Impact Conference Innovation Panel On The Role Of Technology In Innovation For Future Changemakers & Entrepreneurs


The 2017 IMPACT National Conference was held in Brisbane during the 12-13th August at the brand new co-working space, Fishburners.

During the two-day conference, young Australians aged between 15-25 came together to tackle an issue that almost 1 in 5 Australians have experienced: mental health. 

Experts on mental health were present and there was an inspiring line up of speakers from some innovative startups. At the end of the event, groups pitched their ideas to tackle mental health to the audience.

On Sunday 13th August, a panel came together to discuss 'The Role Of Technology In Innovation For Future Changemakers.' Impact Boom was pleased to be there to moderate and capture insights from the panel to share with our global community.

The IMPACT National Conference was an initiative of the Queensland Social Enterprise Council (QSEC) and was supported by Advance Queensland.


The Panelists

Tom Allen (Moderator) is a design strategist, social entrepreneur and educator passionate about empowering people to create positive futures.

Tom is Founder and Director of Impact Boom and Seven Positive, an award winning Strategic Design Consultancy working with purpose-driven organisations, entrepreneurs & individuals to deliver strong, lasting social and environmental impact. Tom works to foster critical skills and design-led mindsets capable of tackling complex challenges. He also works with leading universities, governments and clients locally & internationally to develop and deliver world-class programs across design, innovation, entrepreneurship and marketing. 

Kana Leya is Founder of Global Impact Group, Worldbridgers & Purpose 500.

Former producer of the first TEDx event in the country, large scale cultural festivals producer & former recipient of NSW Premier's Award for Community Service. Kana Leya is currently focused on building the Worldbridgers platform, where big data meets social impact for a first of its kind platform & cross-industry app. Passionate about the integration of our inner worlds & outer worlds, Kana Leya actively partners with global-local leaders and loves teaching resilience workshops to the most purposeful entrepreneurs & leaders. 

From a background in investment banking and corporate finance, Peter Ball has been working across the social innovation, impact investment and social enterprise arena for over a decade.

He is Managing Director of Impact Academy, one of Australia's social enterprise accelerators. Peter has supported some of the countries best social enterprises to learn, design, launch, fund and scale their initiatives through rigorous development programs. Impact Academy has worked with 70+ social enterprises across Australia, Asia and the Pacific.


Jock Fairweather is Founder and Director of Little Tokyo Two, a rapidly growing co-working space in Brisbane.

This co-working space and business incubator started as an idea between mates a few years ago. Now Jock is supporting over 600 businesses to grow and is creating large impact in Brisbane's entrepreneurship ecosystem.


The panel discusses current trends in technology & how innovators & entrepreneurs are leveraging it to create positive social change. They provide insights into the social enterprise sector, policy, venture capital and authentic leadership.


Highlights from the interview (listen to the podcast for full details)

[Tom Allen] - After a jam-packed and undoubtedly rewarding couple of days, I’d like to welcome you all to the Impact Conference Innovation Panel. The Impact Conference is proud to be supported by Advance Queensland

According to the Foundation for Young Australians ‘The New Work Smarts’ report, by 2030, automation, globalisation and flexibility will change what we do in every job. Did you know that it's more likely that a 15-year-old today will potentially have 17 different jobs over 5 careers in their lifetime? They might be self-employed, working for other people or doing both - whilst also collaborating with people on the other side of the world (FYA). Considering that outlook, today’s panel will see some of Brisbane’s leading minds in social enterprise and innovation discuss The Role of Technology in Innovation for Future Changemakers. We’ll discuss current as well as likely future trends that could affect your success in creating impact. 

Peter, you’ve worked with a range of social entrepreneurs. What are some of the current trends in technology that you’ve observed which are helping these social entrepreneurs disrupt markets and create positive social change? [5:20]

[Peter Ball] - There's a couple of things. As terms of what I see as trends within social enterprises is not too different to what I see in the market broadly. In any startups, innovation and entrepreneurship, the same trends are becoming something to focus on in terms of the work we do in supporting those organisations scale into the future. Specifically though, growth sectors in the market now are drones, robotics, AI... those sorts of things. The reality is though is to the extent that a lot of that stuff is happening and a lot of that stuff is broadly understood to be a big part of all of our futures. It's probably still only a small sub sector of where most of the entrepreneurship and innovation is happening. The context of that is that most social enterprises that we see in terms of the wave of social entrepreneurship, a lot more is in eco and environment, renewables, waste management; the technology underpinning those sorts of things. We also see quite a bit in health, e-health, medical devices. When you talk about e-health, the markets are phenomenally big, but a lot of the time it's using current technologies, but just in different ways.

When you talk about innovation and disruption, often it's not the technology that's the disruptive part. Often it's the way that it is used, either in a new market or in a new way.

Technology is ever changing and small incremental increases in existing technology might not seem to look like much, but over 6-12 months that can be quite fundamental. 

[Tom] - Kana Leya, would you agree with that? What role do you believe technology has to play in helping future changemakers to innovate and disrupt? [8:12]

[Kana Leya starts by attributing a big part of her being in Brisbane to Peter.]

I feel in my experience to honour our elders is so important. That part for me is technology. It's cultural technology. It's not just the practical, seemingly physical technology that's important to anchor in and advance.

It's the embrace that technology is not just one form. There's multiple different ways to embrace it and not separate ourselves from it, because it can be tiring and can be overwhelming at times. That's why the 'spiritual, energy and mindfulness' technologies is so core and pivotal to your journey moving forward. Tom mentioned the FYA statistics of 17 different careers... that's what is going to hone your mastery and ability to focus in on what is truly your gift and role on this journey.

I agree with Peter in that it depends on the context in terms of technology and innovation, but we have all this within reach. It's a combination of AI and big data... it's embracing AI not as 'artificial' but as natures wonders. It's nothing external to us. We're all connected. We need to dive in and be curious about the advancement of it because it is happening fast. The next machine age, the 'fourth industrial revolution' is going to happen in the next 3-5 years. So whether you surf the current or miss the wave or not and feel completely overwhelmed is up to the integration of all the technologies in your life.

[Tom] - Jock, many of Brisbane’s and the world’s incubator and accelerator programs have a focus on early stage tech startups. Do you think a focus on technology, rather than human-centred insights as the driver of innovation can lead entrepreneurs astray? [11:37]

[Jock Fairweather] - Yes, absolutely. All you have to do is look at Uber and so on and you see young people you have raised a lot of money who have attempted to do something drastic, like scale globally with no experience. What happens to them is probably very inline with what you're saying. They're not experienced and they don't know how to handle that kind of stuff and it can end up being a disaster. If you put it into perspective, Uber went all over the world in 5-10 years, Deloitte did it over 100+ years. That's why Deloitte is still around and profitable, not like a hypothetical unicorn.

Personally as an investor and someone who does deal with a lot of big enterprises, what we look for is the founding team and their ability to change, mould, be resistant and forceful into markets and be agile.

An A-grade team can nail a C-grade product any day of the week. 

For the moment with what technology is out there in terms of real social change in developing world, I think that technology probably isn't that important until blockchain comes around. For me that's the next big wave. I think there'll be two left in my lifetime; blockchain and whatever AI does - who knows?

Basically blockchain and the decentralisation, anonymity and speed that it brings is going to be the biggest changemaker for social that we'll ever see.

[Tom] - Peter, what do you think are some of the vital skills necessary for students and recent graduates to thrive in today’s changing environment? [13:41]

[Peter] - I think there's lots and I don't think there's one thing you can put in your kit bag and march out the front door and into the world of entrepreneurship.

There are some characteristics that if you're looking to start a business that you'll want to ensure that you've got. Things like perseverance.

If you go and talk to a lot of overnight successes, the reality is that it has taken them 5-7 years.

What we see is these high growth, high impact business models that are creating enormous change either locally, nationally or globally and the reality is that we didn't see the 3-5 years that it took to get there. You've also got to be someone who is comfortable in the mess. We've worked with entrepreneurs who are regimented and clinical and you can almost see them go stir crazy in a quick period of time.

You've got to be happy to roll your sleeves up. You've got to be across everything in the business without necessarily being an expert at any of it. You've got to have really good people skills.

One of the biggest underlying businesses in this country is a platform called Seek. I've known those guys 15-20 years. They talk about this notion of the most important part of what they did was be good at the people side of their business. In an event similar to this they were asked, 'what are the three most important parts of your business?', and they responded, 'the first one is people, the second is people and the third one is people.' That's interesting because it comes from an individual who has been a co-founder and incredible entrepreneur. The reality is, it was a technology company but his complete focus was on people. If you get that part right, it's about people management, leadership and relationships.


[Tom] - The Conference this weekend has seen a focus on us tackling mental health issues - Where do you see the most potential in Australia for social innovation? [16:34]

[Kana Leya] - You know, the beauty about Australia, Tom, is our distance. We have so much space from the rest the world and so therefore we have perspective. And we have space to create and to, like Peter was saying, get mucky and get messy and experiment and innovate. That is a really core element to remember and to be really grateful for, that not many countries have the resources that we have in this space by which we can sort of breathe innovation in a sense and embody and anchor it even further. The nine system areas of transformative social change that we're passionate about and focused on, each of those are interconnected with everything else. So nothing is separate anymore, and that's a really exciting part of our movement.

A key opportunity for us as Australians is to practise and learn and embrace how to be system entrepreneurs. 

Rather than bits and pieces of different little sections and thinking kind of scarcely in a sense and going, "this is part of the piece, I'll look after, I'll contribute to," think whole system.

Think interconnected systems.

Look for those leaders and mentors globally that are leading the way and then Australia lifts up together, sort of buoyancy in a sense. The system entrepreneur side of things, Kevin Jones, who's the founder of SOCAP is an amazing thought leader globally and he is one of the leaders of the social impact field. And he's written a recent article about system entrepreneurs and the need for us to support that. 

Basically us as ecosystem custodians supporting you and then going and not saying, just mental health or just eco or just anything. We want to support you to be mastered to a certain degree enough in certain pillars for a certain period of time. And then we iterate and then we get stronger, like plants and trees. It's an ecosystem. I feel like that conversation I'd really love to support more of in Australia, thinking much more broader than little pieces of the pie. 

[Tom] How have you seen the social enterprise sector transform over the last five odd years and where do you see it heading? [19:15]

[Jock] - To be honest, I think that's a Peter question so I'm going to hand that to him. I'm just going to touch on two things. I think that the reason Australian companies aren't able to grow to the sizes of a lot of American firms, like Oracle for example, they've got six buildings in a row along that highway in Silicon Valley. It's because everybody's trying to do everything. This whole ecosystem outlook means that you can't perfect something and you can't really drive something.

It's really difficult to innovate or add the one percenters if you're concentrating on too much shit.

The key difference between those really big organisations whether they're making social change or not is up for discussion.

The reason they get that big (which means they could really make impact like Mark Zuckerberg has for example), is because they pick their one thing and they nail it. And then they can sell the shit out of it.

That is the number one thing I see wrong with basically every entrepreneur I ever meet. And I think it's probably pretty rife in the social change game because there's no point doing something if you can't sell that shit and get it out there. You might as well just keep it in your bedroom. That's my two cents.

[Tom] - Peter, I'll let you reflect on that and you might like to touch on that question about the social enterprise sector transforming and changing over the last five years. [20:43]

[Peter] - Yeah, look, I think if I start globally and then maybe bring it back to a local context. I think the change we've seen over the last couple of years is that it's, if you look at markets like the U.S., the U.K., parts or Asia and Europe and so forth, social enterprise has certainly moved further from the margins and much closer to the main stream. If you talk about social enterprise and you talk about the leading social enterprise brands in these countries, most people will nod their head. There is an acceptance that the model, the social enterprise model can be a for-profit business that goes and makes a lot of money so long as it's explicitly linked to change.

I think the other thing that we're certainly seeing a rapid emergence of in an enormous tide is the impact investing side.

The ability for the capital markets to essentially mobilise funds specifically for social and/or environmental good. Most big investment banks in the U.S., most big international VC funds, a lot of the big pension funds in this country, well, that's totally offshore. Pension funds in the U.S. and those sorts of things, they all have now a commitment to investing for more than just bottom line. I think that's enormous. Essentially what we've got in those places that we didn't have five years ago is the money that's going to be needed to invest in the growth of these start up, early stage concepts, or ideas, or enterprises. I think there's some of the big changes.

The other thing I would say is, if you look across the board it's prevalent in almost every industry. I think that's a really good thing for social enterprise in the senses that it's in agriculture, it's in health, it's in education, it's in mental health. Look right across the board and there is a social entrepreneur or a social enterprise that is participating and looking to scale in just about every industry. 

It actually also creates an issue though because if you look at it from, for example, a government perspective, who in the Queensland Government wants to own social enterprise? The education minister or the environment minister or the health minister or... and keep going. The notion of that is that I think, I'd like to think that they're all interested in supporting it, but if it's part of my portfolio, am I looking out for everyone else's issues as well? And I think the notion of that is that that's the change we've seen offshore, that's the change we've seen in other places over the last couple of years. As it becomes a whole of government issue or it becomes a whole of corporate issue or it becomes a whole of capital markets issue.

Probably what we haven't quite seen yet here is that broad scale adoption with respect to who's helping build the market. 

There's lots of new social entrepreneurs, there's lots of new social enterprises.

There is a growing number of professional service firms, accountants and lawyers, and those sorts of things, looking to assist social enterprise. Yet the context of the growth of the market is probably our next chasm to cross.


[Tom] - Kana Leya you might like to add to that, but perhaps there's space for us here to think about an example to each of what you believe to be successful start ups or businesses which are using technology effectively to create positive social change? [24:28]

[Kana Leya] - There's a number of them. I wanted to speak to Peter's point quite swiftly and I really agree, is the whole systems approach. And a number of you may or may not be aware that there is an office of social impact investment in New South Wales. And we don't have one yet in Queensland. That's key to, in my perspective, key to anchoring in well, who's taking responsibility and who's leading, and yeah, really support you being part of that, Peter.

[Peter] - The reality is we don't have anything in Queensland.

[Kana Leya] - Not yet, not yet. We're part of the change and I'm committed to that in what ever shape, way or form. And so Global Citizen is great, Global Citizen and and, they're both founded by Australians. One, Jeremy Hymands is the original founder of Get Up and then he moved to New York and founded It's now one of the most formidable global movements, social movements, community and platform. Then Hugh Evans was the Oak Tree Foundation, equally Australian, under 25, he founded that. Then he went on to America and founded Global Citizen.

Us Australians, we punch above our weight.

You are that next generation and those are two key examples of great social innovation fused with technology fused with community and culture and really ambitious thinking. Would really love to invite them back to somehow support our next growth and next year in Australia.

[Tom] - Peter, would you like to give a couple of examples as well? [26:24]

[Peter] - Yeah, we're obviously very fortunate in the sense that we work with many of them. I think locally if you look at technology, again, it goes back to that point where the technology isn't necessarily groundbreaking. There's groups who we're working with now, there's a group called Field Orthopaedics which is making things like wrist replacements and new anchors. 

There's a group called Audeara, who some of you may know who are a headphone company but essentially ping's different noise, volume, pitch, treble, bass, all of the rest of it into each ear separately. And the technologies exist in the chip that sits in there so essentially if you've got a hearing deficiency it provides you with clarity of sound. And if you haven't got one it still provides you with the best sound in the world.

Then there's a whole lot of other organisations... Words with Heart. It's a stationary business but the notion of that is that it exists on a platform which is a good, I guess platform, good digital platform. It's about to be a much better platform but the context of that is that a lot of these businesses exist on the basis that they might be selling a product. If you buy a notebook, that funds five days of girl's education in Cambodia, great.

The reality is if it doesn't exist on a really good tech platform, if it isn't underpinned by strong digital strategy, it's not as good a business.

If it is and it's a better business, it sell more notebooks, it makes a bigger change.

Examples like that, I mean I could literally go on but actually I will on one point. There's a guy called Brett Leavy who's developed a technology called Virtual Songlines. You can play the game and in playing the game you become the indigenous avatar who essentially can literally walk up Queen Street Mall. You can flick a switch and the buildings will appear. You flick a switch and the buildings disappear and you're walking on the country that this would have been exactly 250 years ago before European settlement.

The issue is that this becomes part of Indigenous cultural heritage education. You learn how to find food and fresh water. You learn how to make weapons. You learn how to hunt and gather. In essence by playing the game you learn about indigenous cultural heritage. The notion of that is you've got Mathletics for maths in schools, you've got Reading Eggs for literacy in schools. And the hope would be next year you have Virtual Songlines in every classroom in the country where kids are essentially playing games and by virtue of that learning all about our country's rich indigenous cultural history.

[Tom] - Jock, before we go the audience for questions you might like to add one more example? [29:28]

[Jock] - I only get one. He got like six or something.

Throw in six then, throw in six.

[Jock] - All right, I'm going to go with someone who's really dear to my heart. Peter knows him really well. James Grugeon from the Good Beer Co. Basically it's a, I don't know, I call it Australia's first charity beer company. Let's go with that. He doesn't like that. Basically you buy beer and his sort of white label brand of beer supports whichever the local brewery is, which in turn supports the local charity. It could be the Great Barrier Reef Conservation Foundation or Lifesavers or whatever. 

What makes what he's done really interesting is it's actually a very simple model. Really he's a marketing company. What's he's done, particularly for Australia, is he leverages the shit out of something we all like, which is beer. Basically you drink beer because you're going to drink beer anyway. Then I say that for every carton of Great Barrier Beer you drink, it saves a square metre of the Great Barrier Reef. So I've saved 20 square metres of the Great Barrier Reef each month. I'm crushing it on behalf of James.

[Tom] - Let's go to the audience. Who here has a question? [30:52]

[Audience] - Can you tell us a time when you've seen a team with a lot of momentum and then things go bottom up? What is it that you do to lift that momentum back up?

[Jock] - Cool, that's actually happened to us a lot.

We've had huge staff attrition. And it's mainly because of me, because I expect excellence only. If you've done a good job or a great job you don't even get a high five, only excellence.

And that's really tough for people. For me, if I high five good, then all I'm ever going to get is good, right, and I'm not interested in that. I'm interested in doing good shit, really great, excellent shit, sorry, I should say, and making really big impact. For me that has happened quite a lot.

And just like probably 500 Startups is going through at the moment you can read for yourself. What you need to do is put a flag in the ground and just wipe, put it in a box and say this is where we are from now. And that can just be on a Monday morning meeting. That can be any time.

If you let things continually simmer they never get better.

You just put a stamp in the ground, we're not accepting this anymore. This is how we are, you can be here or not. I mean, you obviously have to contemplate that entire presentation and all the outcomes that may come of it. But I find that if you drag things along, particularly with emotional people who are more on the emotional side of the scale, who are usually incredible workers but they can bring that to work. You just need to stop it right there and then and create new expectations that everyone has to agree upon.

[Tom] - Thank you.

[Kana Leya] - Great question. First step, authenticity. Speak to truth of what's really happening, like within yourself as a leader. This is coming from experience, multiple times.

You can only guide and/or facilitate anything if you're being fully authentic to the experience. Humble yourself, first and foremost. Listen and really facilitate for whomever that person or that collective people are, what they're experiencing.

It's usually a combination of boredom, not being challenged enough, not being respected enough, or not being honoured enough for their unique subsets and their life goals. And you being as a custodian or as a leader, really steering ship for that. Then that always, as with anything, comes back to yourself.

Nosce te ipsum, know thyself.

If we know ourselves, and we're all leaders for each other. It's not just like any one, this is our new era. We're all teachers and students and facilitators and leaders for each other. 

For me, that's just anchoring. And not just team members, but everyone around you.

Whether it's your community, or family, or colleagues, or stakeholders, when they sense that you really deeply care and you're humbling yourself, that's where the magic is. 

[Tom] - Thank you Kana Leya. I think we'll take another question which we can perhaps direct at Peter. [34:09]

[Audience] - The NSW office of social impact was mentioned. What is the role of policy in helping shape and create a great social innovation, social enterprise ecosystem?

[Peter] - I'll answer it to the extent that I could or might. I'm not big on policy. I mean policy's really important, right? I think the reality is did Google start because of good policy, did Apple start because of good policy, did Microsoft? Those are examples.

The reality is that we live in a country where if you want to go out and do something you can go out and do it.

The notion of that is that's probably more the approach we've taken. 

I started Impact Academy three years ago, not thinking that I'll do this because policy might catch up and support it. And I know that the 61 alumni didn't start their social enterprises thinking that the policy environment was right or that it could change to further benefit them. Policy has a place. It's important. If we get the policy right it will create better opportunities. It will essentially I guess further stimulate the broader market. I think that can happen at a state level and at a federal level. Classic examples of that, in regards to things like tax benefits for investing in these things in other countries, that's an example at a federal level. There's lots.

Can we make it, social enterprise better in Queensland by better policy? Sure. 

I'm not a policy guy. I speak to people who are and they've got great ideas. And my suggestion to them is great. Go and run it up the flag pole. Go and talk to whoever you need to talk to, roll your sleeves up, go and do that. If I get involved in that stuff, the reality is I'm not doing something else. Again, probably not be the right person to answer the question other than to say my experience is if you wait for policy or if you think you're going to drive change in policy, I think the reality is you've got to focus on that. And you've got put a lot of time, energy and effort into that. And that's a good thing, it's just not what we do.

[Tom] - Thank you Peter. I'd like to go to another question in the audience, please. [36:40]

[Audience] - Since Jock started Little Tokyo Two how has the venture capital scene changed?

[Jock] - I think that's a good question for Peter as well, so I will definitely hand over. The answer is in terms of the specific data, I have no idea. And my honest answer is probably not much. I think everybody is still kind of poking around. Let's call it our success boundary, what we do, in buzzword terms if we put it in a bucket, we're like a generalised incubator. We vet people heavily. We put everybody through goal setting and accountability consistently. And we basically open any door that you want.

Through that process we've had 71 companies start as an idea and leave as an eight plus person team that's literally a sustainable company with one to five million in revenue. Which is like, I think that's like 2.1 a fortnight or something. That's pretty cool but the point is I took investment in my first company and it was a disaster. And now I believe truly and only about being able to sell your product maybe even before you've had to put your own money in. Maybe it's just sweat building the tech to validate it throughout a market sufficiently enough that people are offering to pay you and saying this is what I want, this is how I want to receive it, and so on, before you actually begin. 

So you kind of have money in your pocket before you begin. Or, in that instance, you've got something so proven, your business case is so proven, that anybody would give you money. It's like I need money for this coffee company. Cool, how many LOIs have you got signed from coffee shops saying they'll take your coffee beans? You turn up with 100 based on a cash flow that's positive and I'll be like 'here's the money, dude.' Whereas most people come and just pitch us bullshit on a deck that's just, they just made it up. And it's all assumptions which is really difficult. 

I do want to make one more mention of that. I just came back from San Francisco and there was a really interesting correlation I found. Basically, I think, they have ten times the population so thus the investors are willing to put in ten times the amount of money ten times earlier. So more people are attracted to entrepreneurship and start ups, right?  

In Australia there's not much Venture Capital.

People don't really think entrepreneurship is very cool yet, so groups like us have to work extremely hard to create incredible companies that are well beyond their years and it's very, very tough. Whereas if we compared our best starting start ups against theirs in any industry, theirs destroy ours. And the reason is because it's dog eat dog and I've got to sell the shit out of this to get it out there, okay?

When they get to the next stage, let's call it past launch, they're in full flight of growth. They're acquiring customers. It's a legit company. Ours are better. I could pull the best 500 startups, I could pull their batch 21 against my best and we would annihilate. And the reason is because we've got way less market to go after and way less money getting thrown our way so we have to be way more gritty to get to a successful stage. So that's something really interesting to think about.


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