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Social innovation for a more just world

Over December we wanted to share case studies of social innovation and community engagement that we’ve been involved with to inspire local change-makers and their organisations to embrace new ways of addressing disadvantage and injustice. Our next story centres on a food co-op in a housing estate.

Imagine a city high rise housing estate in inner city Melbourne. It’s the early 1980s and the location is associated with crime, violence, drug abuse and plain fear. It’s the time before the Office of Housing closed in the balconies on the high rise towers and the incident of a mother throwing her child from one of those now enclosed balconies is a poignant reminder of the tragic difficulties people found themselves enmeshed within.

Imagine a bunch of young fresh faced do-gooders (better a do-gooder than do-badder we continue to say) with all the enthusiasm and energy for making the world a better place, just like the new generation of social entrepreneurs you can find today (but without Twitter).

The recent social work graduates, theology students and young professionals wanting to make a difference commence research and conversation with the locals. Nutrition was a clear issue (along with all the others) and the proportion of single women with children living on this estate was unusually high.

The young community of do-gooders had already opened up a healthy food cooperative about two kilometres away from the high-rise, and it seemed to make sense that a similar shop should be opened closer to the housing estate so the people living there could afford a diet other than cheap take away or fish and chips.

An abandoned shop is located in the middle of the housing estate and renovated, and a new enterprise focused on nutritional food and food security is opened. In addition to affordable and healthy good, it offers support and employment opportunities to local women. The other food co-operative located in a more ‘yuppy’ part of town provides a subsidy to the enterprise on the estate.

This small and simple innovation had a ‘social’ outcome within a specific space and offered new opportunities and support for people living in first world poverty.

Whatever this activity would be called today – entrepreneurial, innovative, a social enterprise – the outcome was local social impact for a more just world. And that is something to celebrate when we focus at this time of year on peace and goodwill and new beginnings in 2013.

There is a great Chinese Proverb that says “those that say it cannot be done should not interrupt the person doing it”. Let’s not be discouraged by those who say something can’t be done.

Let’s make 2013 the time – in whatever place you find yourself – to be inspired by examples such as this one (and there are examples everywhere) to make a difference and co-create meaningful change for a more just world.

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