Turning Ideas Into Impactful Actions: Lessons From Social Entrepreneurs & Greta Thunberg
On September 7th, Impact Boom was invited to present on Turning Ideas Into Impactful Actions at the Logan Eco Forum.
A range of insights were shared during the presentation from Tom Allen (Impact Boom), Jack Stone (Bee One Third), Lewis Carter and Ali Coghlan (EcoGames) and Sabrina Chakori (Brisbane Tool Library). Tony Sharp (Substation33) joined the Q&A and the event was emceed by Chad Renando of Startup Status.
The following article is an adaption from the presentation, capturing key insights to help you turn ideas into impact.
Impact Boom would like to thank the City of Logan for inviting us to speak at the Eco Forum and putting on a great event with some fantastic speakers.
Find the highlights from Impact Boom’s ‘Turning Ideas Into Impactful Actions’ presentation at the 2019 Logan Eco Forum.
Highlights from the presentation (listen to the podcast for full details)
[Tom Allen] - I'd like to start by acknowledging the Traditional Owners of the land that we stand on, the Yugambeh people, and pay my respect to their Elders past, present, and emerging. I recognise that these lands have always been lands of learning, and teaching and sharing, for over 60,000 years.
Have you had an idea today about changing or improving your city? It might have been in the shower. It could have been whilst stuck in traffic. It might've been in a work meeting.
Ideas. They’re a great starting point… and everyone can have ideas. In fact, if we look at the population of Logan, and we were to say that every Logan resident was going to have just four ideas today, (and most probably they're going to have a lot more), then just today alone, we'd be looking at 1.3 million ideas from this community. In the words of the great Australian artist Paul Kelly, ‘from little things big things grow.’
Yet how many of those ideas do you think are actually going to get off the ground, and how many of those ideas do you think are actually going to create the change they are intending to make? Some of them will, but I can bet that a lot of them won't.
There is a skill in taking ideas and ensuring that they are actually converted into impact.
I'd like you to think about one goal that you have. This could be a big, audacious goal or it could simply be a smaller goal that's part of a larger set of actions. Close your eyes for a second and think about that goal you’d like to work towards. By the end of reading this article, I'll improve your chances of actually making that goal a reality by 95%. We'll come back to that.
For the last five years or so, there has been a very strong push towards building an innovation ecosystem, especially within Australian communities, whether it's at the local, state or federal level. In fact, what you see here is one of the federal government adverts.
Who remembers this ad on the TV screens and billboards, five or so years ago? When I saw this, I thought, "Great, we're starting to buy into innovation. This is good. We need this." But at the same time, I thought, "There's something that's wrong with this."
In working with thousands of uni students, a bunch of different businesses and people who are working in our communities, I saw this and I thought…
"Idea boom; that’s not what we need."
We've had 1.3 million potential ideas in Logan alone today. We don't need more ideas. What we really need is to understand how we actually take those ideas and do something useful with them. That's the real trick. What we really need is an impact boom.
How do we actually have the persistence, skill, support and determination to see these ideas turn into something greater than an idea?
I'm in the very fortunate position that my job is to do just that; to help people like those we hear from today turn those ideas into impact.
The photo below shows the last cohort from our Elevate+ Accelerator program, and what a great bunch of people they are. They're all working towards a range of really great projects that are tackling social and environmental issues.
In the last 18 months, we've worked with over 50 different social enterprises around Queensland, Victoria, and in Europe. We've got three of them here at the Eco Forum. One, which will speak by video, (Brisbane Tool Library), and later we'll hear from Jack from Bee One Third, and Ali and Lewis from EcoGames. We're going to hear their stories of how they took their ideas and moved them forward.
The one very, very common, consistent learning, is that doing this stuff is bloody hard. It's a roller coaster ride.
As an entrepreneur you can be up one day and down the next. You might have a big win and then you hit a brick wall.
Yet what I consistently see in people who push forward with their ideas, is that they hit the brick wall, but they understand how to work around it and how to push on. They have resilience. And never has there been a more important time for us to actually take our ideas and do something useful with them for the better of our planet.
We've heard various times today about the Great Barrier Reef and the threat that we all know exists for one of the world's wonderful ecosystems and the life within it. Just this week, we saw a hurricane sweep across The Bahamas of unprecedented category. It's killed at least 30 people. It's wiped out the whole community. We've had fires just up the road today in Binna Burra (Qld), take down five houses. And the ‘lungs of the earth’, the Amazon, is being burnt. This is largely due to the government and farmers who are wanting to clear land so that they can grow soy beans and beef to supply to the Chinese and American markets.
These problems are all interlinked and very complex problems. They don't have easy solutions, either. Yet we can start responding with small, simple actions.
I have a challenge for you. Imagine I were to ask that over the space of the next nine months, you were to start a movement. That movement should involve millions of people from over a hundred countries in the world, mobilising them to tackle the globe’s environmental issues. And if you could do this, you'd get nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize and be on the front cover of Time magazine… Meet Greta Thunberg. Sixteen years old. She took the idea of creating a stand and assembling a community that responds to the climate emergency. She went and did exactly that.
Many of us would have triple the amount of life experience than Greta, so shouldn’t it be easier for us? Greta, for many people, would be perceived as having additional barriers to creating change and turning her ideas into impact. Greta has Asperger's and recently tweeted that before starting this movement, she was isolated, lonely, had no friends, was stuck at home and had an eating disorder. It was taking action and beginning the school strikes where Greta really found deep meaning and a deep passion in what she was doing.
Perception is extremely powerful.
In another tweet, Greta said that in being ‘a bit different from the norm’ with Asperger’s, in the right circumstances, this could be a superpower.
Greta has used what could be a perceived weakness for some, as an incredible strength and she's being guided by her passion. There's a lot to say in how we view and perceive what we are capable of. All the small actions you take can really add up. We know humankind have done some pretty amazing things. They've sent people to the moon, an project that would have started with a pretty basic idea of, "I wonder what would it would be like if we sent someone up in a rocket up there?" But there would have been a lot of other actions, failures and work over time to actually make that happen.
It's quite easy to have ideas, but a consistent quality that I've seen in the people that I work with is the endurance factor.
I know for sure that when you are part of a community and support group (such as those that exist in Logan), it makes turning your idea into impact a lot easier.
It’s interesting to note that Logan took out two of the national social enterprise awards. It could be considered a hotspot for turning ideas into action.
We know that diverse communities and diverse teams have better chances of success and innovation.
Within Logan, there are 217 different ethnicities represented, which is a huge advantage for the community there. It gives you an edge when it comes to innovation.
Let’s hear from the experience of some other founders.
Did you know that one in every three bites of your food that you eat is dependent on bees to actually produce it and pollinate it? That's one of the factors that drives Jack Stone from Bee One Third to do the work that he does at Bee One Third. Jack's going to share a little bit about his story…
[Jack Stone] - Seven years ago, I would never have expected to be a beekeeper keeping close to 200 beehives around the great Southeast of Queensland; putting beehives on 15-story rooftops in the middle of the city and engaging with corporate customers who I thought were so disconnected from the food system. Only a few years later I was then doing business with these people and educating them around the importance of bringing bees back into the city and the important role that bees play.
[Jack showed a quick summary video of Bee One Third] - "From the rooftops of the inner city to the Coastal Plains of the great Southeast. We are beekeepers with a mission to save our pollinator. Bees are so important to the ecosystem. They do not only support us with the vital act of pollination, but with the reminder to slow down and appreciate the world around us. We are proud to use ethical and bee-centric practises, from hive to harvest, and from bee to bottle. We employ people seeking asylum and of refugee backgrounds, providing skills-based training and mentoring to eventually empower them to invest in their own micro-bee business. Join us on our global vision to pollinate change."
One of the beautiful things about this video, is it shows the scale in which you can get to. We started off with one beehive seven years ago. I knew nothing about bees and what bees did for our environment. I was just fascinated by the idea of it. I had a goal in mind, though, and that was to connect people with the idea of growing food in an urban landscape. That's when the idea came to fruition. People were approaching me around this common idea of bees and growing food, and a lot of those people weren't Australians. They were people who were either refugees or people seeking asylum, and they were commonly interested to reconnect with their native land. They were from Iran, Afghanistan or Central Eastern Europe and were all interested in engaging with nature. So that sparked an idea for me. How do we get these people building their knowledge and their connection to community through a common standpoint?
And what is that common standpoint between food and the consumer? It's the bee. So we use bees as a vector for conversation. And whilst we do that, we learn from bees as they are a barometer of our environment.
Using bees as a vector for conversations, we bring bees back into the city. We help to provide pollination, which is the vital, connecting link between the farmer and the consumer. We also drive that conversation through common corporate networks.
We use the networks of our customers and our clients.
We put beehives up on top of rooftops to connect to their network.
If you don't have a way to connect to your desired network, how can you do it? How can you reach your new audience? That might be through someone else's audience.
Find the common connecting link.
In 2013 when we started, essentially we didn't know what we were doing. I didn't know how to keep bees. I started off with three beehives in one location and just by myself. Six years later, understanding the landscape, navigating that pathway, we were lucky enough to be able to say that we've turned over a liveable wage for three employees.
We've got 150-plus beehives at the beginning of this year and we work with 23 corporate clients and people who require pollination, including community groups. We connect to community via the networks of our customers. We listen to the environment around us and we work with people who can help us achieve our goals.
One of the common points that we've all learned from today is to utilise the services that are at your doorstep.
Don't fear to ask questions. Get out there and do it.
[Tom Allen] - Thank you Jack.
In working with Jack and Bee One Third, some of the key takeaways that I've observed in the last seven years have been that big change starts with small actions. Every step of the way, Jack has had that passion, commitment, drive and endurance. But adaption has also been really important because he's come up against those brick walls and he's found ways around them.
Overnight successes, according to the founder of Twitter, happen over 10 years.
Back to the Reef. We know that the Reef is at threat and we have Ali and Lewis of EcoGames here, who are going to share their story about what they're doing to tackle this issue.
[Lewis Carter] - Hi, everyone. I'm Lewis.
[Alexandra Coghlan] - And I'm Ali. And together we have created EcoGames. We’re going to tell you a little bit about our story, where we are now and how we got there.
We know that ecosystems are full of wonderful, quirky animals like turtles, but we believe that not many of us get to see nature like this [beautiful underwater imagery]. And that disconnect is what creates heartbreaking scenes like this [climate destruction]. Currently, the best way that we have to fix scenes like this are charity muggers. You know the ones! Begging for donations, tugging on our heartstrings and guilting us into giving money. We think that there is a better way of doing things. And we want to take you through a little bit of our story about how we've got from there to where we are now, which is doing this.
[Lewis] - At EcoGames we build video games to help fund conservation through small, in-game micro donations. In our virtual reality game, ResilientReef, for example, you'll be able to buy power-ups that allow you to help protect the reef that you're building in the game from threats. And we'll funnel all that money through to conservation groups working on the Great Barrier Reef.
But we didn't wake up one day and decide that that's what we wanted to do. EcoGames was formed by combining both Ali and I's skill sets.
So what are your skills? Think about the things that you're uniquely good at and how you can use them to create change. It may not initially be obvious.
For some of you, it may be, but for some others it may not be. For me, I didn't know exactly how I could use game development to create change in a positive way. But for everyone here, I believe that there is something that you uniquely can do. You've just got to find it.
Once you've identified that, you can start doing it, or even better, you can combine your skills with someone else's. So team up.
When we started this journey, I didn't know anything about the Great Barrier Reef or behaviour change or anything like that.
[Ali] - And I certainly knew nothing about video game development.
[Lewis] - But through our collaboration, we created this unique force for change and what we can achieve is greater than the sum of the individual parts. So think about where you can meet people who are like-minded and want to make positive change.
So you’re ready to start making change, but it turns out it's not this giant leap of faith into the unknown. It's actually a really small step in the right direction. You want to start small.
When we started, we made a small prototype game just to see how people would respond. And then we've worked up from there and started aiming higher.
How can you create change in the smallest possible way with what you do? And then once you've done that, you can start doing more and more.
[Ali] - We're only a really small startup. We started less than a year ago. But the point is that we started, right? And that can often be the hardest step.
What we've found across that journey is yes, we have had these barriers and yes, we have had these brick walls. But as we start to create positive change and start to see that positive impact happening, we get motivated and energised to do more and to keep trying and overcome those barriers.
So every time we see somebody play our game, for instance, it really pushes us to keep going. The joy that we see people experiencing when they play the game. And what we've effectively done is take that and turned it into this. And this is really fun and engaging and optimistic and hopeful and really available to anybody, from kids to 70-plus-year-olds. We invite you to come and try it; it's a lot of fun!
[Lewis] - Thank you.
[Tom Allen] - Thank you very much Lewis and Ali. Reflecting on EcoGames journey, complementary skillsets was great for them in working together to achieve that change. Interestingly, they also used crowdfunding to test their idea, where they raised $18k just to help push that idea forward. And that helped provide some validation.
They were absolutely passionate and committed and from the start and they’ve designed the game with the user in mind. They've been back and forth between here and the Reef, speaking to tour operators, divers and others who are actually actively testing and using their game.
[Tom Allen] - If you have any tools lying around your house, whether it be an angle grinder or a lawn mower or perhaps it's just camping equipment or Christmas decorations… then you may have heard of Sabrina Chakori and the Brisbane Tool Library. Sabrina is going to share her quick journey and what it was that kicked off this idea.
At the start of this article, you thought about a specific goal that you could work on.
Did you know that the American Institute of Training and Development says that if you share that goal with someone else, that it will improve your success rate by 65%? And if you create a specific date, make a commitment and check in with them as your accountability partner, you'll improve your chances of succeeding by 95% with that specific goal.
My challenge for you, is to express what that goal is to the people on your table or someone around you. Even better, find someone who you can set a date with and who can hold you accountable.
Embrace your differences and use your passion and strengths to your advantage.
Start taking the small steps today.
Find support in your community and play the long game.
This is about endurance and persistence.
I really do truly believe that you can do this and make it a reality.
[Chad Renando] - Excellent. Thanks, Tom. And thanks guys. Quite often all we need is just one idea. I’ll ask all our presenters and Tony Sharp to join us on the stage.
It is a bit of a long play as we heard. Overnight successes are 10 years in the making. You know, seven years going and now being able to finally get off the ground. That's something that we often minimise.
We see this big tree and say, "I want a tree," not acknowledging the seed that was planted yonks ago.
[Chad refers to questions being asked from the audience digitally…]
So Chad, what is your background? For me personally, a bit of manufacturing in the U.S. I did a bit of digital. I was an Environmental Compliance Officer in industry. And then worked for the EPA on their Eco-Boost Programme back during the Al Gore days when all of that was happening. Then a Management Consultant for a while. Ran the Innovation Hub in Ipswich for about a year and a half. Now I'm on the road going around and helping startups and build ecosystems. Five years in the U.S. Navy on nuclear submarines, and five years as a radio DJ. So a bit of a potpourri. You can apply for anything that you want to do.
What do you see, either in yourselves or another, as the biggest challenge? What's the thing that helps them out the most?
[Tony Sharp] - Jared and I met two years ago, at a very similar event to this. And Jared had a concept and an idea around some environmental water monitoring. We've come a long way in the last two years and that's around asking questions and not being afraid to ask questions. I think I picked up on Tom's point.
Once you share your idea with somebody else and then put a date in mind, you get somewhere.
So we've got to that product in probably 12 months. This stuff all takes time. It's 10 years to be an overnight success. That is so true. But, in the words of Leanne Kemp, who is the Chief Entrepreneur of Queensland,
"We’ve just got to get in, have a go and get shit done."
[Chad Renando] - That's right. Who else would like to answer?
[Lewis Carter] - For me, the biggest challenge was how could I actually get started? And I think a lot of people, (including myself), over-complicate it and then becomes this massive hill that you have to climb. So that starting small thing is really important. For example, if I asked everyone in this room, to go vegan right now, it would be very challenging. But if I said, ‘okay, Monday night, let's eat a meat-free meal and then you can learn from there,’ it’d be a lot easier.
I essentially started doing that and now at home I can cook a bunch of vegetarian recipes and that's how I know I can make a difference. And I'll just work my way up from there. So using that time to work up to that. And also, when you're inspiring other people to get involved, that's a really great way.
[Chad] - One of the questions around the EcoGames specifically is how much does it cost and where is it available?
[Lewis] - The game is not out yet. We're still working on it. New games take time to develop. But keep an eye on out. It's currently being built for VR, but we are exploring other platforms so that we can have a larger impact, because we know most people don't have VR headsets in their houses at the moment.
[Chad] - Thank you. I want to hop over to Tom. How do you start a social enterprise or how do you do this whole thing? Maybe explain the process of the side hustle. How do you get these things off the ground while still needing to do the mortgage and the family thing and that whole stuff? And how do you know when you're doing that, whether or not your idea is good or not?
[Tom] - That's a great question, Chad. I think it comes back to one of your first questions.
One of the biggest challenges is around mental health, work-life balance and being very upfront about burnout. Having worked with quite a few people in this space, I'm working with a lot of people who are at bandwidth. They are absolutely pushing it. And that can be a huge challenge in itself. Understanding that and staying on top of your physical and mental health is very, very important. You need to know where your priorities are in terms of family.
So starting up, where do you start and where does that side hustle begin? I think it doesn't have to start by you going, "I'm going to quit my job because I've got this big idea and hopefully it'll work out. But somehow, I've got to pay the mortgage and bills at the same time."
I think it is entirely possible to have this small idea and start working an hour a week at night. Just to chip away at that idea. Then go and attend a Startup Weekend and explore that idea further and see who in the community can help you.
It's really about those small actions that I think can work towards these bigger goals and the bigger outcomes. But it is really about starting.
And from there I think you then get that support that you need, whether it be from the community or from a financial perspective. There are grants available. We know there's investment available across a range of programs. Once you get bigger, there's also other types of investment available. But I do think we've still got a finance issue, particularly in what they call the missing middle. But you're all experts in your own right, so you are completely capable to get out there and do that.
[Chad] - From the Bee One Third perspective, I was really inspired by the whole notion of, "I know the problem. I know the change I want to affect. I don't know bees." And here you are seven years later with multiple customers. What was that process of starting out, and how did you go about engaging with those initial customers that are now supporting you and two other employees?
[Jack Stone] - Initially I didn't know that I wanted to be a beekeeper. In fact, I knew only three months into researching how food is grown, and what the important aspects to food growth were, that I decided to get into bees. I wanted to grow food and I wanted to teach people how to grow food in the urban setting.
If we don't have to rely on the farmer 400 kilometres away, then we can become a lot more connected with the supermarket food that we're purchasing on a daily basis if we can grow a small amount of it.
Bees were something for me that were so left of field. But as I started to understand the connection that bees had to the food system, it was this little tiny, hidden part of the whole cycle that caught my fascination. I wasn't really successful in growing food when I tried it. But when I discovered bees, when I got my first beehive, I caught a wild swarm from the base of a tree. That one beehive became the nucleus of ideas that then spawned out into a starter for the conversation.
Those first customers, though, they all denied me. For two years I was door knocking on cafes and restaurants saying, "We're producing honey in the city. Oh, and we'd love to put a beehive on your rooftop so you can say that you've taken the honey from your roof and you're serving it on the plate."
They’d respond with, "Far too dangerous liability risk on the roof. We're not even interested in the honey. We're not interested in the whole aspect of it."
We were given a great opportunity when we had our first-ever news article. That opened up the doors to start having conversations with change makers in the community that wanted to be a part of the change.
[Chad] - So that initial media played a big role in it?
[Jack Stone] - Big time. And the idea wasn't even real. I was pretending to be a beekeeper by saying, "We're keeping bees in the city and we're trying to create change through educating people on food awareness." And then all of a sudden a food writer wrote about Bee One Third, and how one-third of our global food supply is dependent on bees. And it was then that the first call came and that just became the steam roll that then turned into a hectic four years of figuring out how to keep bees.
One thing that I would say is, ‘don't grow faster than you can handle.' But if you do end up growing faster, then that's when the side hustle really becomes the priority.
At 6:00pm til 12:00pm, what are you doing at night? How are you spending those important hours once the kids are in bed?
I was lucky. I started when I was 21 or 22, so I didn't have too many responsibilities, but I'm still managing that side hustle. For me, it's still a side hustle because my main game is keeping bees. Making money is the side hustle. My main game is keeping bees and talking to people about the importance of them.
[Chad] - I really like how you break it down into numbers. We're talking about complex challenges here, but you say one in every three mouthfuls... I really like how you simplify things down. One other quick question. Do you keep native bees?
[Jack Stone] - We do work with native bees. We've got 12 native beehives and a 150 European beehives, and that's because European beehives multiply much faster than native beehives. So we actually work with local kindergartens right here in the Logan City Council district with two kindergartens and childcare centres to educate the children about the importance of bees. We placed those native hives in the centres and open hives up every couple of months. We harvest the honey and we get kids engaged with insects because there's a fear around insects now. But native bees are the perfect vector for low-level, low-stimuli education.
[Chad] - Excellent. Thank you. One of the things that can start a lot of this, is this thing called a Startup Weekend, which Tom referenced. What the heck is a Startup Weekend? And when is the very next one? Tony is going to help us out.
[Tony] - At Substation33 we've run Startup Weekends for three years now. We've up to our fifth Startup Weekend. It'll be run 22-24th of November, so come along!