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I have been spending time recently with some amazing social innovators. Last week it was Oli Barrett, creator of the Catalyst Awards among many other things. In just a half hour conversation Oli came up with some great ideas for Fellowship engagement.

I have been spending time recently with some amazing social innovators. Last week it was Oli Barrett, creator of the Catalyst Awards among many other things. In just a half hour conversation Oli came up with some great ideas for Fellowship engagement.

On Monday it was Bobby Fishkin, another of the new breed of the hideously talented, young, ambitious American social technology pioneers.

What I got from Bobby, apart that is from an inferiority complex and a sneak preview of his exciting new web widget, was this:

 

 

  • The US is about five years ahead of the UK in the scale and scope of social innovation

 

 

 

  • The problem with social capacity is not an aggregate lack of commitment, time or effort but that the available capacity is massively under-utilised. We don’t use people’s skills effectively, we don’t collaborate as well as we should and we don’t learn from what works (and what doesn’t).There are some amazing organisations trying to address some of this (for example Ashoka) but too much blood sweat and tears are still flowing down the drain.

 

 

 

 

  • In countries, cities and neighbourhoods we aren’t combining social interventions effectively. Too much is marginal, short-term and disconnected. From sustainability to tackling social exclusion new ways of joining up interventions and innovations are vital if we are to get to a critical mass point.

 

 

 

  • The RSA’s history is both a help and a hindrance. On the downside we are trying to change a very established organisation. It’s a bit like IBM going from selling computers to being a high level consultancy (a process which nearly killed the corporation).Where we used to offer Fellows status and membership of a club we are now offering membership of a network of thought leaders and civic entrepreneurs. Getting buy-in from Fellows to this new offer is the key challenge facing our new Director of Fellowship Belinda Lester.

 

 

On the upside the RSA’s brand, the willingness we meet when we ask people to work with us and our reasonably robust financial model mean we can stay the course.

In innovation failure is as essential to learning as success, but for new initiatives mistakes in planning or application can be fatal. The web is full of abandoned experiments in social innovation. Our new networks platform will have learnt important lessons from the too clunky nature of version one.

Talking to Oli and Bobby confirmed to me we are going in the right direction. It also underlined how far we have to go before we the RSA is genuinely a hotbed of innovation. But most of all I was encouraged by their willingness to offer us advice and support as we try to fulfil the new mission agreed by our Trustees and Council.

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