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Social innovation and satisfaction

About six months ago when we first heard there was an international Masters in Social Innovation being pioneered in a little university town in Austria, we thought it sounded like exactly the type of  thing we should check out.

Today we sit with people from Mexico, Romania, Germany, Italy, Switzerland and Austria at the University of Danube in Krems. The program – a new one in the European context – is a Masters in Social Innovation and has attracted people from both the private and third sectors, including two Australians from Melbourne.

It’s very refreshing to be part of a group of people who are all committed to learning. Peer review and collegiality are integral aspects of the process. Questioning each other’s views with respect and intellectual rigor creates an environment for critical thinking. The presence of people from different parts of the world provides a unique environment for us as Australians to be exposed to new ways of thinking about social change, social enterprise and social innovation. Engaging with ‘difference’ and ‘otherness’ is one way to guard against parochialism and the potential for insularity we can easily slip into within the Australian context – so far from much of the world in which we live, despite globalisation.

The stories of people from various parts of the world and different cultures reminds us that insisting that there is only one way to achieve or initiate social change for more equitable and just societies is often obscurantist and myopic. Top down, bottom up and even sideways are all options. We can celebrate diversity and new ways of perceiving opportunity to innovate for a better world!

Josef Hochgerner, the founder of the Centre for Social Innovation in Vienna (the first centre for social innovation in the world) and the Professor of the course commented that “the enemy of social innovation is satisfaction”. When we become satisfied that we have the best or only way to do something, we immediately stop seeking new and different ways to act. We are satisfied with our way, so innovation is unnecessary. We accept things as they are. We become satisfied with our affluence and aspiration for more and more, and want to protect our satisfied way of living from those who question it, threaten it, or want us to share it. Asylum seekers, migrants, trade unionists, Indigenous people, women (yes even still women in many contexts), gay people – in fact anyone with different ideas and ways to live – all become enemies who seek to mess with our white heterosexual suburban satisfaction. Sadly even those committed to social change for the better and new ways of doing things can in turn become satisfied with their own way of being, and become the enemies of innovations that question their assumptions.

Part of the challenge is to critically assess our self-satisfied assumptions – not to get lost in a sea of uncertainty, but to open our minds to new ways of achieving social change for the common good. Not the good of the majority or the minority, but the common good. And so we are privileged to have the opportunity to be engaged with new colleagues from so many different places and worldviews and for the opportunity to open up our minds and look, listen and learn.

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