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Posts Tagged ‘Sydney’

When K and I got back to Sydney after four years living overseas in April 2012, we weren’t aware of Vivid Festival beyond a few facebook updates noticed and then forgotten over the previous two years. I accepted a speaking invitation even, without really realising what I was getting involved with. And then May rolled around and the city lit up.

Literally.

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Vivid wasn’t just a bunch of talks, it was a showcase of the most amazing digital projection technology I’d ever seen, complimented by Burning Man-style installations around the Harbour foreshore. It was extraordinary. And that was just the “Light” part of it; there’s also a brilliant Music program and, yes, a bunch of talks which comprise the Ideas stream. Each would be an awesome festival in its own right; together than seem to energise the whole city.

Despite my rockstar fantasies it’s the Ideas section I find myself involved with again. This year I’m thrilled to be part of four events, two of them organised by my friends at Vibewire, one put on by StartSomeGood ourselves and the last a panel on the funding of creative projects organised by the Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance.

Here’s my personal program if you want to come along to any of them:

  • #fastBREAK: Save the World: A special edition of Vibewire’s monthly #fastBREAK sessions made up of rapid-fire ideas from interesting people. Instead of the usual 7.30am Friday start this is at the very civilised time of 10.30am on Sunday May 25 at the Powerhouse Museum. It also features an incredible line up of speakers, from activists to politicians to hip hop legends to and entrepreneurs. It’ll be my please to introduce them all as MC (yo yo!). Get your tickets now!
  • Funding Creative Work Now: a panel on the new ways creative work is being funded, featuring a bunch of awesome creative entrepreneurs and me! 1.30pm Thursday May 29 at the Museum of Contemporary Art.
  • Be Awesome at Crowdfunding Masterclass: I’ll be teaching a 3-hour crowdfunding masterclass sharing everything we’ve learned while helping people raise millions of dollars through crowdfunding. Find out everything you need to know to be awesome at crowdfunding and how you can use it to launch or grow your initiative. For creative or social entrepreneurs, community organisers or non-profit fundraisers. 1-4pm Thursday June 5. Some tickets still available, book now!
  • Pitch the Future: A pitch event for ideas which could change the future, hosted by Vibewire in partnership with StartSomeGood. I’ll be hosting. This should be really fun and is free so come along! Sunday June 8.

And I’ll be in there with the family tonight when they turn the lights on at 6pm.

If you’re in Sydney have a great Vivid Festival! If there’s particular events you recommend please share them in the comments below.

Photo of the Sydney Opera House lit up during Vivid Festival by Jason Meaden shared on flickr with a creative commons license.

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A couple of weekends ago I spent Sunday hanging out as a mentor at Social Startup 48, a Startup Weekend-style event where participants create a company from scratch over a single weekend, only for social impact. It was a fun, inspiring and thought-provoking experience and I’m thrilled to have been involved. There’s nothing I like more than participating in creating new things, working to support new changemakers to realise their vision.

To my fascination the event was mildly controversial in social entrepreneurship circles in the lead-up, with push back against the announcement on the Australian Social Innovation eXchange (ASIX) website and Emerging Leaders in Social Change LinkedIn Group (members only). I threw myself vigorously into the later conversation, before I had any involvement in the event.

The issue people had with it was, largely, the slogan: “How fast can you make a difference?” Change doesn’t happen quickly they insisted, any and all change efforts require long-term study before making a move or trying anything else. Non-experts will only stuff it up. Something like that.

And of course, this is very true for many change efforts. Bringing diverse stakeholders together is often slow difficult work, as can making change inside any large institution. Building trust within community requires a long-term commitment, especially if you are from outside that community. Understanding all the dynamics of an issue (is this even possible?) and the work already done requires careful study.

But these are not the only pathways to creating change.

Social entrepreneurs are the inventors of the social change world, and just as it was for science for many hundreds of years,  it is the inventors, the tinkers, those who get their hands dirty to go to work on figuring things out through action and learning, who have often created huge and innovative leaps forward in delivering social outcomes.

The point is not that one approach is better than another but that we need both. The greatest advances occur when the breakthroughs pioneered by the inventors is scaled through market mechanisms, government action or cross-sector partnerships, or by reaching a tipping point in cultural consciousness.

An event like Social Startup 48 would seem to naturally attract those drawn to the later approach, but not exclusively. Look through the list of participants and you would see researchers, academics and bureaucrats amongst their number. Working in teams to make decisions fast is an amazing learning experience no matter where you’re coming from.

It’s also true that in science the greatest breakthroughs are often earlier in people’s careers. It is the ability to see things from new angles, less encumbered by the prevailing wisdom or business-as-usual, which often (again, not always) leads to transformational breakthroughs, not experience.

So inviting newer, younger and more diverse actors to participate in creating change, however “fast” or “slow” they go about it initially, is a crucial part of creating change. We need new ideas and new participants to contribute to many wicked problems and creating more participation in our changemaking systems is a critical democratic advance in its own right.

It’s also worth thinking about what motivates people to walk the unquestionably long and hard road of affecting systemic social change. Could this motivation itself not arrive in an instance, when eyes and hearts become open to the need for change and the possibility of being involved in making it happen? In my experience many changemakers can trace their decision to commit to proactively creating the future to a specific formative event. If done right Social Startup 48 could be that experience for people and even if none of the specific ventures designed over the weekend reached any sort of scale the experience of conceiving and launching a social venture, learning about what works and what doesn’t, will inform their future endeavours. Vibewire was the third organisation I founded and StartSomeGood is my fourth. You learn most by doing.

Certainly spending Sunday afternoon hanging out in the Queen Street Studios with everyone and seeing ten very busy teams hashing out their business models, core stories and make plans for pitching gave me a lot of joy – 50-odd people prepared to spend their weekend and sacrifice their sleep to make a difference is something to be celebrated! There was an amazing buzz as teams huddled to make rapid-fire decisions then scattered to fulfill tasks: coding, shooting video, taking photos, developing a business plan, preparing the slides for their pitch, designing a logo (or organising to have four different teams logo’s designed in the case of Crowdworthy) the focus ramped up across the day as they approached the deadline or pitches to be submitted.

The pitches were well-executed and the many of the ideas were well thought-through and compelling and the progress made was very impressive overall. You can see videos of all the pitches in the storify I made and check out the Social Startup 48 ventures listed on StartSomeGood.

The collaborative consumption movement was in full swing – fully eight of the ten ventures were a platform of some kind. This was in-part a result of the rising profile of and huge untapped potential for a more collaborative approach to consumption and community-building but also, I think, a result of teams having been somewhat pre-assigned, so as to spread certain skillsets, especially technical, around the groups. I can see the logic behind this but I think a more purely self-organised approach playing out on the Friday night would result in a less equal spread of skills across teams and therefore a greater diversity of teams which would produce more diverse ideas and ventures.

There are other little tweaks and improvements I am going to suggest to the organisers, which is the whole point – you have to run an event like this to figure out what works. No amount of research or modeling would ever teach you as much as putting yourself on the line and actually organising the event, seeing who turned up and how they responded, listening to your community and learning from what happened and doing it that much better next time. Social Startup 48 gave 50 people the opportunity to take that courageous first step, without which no other steps would follow.

Congratulations to the great team behind Social Startup 48 – I hope this is the first of many ss48 events in Sydney and around the world.

To get more of a taste for the weekend along with videos of all the pitches and many of the presentations check out storify.

[View the story “Social Startup 48 – Sydney” on Storify]

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Sydney Harbour, the day after we got home.

1,449 days since heading out there I am back again, just ten days short of an even four years away.

It was 1,399 days, or just a day less than 200 weeks, from my arrival in the US to my departure from San Francisco last Sunday. I landed in New York in June 2008 after a near-36 hour day traveling from Bangkok before catching the train to Washington DC, the first of many times I would travel that corridor past the broken factories and over the inlets of the East Coast.

I arrived knowing only a handful of people, unsure of what I would do next or where exactly I would end up. I had only a few weeks to figure things out and secure a job offer which would lead to a visa before K caught up with me, just a few weeks to justify the decision to leave so much behind in Australia and strike out to live my dream of working in the US.

We spent two years in Washington DC, meeting incredible people and having many side adventures and wonderful experiences. I went through significant adaptation pains at Ashoka, learning to work inside a large established non-profit after ten years as an entrepreneur while teaching an old organization new tricks, but relished the opportunity I had as the first social media director of such an influential and groundbreaking organization, pushing myself, constantly learning new things, working with amazing colleagues and experimenting with emerging forms of media and communications. I am really proud of all that was accomplished during that time, including launching and growing Ashoka’s Twitter account to over 600,000 followers, publishing three ebooks, crowdsourcing a promotional video and generally introducing Ashoka’s many departments and country offices to the power and potential social media and how it could help achieve the mission of creating an everyone a changemaker world.

After two years in DC it felt like time to keep moving. We considered New York but decided San Francisco was more our kinda town, a decision we never doubted once we got there. Over two years in the Bay I worked with a number of non-profits to connect their missions with social technologies before launching social good crowdfunding start-up StartSomeGood with my friend Alex Budak who I met at Ashoka, which I’ll be continuing to work on from Australia.

We loved San Francisco: the people, the culture, the environment. San Francisco combines the most ambitious people on earth with the most relaxed in a unique, harmonious ying/yang. We got out into the countryside at every opportunity, exploring the hills of Marin and the wineries of the Russian River, staying in Paso Robles, Yosemite and Big Basin Redwoods Forest, driving Highway 1 and hiking Mt Tam. We made and deepened some great friendships, meeting some incredible entrepreneurs, creatives, visionaries and festivalists. We adored our part of the city, the Mission District, which reminded us so much of Newtown, where we had lived in Sydney.

And now, somewhat astonishingly, this chapter is over and I’m left trying to make sense of it all.

Over the past four years I got married and got my scuba diving license, jumped out of a plane and learned to drive a car, founded a Burning Man theme camp and visited 11 countries, worked for someone else for the first time in eight years and founded a new company, drove across America and bought my first road bike, was granted four different visas and denied re-entry once. I visited 20 American states and wish I’d made it to more (namely: Utah, South Dakota and Louisiana). K made it to 30 over the course of selling her families wine.

We had, to sum it up, a really good time. But not without its challenges and set-backs, its moments of frustration, fear and doubt. Such is the rich tapestry of life.

Homecoming is always an emotionally-complicated experience. I’m excited to explore Sydney and can’t wait to spend time with my old friends, while at the same time being sad to leave San Francisco and missing my friends back there. Everything is so familiar but at the same time different. I’m obviously older and I hope I’m a little wiser as a result of all these experiences. The relationships I formed will stay with me and I’m so grateful for them. The ideas I’ve been exposed to and inspiration I have gained will inform whatever happens next. Now I want to contribute to the burgeoning social innovation scene in Sydney and while continuing to grow a global community of social entrepreneurs on StartSomeGood.

K and I brought something else back with us as well, our first child-to-be, due in August. We never contemplated for a moment taking this next step in our relationships and our lives anywhere other than Sydney, with universal healthcare and our families and friends here to support us.

And so on to the next stage. While this particular chapter is over the adventure continues always. Onwards and upwards!

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Somehow my trip home for a couple of weddings has turned into a mini national speaking tour thanks to the support of The Australian Centre for Social Innovation. It’s a lot of running around but a fantastic opportunity to spread the word about crowdfunding and StartSomeGood, catch up with old friends and meet many new changemakers. I’m excited and grateful for the interest and enthusiasm.

I hope I might get to see many of you at one of these happenings:

Sydney: Monday, April 11 –  6PM, at the Vibewire Enterprise Hub.  Hosted by The School for Social Entrepreneurs and Vibewire in celebration of Vibewire’s 10th birthday. This one’s really special for me, hard to believe it was over a decade ago that a few friends and I naively incorporated Vibewire and embarked on a great adventure.  RSVP here.

Melbourne: Wednesday, April 13 –  6:30PM at The Hub Melbourne.  Hosted by The School for Social Entrepreneurs and The Australian Centre for Social Innovation: “Crowdfunding for Good: A panel discussion with StartSomeGood, Pozible and the Awesome Foundation.”  RSVP here although the event has sold out. It’s free tickets though and you know how those things go: some people won’t show up. So if you’re keen I would still rock up and try to get in. I’m also meeting friends for drinks and pizza afterwards at a pub nearby, message me if you want the details.

Adelaide: Thursday, April 14 – Adelaide, 5:15PM at.  Hosted by The Australian Centre for Social Innovation: “Adelaide Social Entrepreneurship Meetup with StartSomeGood.”  RSVP here.

All events have a social change/entrepreneurship/crowdfunding focus but the Vibewire birthday event will be the most wide-ranging, a chance for me to reflect on what we did and didn’t accomplish during my time at Vibewire, to share some of what I’ve learned in fifteen years of organizing and outline what I see as the big challenges in need of champions now.

In Melbourne I’m very excited to appear alongside founders of two organizations I greatly admire: Pozible (Australian creative crowdfunding innovator) and the Awesome Foundation Melbourne (a member of the wonderful and growing Awesome Foundation movement). Looking really forward to hearing their stories and perspectives and to together exploring the opportunities and challenges of creating new funding mechanisms for innovators.

My only regret is I didn’t manage to fit Brisbane into the schedule. Next time Brisvegans!

Monday, April 11 – Sydney, 6PM.  Hosted by School for Social Entreprneurs.  ”SSE Fellows and Vibewire 10th Birthday Celebration.”  More details here. 

Wednesday, April 13 – Melbourne, 6:30PM.  Hosted by The Australian Centre for Social Innovation: “Crowdfunding for Good: A panel discussion with StartSomeGood, Pozible and the Awesome Foundation.”  More details here.

Thursday, April 14 – Adelaide, 5:15PM.  Hosted by The Australian Centre for SOcial Innovation: “Adelaide Social Entrepreneurship Meetup with StartSomeGood.”  More details here.

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Home(s)

Sydney Harbour, view from near my parents house

Sydney Harbour, view from near my parents house

Kate and I have just got back from a week spent back in Sydney visiting family and friends. It was our first visit home since we left in April last year and was every bit as wonderful and as rushed as you would imagine. One week to see so many people we care so much about was nowhere near enough, and there’s people I badly regret missing. But, in general, those we saw where those we most needed to see, our closest friends we used to see on the most regular basis and, of course, our families.

Flying back into Sydney was stunning. I’ve been to quite a few cities but I’ve never seen one as blindingly physically beautiful as Sydney is. It was heart-stirring to see the sunlight glinting off a harbour dotted with small sail boats and ferries, eucalyptus trees greening the suburbs on its banks. Given Sydney had only just emerged from winter the weather was brilliant – sunny and warm but not too hot. Few cities can compare to this.

But even more heart-stirring was seeing our friends again. As wonderful as the people we’ve met in Washington DC are there’s nothing like being back with old friends, a coherent crew of people who know and love us, and who uplift and fulfill us. Such friends make life fantastic, and we miss them all enormously. We truly felt we were home.

Flying back into DC was an amazing feeling too though, as I realized that DC is also home for now, that we have people we miss here and who miss us, and that I was looking very forward to getting back to our house, our neighbourhood, our friends and my work. I think it’s only in leaving then returning to a place that you realize what it means to you. It’s good to be home.

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