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Social innovation and quiet achievers

We read quite a few blogs and discussions on various sites and have found that there is a vein of cynicism and criticism out there – especially amongst some well entrenched critics of everything to do with anything someone else is doing that does not fit with their narrow view of what social innovation, social enterprise, civil society, charity, social entrepreneurship – we could go on – might be.

Maybe it’s that December is here (‘tis the season to be . . . positive?), but at The Dragonfly Collective we are going to dedicate December and January to positive blogs about real-life practical examples of tangible innovation that the team at The Dragonfly Collective have been directly involved with. Examples that provide hope and opportunity, address evidence-based need in a new way and provide a solution to an ongoing social problem.

Our first example starts with a 30 bed, fully fitted aged-care facility that had been empty for more than five years. Closed after only several years in operation because it was not ‘profitable’ (OK we could say something cynical here – but we are sticking to the positive theme!), it was in excellent condition – but empty. A number of people had looked at the site, but no viable alternative uses could be found.  But then a fresh set of eyes considered the use of the premises, with an evidence-based need in mind – housing for male asylum seekers.

Underutilised property – thirty rooms each with an en-suite in excellent condition – it appeared to be at least one small opportunity to provide housing for asylum seekers released into the community without any income or other benefits such as access to health care that we all take for granted.

Add to the idea a business plan that clearly aligns the project with the mission of a not-for-profit organisation, and a ‘social innovation’ is born. Recruit the right people with a vision and passion for justice to provide integrated case management and pastoral care for the residents, and slowly but surely the momentum grows and a new model of reception housing for asylum seekers is developed.

An idea taken from inception to impact. From a piece of paper to daily practice. From a vision to a reality.

As a result of this new thinking, 29 male asylum seekers at risk of homelessness and poverty now have access to accommodation and support through a model that is the first of its kind in Australia.

But the commitment to empowering some of the most socially marginalised and excluded people in Australia didn’t stop there. Other new sets of eyes came along and saw further opportunity to expand the service to asylum seeker families and children. So another 45 bed facility was found, purchased and opened, making the provider (Baptcare) one of the largest providers of shelter and integrated case management for people seeking asylum and refuge in the vastly wealthy country of Australia.

Add to all this an exit strategy for the residents that provides support when they are eligible to move into Australian society, and there is a tangible real-life operating alternative to detention centres and all the inhumane options identified by those who assume Australia needs to be protected from invasion by ‘boat-people’.

And so there you seem to have all the ingredients of what one might suggest is a ‘social innovation’ – “a solution to a social problem that is more effective, sustainable, or just than existing solutions and for which the value created accrues primarily to society as a whole rather than private individuals” (see The Open Book of Social Innovation, p. 3 and End Notes 1 & 2 p.10).

We don’t know about you, but it’s these kind of projects that inspire us at The Dragonfly Collective. To challenge existing models, imagine new solutions and transform communities for a more just world.

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