PeopleFund Innovation Week Panel: The Faces of Innovation

The Center for Social Innovation led a panel at PeopleFund’s Innovation Week to talk about what social innovation looks like and how we can foster collaboration. We invited Chelsea Elliott, Executive Director of Half Helen Foundation, Andy Brown from The Brown Firm, and Matt McDonnell, Managing Partner at Notley, facilitated the conversation.

What does social innovation look like?

Chelsea: Innovations are the solutions that improve our lives. Our data collection app isn't a new solution, but the application of the tool is where innovation happens because we're doing it in a space that has been reluctant to change how things are done.

Andy:  A new solution to a problem that others may not perceive to be broken, find ways to make a system more efficient.

Matt: Innovation is the willingness to continuously iterate on solutions. If problems change, so must solutions.

Innovation through Collaboration

The Center for Social Innovation is evangelizing collaboration. We know that collaboration is a key component to how we solve problems and find new solutions, but over and over, we see nonprofits have a strong reluctance to collaborate. What do you perceive the reasons to be?

Andy: Innovation needs at least one advocate. Without a driver for a solution to find a path or to rally others, solutions die. Leaders for a solution can be hard to find.

Chelsea:  Similar service providers don’t want to collaborate because there’s pride in owning the solution.

Matt: Are they afraid to lose funding?

Chelsea: Yes, but if they collaborate and find a bigger or better solution, then the funding for the solution grows and everybody gets a bigger piece of that pie.

Matt: It’s a human capital problem. How do we get more brains to think about solving these problems? We need to create inclusivity, even in very young kids, and harness creativity and perspective.

Audience Comment: People create competition where there isn’t any. There is no real competition. I am 100% willing to share how I succeed because I am positive that no one can do what I can do, and that I can’t do what someone else can do. Price isn’t a competition. Price is education that informs the consumer which solidifies the worth of our products and services.

Who’s done a great job of collaborating?

Chelsea: There was an HIV/AIDS game that was developed around simulating genes and finding a cure or better treatment for AIDS. The level of collaboration was global and the players unknowingly discovered and created innovative solutions. All it took was for it to be out in the world to be engaged with.

Matt: In Austin, I think environmental and orgs in the education space have done a great job collaborating and creating referral systems for the same customers to get involved in different places of the system. Organizations like CiNCa.

Andy: ECHO in Austin is doing a great job leading the efforts in homelessness issues.

If you had a magic wand, what would you change?

Matt: If I had a magic wand, it would be for the community to have more risk capital to create these solutions. Nonprofits have a cultural bias against risk taking. One of our initiatives, Philanthropitch, is aiming at changing that, and we are fundamentally trying to create a shift in how we think about this will all of our projects at Notley.

Andy: I would make the housing situation in Austin more visible. I would put resources for low income housing in ALL parts of Austin. I think making the issues around housing more visible will drive the improvement of a slew of issues - education, public transportation, a general awareness for every issue.

Chelsea: I am the problem that I am trying to solve. If I had a magic wand, it would be that everyone gets an eye exam. Once your eyesight is gone, you don’t get it back!

Matt: We need to move past perfection and polish. Done is better than perfect.

What are some best practices for collaboration that we can all walk away with today?

Andy: Follow through and thank you notes!

Matt: Alignment is key. Spend a lot of time in the beginning talking about accountability, tasks, and even when the collaboration is done. Take the time to learn what’s possible and ground the idea in reality so the possibility for collaboration is real and actionable.

Chelsea: Action! Start implementing your solution with a crystal clear goal and exit so you don’t roll out something that isn’t what you intended.

How can people get involved with what you’re working on?

Andy: The Travis County Sobriety Center needs board members. The only requirement is that you live in the county. We need people to advocate for this solution and we need people that are up for the challenge and want to do something different.

Chelsea: We need to find a healthcare business consultant. There’s no money in prevention, only treating chronic issues

Matt: We want to be a catalyst for these types of conversations. We want to meet people that are working on a systemic problem and invite them to join conversations like this one.

Interested in The Center for Social Innovation? Join us at our upcoming property hard hat tour Tuesday, October 10th at 9 AM. Please email hello@socialinnovationaustin.org to RSVP.

Katrina Tolentino is Director of Marketing and Community Engagement at Notley, a micro private equity firm focused on the intersection of profit and social impact. As a bridge builder, she firmly believes that the relationships that we have and the communities that we build around the work that we do is the key to how we sustain them. She has previously spent the last decade creating, building, nurturing, and launching new ideas, pivoting and expanding businesses, products, services, and experiences in the startup, technology, real estate, and experiential event industries.