A few blog posts about the Beijing conference on social innovation from others already, but here’s my contribution/reaction…chronologically, for want of any better ordering method.
SUNDAY: Arrived after a good flight chatting to Brett Wigdortz (of Teach First fame) and Steve McAdam (from Fluid) amongst others, and having flitted between Mission Impossible Three and China Shakes the World. Given my short amount of time, Brett and I caught the tube into the centre of Beijing that night for a brief glance at Tiananmen Square, and a good roast duck….before the real work began….
MONDAY: I was slightly disconcerted on my way down to the opening ceremony by the fact that the CNN news report I’d been watching in the hotel room had been cut off in the middle (it was concerning Nepal/Tibet border shooting: see this article for both sides of the story), leaving a black screen.
Anyway, we kicked off with intros from the organisers and dignitaries. Couple of quotes I captured include Gerard Lemos (of British Council) saying that social entrepreneurs had "optimism as a social duty, even a moral duty", and that this was driven by "people who understand people", and that "policy should be driven by practice, not the other way round".
Geoff Mulgan (of Young Foundation) said that YF saw this as the "beginning of a global network of shared thinking", and hoped it would "speed up the process of innovation and learning". More interestingly, perhaps he also talked about "tapping into collective intelligence", and the need for "leadership providing the space for innovators to evolve". Finally, he also related it back to Michael Young who had "a clear focus on needs, an empathy to understand how people are experiencing those needs and a willingness to act" to address them.
Other highlights from the various presentations included:
– Ezio Manzini (from EMUDE, amongst others) discussing everyday social innovations at the grassroots, and of the importance of everyone getting the opportunity to be involved
– John Bird (of Big Issue) waking a few up by saying that "it was a crying shame that there aren’t more people like me up here saying ‘I was part of the problem and am now part of the solution’ " amongst other slightly tired, if entertaining ramblings
– Yang Xuedong, from CCPE, discussed the Local Innovations Prize, and how it had helped evaluate government performance in Chinese regions, and help make them more accountable; it was also interesting to hear how it had stimulated the development of local democratic politics in some areas
– Shen Dongshu, from Fu Ping, champions NGOs in China, and has a social entrepreneur school (capacity building focus), an entrepreneurial fund and other initiatives;
– Steve McAdam (see above) talked about their bottom-up, people-centred approach to planning and regeneration, next to which my notes simply say "very interesting; follow up"
– later we got more international perspectives with Peter Spink from Brazil reeling off countless interesting examples (an open access online participative budget, for example) and talking about genuine grassroots-led change, based on pragmatism, diagonal and horizontal relationships and "incremental learning-by-doing"….+ Rhoda Kadelie from South Africa giving some inspiring innovations from there, including dance and opera initiatives amongs the black community, as well as some damning critiques of SA govt; Josephine Green added the corporate design perspective from Philips, adding (intriguingly from a multinational) that "the concept of enough is one we ought to explore"…
– After the break-out sessions (too much to report here) came a banquet, a mask-changing dance and a poem, no less, in our honour….
Slightly smaller crowd on Tuesday morning (Monday night drinks anyone?), and an equally packed line-up. Simon Tucker from YF’s Launchpad kicked off, outlining some of their current projects, followed by Lv Zhao from the Shanghai NPO Network who gave an interesting overview of the Chinese NGO scene (I love the concept of a government-sponsored non-governmental organisation….but some would argue that many of our third sector organisations are in this situation as well…)
– Mike Gibbons gave a clear and focused presentation on his challenges and approaches at the DfES’ Innovation Unit, particularly interesting around leadership learning, and enabling others to take risks
– John Thackara discussed his Designs of the Time project in the North-East of England, and made the important point that technological innovation should be driven by social innovation/social needs, not the other way round….an interesting project to track
– another breakout session (which helped give me more of an insight into the Chinese third sector scene, if I can even categorise it like that) took place before the round-ups; the one key thing I wrote down here was from He Fan (I think) who said:
"in China everyone is born an entrepreneur" and "small progress in China is multiplied by one billion", followed by the payoff, "real social entrepreneurs should come to prove themselves in China"; that’s the sound of a gauntlet being thrown down, I believe….
I also found the Mondragon perspective very interesting (thanks Carlos), as scaling but keeping true to principles and values is a real problem in this sector. Mondragon have much to share on this, i think.
Final round-ups followed before dinner, and then a Wednesday morning meeting about the prospects for a social innovation network; watch this space, I guess….. but I’ll post up this mindmap to give an indication of the tentative beginnings of a mapping exercise….(click to expand, I think).
Overall – lots of material, lots of speakers, lots of thoughts, lots of good networking: a really good beginning to providing some momentum and focus in this area, widening out to encompass multitudes, as it were, rather than becoming stuck in the same areas and silos. As ever, hearing from other fields (design, architecture) and other locations (China, Brazil, South Africa) is inspiring and fires off other ideas…