To invest in innovation is to invest in the future. A more innovative social sector requires funders to have an appreciation for the benefits of innovation and tolerance for the risks it brings. Investing in earlier-stage organisations and higher-risk projects requires a change in thinking that looks beyond simple short-term metrics like overheads.
Sidney Myer Fund and The Myer Foundation, a leading philanthropic entity in Australia, launched the Myer Innovation Fellowships as a stepping stone for testing innovation and developing break-through ideas. Myer Innovation Fellowship recipient Anna Rose, founder of Farmers for Climate Action, believes the program gave her “the freedom to focus on things that have the highest impact”. Fellowship Program Manager, Elena Mogilevski says, “If out of the 15 fellows, one succeeds, we would be very happy. We are hoping for a high risk/high return”. Sidney Myer Fund and The Myer Foundation demonstrate the importance of not only striving for success but also embracing failure which can push to even greater discoveries.
To maximise the impact of innovation, funders need to take the risk and invest at the start-up phase of the project. Northcott and its subsidiary Northcott Innovation serves as one of the biggest disability service providers in NSW. Guided by the philosophy of ‘design thinking’, the organisation aims to become a driving force behind creating new and unexpected solutions for people with disability.
Samantha Frain, Executive Director at Northcott Innovation notes that potential funders often acknowledge the importance of innovation and design-thinking in addressing social issues. However, she comments that translating this acknowledgement into a commitment to fund services remains a “consistent” barrier. While funders do engage with the issue further down the design process, Frain believes that funding provided early on in the stages of planning and developing innovation projects would generate greater impact.