HOW and WHAT of Family by Family.  And by holding true to our vision of wanting to see all Australians thrive, not just survive.

WHY: Because we know that families are stressed and isolated, and we exist because we believe that families, not professionals can make longer lasting change. We are here because families know families’ best, and we have a true belief that stronger families make stronger communities.

HOW: We do what we do by being non-judgmental, by recognising that the families experiences and stories are more significant as a learning tool than a systems response.  We also believe that interactions with the families children provide in context learning that is rare to find from more formal service deliverers.

WHAT: We link families together to make the changes they want to make. We set goals and we stick to them! We celebrate change no matter how small. We regognise children in their own right as powerful change makers.

In 2017 to ensure that we stayed focussed on these core principles, we strategically stopped doing certain things. Firstly we reaffirmed only two criteria we have for our program;

1. Children under the age of 18 live in the home.

2. A family wants something to change.

In 2018, we have made a commitment to hold true to these criteria as the only criteria for a family to become part of the program, and our family.

In 2018 we are looking forward to expanding the team with a Kids Focused Coach and Aboriginal Community Connector. Both roles are essential for the growth of Family by Family, and will work to lead our Kids Coaches, Sharing Kids, Families and Family Coaches to help amplify the voice of children in volunteering and in our work.  And, in acknowledgement that Aboriginal children are still over represented in numbers in service responses, we will further look at how we can represent and connect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families.

Most importantly the New Year will give us an opportunity to see link ups in a more family friendly way.  Over the Christmas period we hope to hear stories of families attending events together, going to the park, having BBQ’s and helping our Seeking Families to have some normal family experiences that they may have been lacking.

Family-by-Family is an opportunity to see families for what they are capable of instead of what they are at risk of. This project started with families’ aspirations and realities, rather than with the public or social sectors aspirations and realities.

We believe in starting with families and together we can collectively pursue great communities, societies and lives. We are hoping that Family by Family will grow and spread across Australia.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year. From the Family by Family team, may your families find peace, joy and great celebration in each other and your community!


Stephen Huddart Tour – Book early

In partnership with Perpetual and Philanthropy Australia we are delighted to welcome Stephen Huddart (President and CEO of The J.W. McConnell Family Foundation, Montreal) touring Australia in March 2018, including dates in Adelaide, Melbourne and Sydney.

Stephen is President and Chief Executive Officer of The J. W. McConnell Family Foundation, a private foundation based in Montreal. He’s a passionate advocate for social innovation and together with The J.W. McConnell Family Foundation are leading the way with building healthy communities, reconciliation between Indigenous and non-indigenous peoples. The Foundation believes that the economy and social systems should advance the wellbeing of all people, and in which the natural environment is stewarded for future generations.

This outstanding philanthropic speaker will discuss his success as well as lessons learned in philanthropy over time. A global leader in Philanthropy, The J. W. McConnell Family Foundation is a world-leader in designing and catalysing a social innovation ecosystem that is stimulating inclusive growth both in Canada and discussion worldwide. Its focus is to enhance Canada’s ability to address complex social, environmental and economic challenges by developing, testing and applying innovative approaches and solutions.

Join us at this thought leadership forum as we hear from Stephen’s through this forum roadshow. A panel discussion with social innovation leaders from Australia will follow, along with an opportunity for you to contribute to the discussion.

Reserve your place now.


Adelaide Mon. 26 March 2018, 9:30 am – 12:00 pm ACDT
Book now

Melbourne Tue. 27 March 2018, 2:00 pm – 5:00 pm AEDT
Book now

Sydney Thu. 29 March 2018, 9:30 am – 12:00 pm AEDT
Book now