I was introduced a few weeks ago to the idea that I'm playing a 'social innovator'. No - not because I'm innovative. It's a vocation.
Unlike playing a 'social entrepreneur', I'm not looking to start up a business - perhaps that makes me a fool.
But I do want to 'do' things. Identify opportunities to make things better, intervene and contribute how I can, learn from it, and discover ways to create value for people that I can translate into an income.
I'm not stressed about the money, so a startup doesn't really seem necessary. And I happen to be interested in building collaborative communities - or more accurately, helping others to build communities. Maybe not the best place to start to build an enterprise.
This is all just an intro - the money question is one for another day. What I've been struck by recently is how well supported we are in our endeavours to be a social entrepreneur, but to be a more generic 'social innovator' we are left out in the cold.
Startup pitching is founded in the economic (business) world. Pitching social innovation, on the other hand, is rooted in the human world that we seem to have left behind.
Entrepreneurialism can be pretty laissez faire, but there are methodologies nevertheless. There are lean startup philosophies, business model canvasses, and well refined ideas about strategic, financial and business planning, branding and positioning, business and legal structures. There are also established (if difficult) ways to find financial capital. Crucially, and not to say they're easy, but there are established ways of kicking off a business idea. You find a way to connect with people around your idea, you use this to create a team of entrepreneurs that have complementary skills in all the usual 'startup' skills, and an understanding of the market and industry. You refine and test your idea (based on a gap in the market, or a hypothesis about something new to sell), aim for a minimum viable product and jump. (Easy!)
But what if you have an idea that doesn't involve selling something? What if it's a great idea, but you don't know where the money comes from? What if you have an insight about part of a social problem, but there are so many other factors that you can't imagine how to progress? What about all those great ideas that someone like government could - or should - fund, but never will because there's no way of getting the ideas through complicated funding mechanisms (not usually even to the starting gate)?
Do these sound familiar to you? To me, they sound like the sorts of discussions I have with people every day. Everybody that pays attention and takes the time to think about the world has ideas like these. They are the sorts of observations that come out of having a human - rather than economic - relationship to the world. How many of them get acted on? None. Or at least very close to it.
If I recognise there is a gap in the market for non-toxic, flavoured childrens' toys, I can go along to a startup weekend and pitch the core concept, and have a pretty good idea of the people I need to build a team to start making it happen.
But I recognise there is a gap in our social systems, and we need better ways of supporting social innovators, through providing methodologies, leadership, planning and testing tools, philosophies, ways to find resources, and ways to connect with people to help them through the complexity of it.
What do I do now? Who is there to listen to my pitch?