Working in the service of Innovation

NOTE: This was originally published October 6 2016 on the StartSomeGood blog.

I recently had the pleasure of representing StartSomeGood at the Australian and New Zealand Internet Awards, a joint venture of the domain administrators from both countries which recognises outstanding projects enabled by the internet. I was happy enough just to be there as a finalist for the Innovation Award and was thrilled and surprised when we were announced as the winner.

I hadn’t expected to win and hadn’t prepared any remarks but I knew immediately what I wanted to say as I walked up to receive the award.

This award is special for us because our founding mission is to support greater innovation in the social sector. When my co-founder Alex Budak and I first starting talking about creating a crowdfunding platform specifically for social entrepreneurs, non-profits and community groups the issue we thought a lot about was how do we fund the new and unproven in the social sector? In other words, how do we fund social innovation?

And the answer is, for the most part, we haven’t. At least, nowhere near enough. Because to fund innovation is to embrace failure, and the traditional funders of the social sector – governments, foundations and corporate givers – have been failure-adverse, which leads to a lack of support for genuine innovation which is by definition those things we’re not sure will work.

We know from the wider startup community that the greatest impact is often created by those ideas which initially look ridiculous, which are risky and have a reasonable chance of failure. But it’s these ideas that, when they do work, can create systemic transformations.

What the social sector lacked essentially was angel investors. Risk-tolerant supporters prepared to come on-board early and give you a chance to prove that your idea can work. Once you have some evidence of that those traditional funders become much more accessible, much as a startup will move from angel funding to traditional Venture Capital.

So we thought, that could be us! Not us individually (we worked for non-profits so our philanthropy was somewhat limited) but all of us, collectively.

Crowdfunding is an incredible tool for bringing together an early group of passionate supporters to allow new projects, enterprises and approaches to launch, try something different, and prove that their idea can work.  Unlike many traditional funders crowdfunding supporters are hungry for new ideas and new possibilities. They are prepared to back unproven changemakers who present a credible plan and a lot of determination; they want to help make things happen.

Whether that’s open source mapping in Nepalsupporting asylum seekers through social enterprise in Australiatackling poaching in Africa or providing medical services to underserved communities in the US, we need new approaches to address the challenges and take advantage of the opportunities of this century. We are so proud to have supported incredible social innovators in 30 countries so far (including Australia and New Zealand of course!) who are stepping up to make a difference.

It’s nice to be considered innovative ourselves but more deeply than that we exist to work in the service of innovation. So this award is not just for us, it’s for the innovators, dreamers, entrepreneurs, activists, community builders and storytellers who have used our platform to bring new things into being. Thank you all for giving us the opportunity to work with you.

Here’s a quick interview I did on the awards night:

If you have an idea which can change the world, we would love to work with you to. You can get started here today.

And if you’re one of those traditional funders looking to better support innovation in your community or for the issues you care about we would love to talk. Find out how we’re helping governments, foundations and even banks to better support innovative social impact projects here.

Together we can bring a more innovation social sector into being.