Social Innovation Hope in the Face of Government Inaction

The federal government’s failure to implement an effective national innovation agenda will hold us back, but there’s still hope.

There’s been a litany of innovation failures since the federal government botched its embarrassing $20 million ideas boom ads campaign, which left Australians worried about future job losses.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has since dropped the words ‘startup’ and ‘innovation’ from his vocabulary; distancing himself from the fanfare of innovation policy past. Not surprisingly, Australia’s international innovation ranking has fallen to no 19, according to the 2019 Bloomberg Innovation Index.

The lack of government support and focus has had an effect on the number of Australian entrepreneurs starting businesses with ideas to challenge a host of problems impacting Australia’s most disadvantaged.

We have to take responsibility for our own failures too. Our own startup and innovation ‘ecosystem’ as its referred to, is fragmented and we haven’t communicated important messages. In the wake of our own disorganisation, the government has been left to celebrate unicorns and high-tech startups through the media, instead of the wonderful innovation changing the lives of some of Australia’s most disadvantaged.

There are wonderful stories about people benefiting from new online platforms and apps that address mental health, inclusion, connection and care. There are new services that provide direct help for people with disability and older people.

In the face of the silence and inaction, we must do more ourselves to tackle rates of homelessness, recidivism, Indigenous disadvantage and youth suicide, to name a few.

Fortunately, I’ve been honoured to work with some incredible companies doing just that. Paradoxically, their successes, achieved without government support, will ultimately save the government massive investment in the future.  

I am very excited by Soldier.ly a veteran-led startup is aiming to improve mental health using wearable technology to track and manage stress. Founded by Chris Rhyss Edwards in 2018 out of a lived experience dealing with poor mental health and suicidal ideation, Soldier.ly is a for purpose business that is aiming to change the way technology can help humanity.

The idea for Soldier.ly came about after Chris’s attempted suicide was interrupted by an SMS. This technology led intervention was the impetus for Chris to start exploring how common technologies could be used to intervene in people’s lives at times where they are struggling. The result is Soldier.ly’s ID.STRESS app which his team have developed which is designed to works on Fitbit devices to detect stress and alert the person in real time before helping them take control of stress through guided breathing exercises.

The prototype for the ID.STRESS app recently received the Bronze medal in the Zurich Innovation World Championship, and the second generation app is about to be tested and validated in a closed loop pilot with Zurich Insurance Australia, before being rolled out across multiple countries worldwide.

Here are some other initiatives that I’m excited about:

ROCKMELON TRIBE founded by Nicole Rogerson is a platform with a suite of tools and resources to assist children and young people with autism. Failed by the system, Nicole has been a leader and advocate for autism in Australia and overseas.

HomeCareHeroes are addressing a need in the care sector and the failure of the funded Care CarePersonalised and affordable companionship and non-medical services for people to improve wellbeing, independence and build relationships. Jenna and Mat founded the company when Mat’s dad required care and didn’t want to access traditional homecare which was unaffordable and inflexible. Jenna and Mat have built a platform that matches carers with similar interests.

Remarkables and Unboxd are two not-for-profit accelerators helping entrepreneurs build businesses to solve problems in disability, aged care and mental health sectors. 

These incubators and accelerators are backed by Not for Profit organisations who are adapting to the change brought about by increased competition and greater demands and expectations around them and are learning to welcome startups solving social problems into their orbit – they help them prove and build their products and services with the help of a community of experts, mentors and users.

The afterglow of the National Innovation and Science Agenda and the Ideas Boom continue to support the innovation agenda. The innovation grants will continue to 2020. However, their future and the future of many of Australia’s disadvantaged will now depend on the new Minister for Industry and Science, Karen Andrews.

What we do know from the past is that we must not wait for the government to step in if we are to help Australia’s most disadvantaged. It’s up to corporations, not-for-profits, and entrepreneurs to step up and help.

We must because there are people in need and it has always been up to you and me. 

The government will eventually catch up…or not.