FuSIon Fest- Why it’s Needed

We at Building Change Trust, together with the Department for Communities, are delighted to be able to bring you FuSIon Fest – a new Social Innovation Festival for Northern Ireland – on 19th and 20th October this year. It’s part of our Social Innovation NI initiative – a cross-sectoral collaboration which aims to make it easier for those with innovative solutions to social challenges to access the support they need to deliver their ideas with impact and at scale.

The festival will be a blend of the practical and the inspirational, and whether you’d just like to explore the basics of what social innovation is and see what it means in practice or whether you’d like to get into the complexity of what social innovation means when applied to government policy, there will be something at the festival for you.

It almost goes without saying that we’re facing challenging and uncertain times in Northern Ireland – between political instability, Brexit, crises in public services and stubbornly persistent levels of poverty and inequality – hardly a day goes by without someone saying “we need to do things differently”. FuSIon Fest is about delivering on that – we want to bring people together from across the community, government and business to explore what ‘doing things differently’ means in practice and generate some new ideas that can have real benefit for the people of Northern Ireland.

I believe Social Innovation is a powerful concept that if embraced in a meaningful way here could help break some of the logjams we’ve found ourselves in. Although I accept the terminology of social innovation can initially be alienating or seem like just the latest piece of jargon for some, when you get beneath the surface it’s actually a blend of existing concepts and models and almost everyone will be able to locate something of their own skillset within it.

For starters social innovation emphasises grassroots, bottom-up approaches and the primacy of end-user knowledge and participation – in this sense it has much in common with community development practice that has been the basis of much work across the third sector in NI for decades.

But social innovation is much more than that – it also draws in some of the best approaches from other sectors, for example the idea of agile development process and rapid prototyping used so frequently in the digital technology sector which can help to embrace ‘failing early and often’ and risk-taking as essential parts of the journey to the best solution to a challenge.

Social innovation also brings a level of ambition to scale and sustainability that is too often missing from traditional social projects. It embraces new models of social investment but also moves us away from the sometimes tokenistic Corporate Social Responsibility to more holistic concepts like Shared Value which push us to find ways of collaborating that are of mutual benefit, moving us closer to a model where social and economic goals are seen as inextricably linked and embraced by all sectors.

Fundamentally, social innovation is for everyone – it is ‘sector neutral’ – so whether you work in business, public service, the third sector or you’re just personally interested, social innovation – and FuSIon Fest – can offer you something. Many of the best social innovations happen when people collaborate across sectors, all you need is a passion for solving social challenges, an open mind and a willingness to collaborate.

If that’s you then I really hope you’ll take the time to come to the festival – we’ll be in Derry-Londonderry on 19th October and Belfast on 20th October and you can sign up here.

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