Last week my colleague Patrick McNamara and I were given the incredible opportunity to not only attend and participate in the 2012 UN Social Innovation Summit but to also lead a roundtable discussion on the topic of Collaboration and Innovation. The Refinery had the honor of being a partner in the summit this year for the very first time, and Patrick and I spent a wonderful two days in New York in the presence of more than 500 amazing, innovative individuals.
The event brought civil society representatives from an incredibly diverse collection of sectors and backgrounds; from philanthropists, to social entrepreneurs, CEO’s of Fortune 500 companies, NGO’s, White House representatives, athletes, film producers, and celebrities. We gathered with the intention to find partnerships, to innovate by means of becoming leaders, better leaders, and helping others discover their own leadership potential in order to unleash it in a creative, collaborative way.
The Summit’s first day was hosted at the JP Morgan building in NYC. The opening remarks focused on the role of business, non-profits, civil society and government in moving toward a more sustainable society, and the commitment to corporate socially responsible practices. Out of this, CEO’s, VP’s, and CSR heads all expressed their desire, concern, and commitment towards practices that are not only more transparent, but that also create a positive impact. Personally, I and many other attendees discussed going further, adding that practices could also be more inclusive, as well as spur social innovation not only within, but also in the periphery of organizations. One element that really stood out as we discussed this theme was the power of storytelling as narratives for impact; the reason being that storytelling is something that we at The Refinery have imbedded as part of our practice and has proven very effective.
The first day hosted six different roundtable topics: Education, Technology for Good, Economic Development, Social Media, Healthcare, Collaboration and Innovation in the UN System. Patrick was Chair of the roundtable we facilitated on Collaboration and we had representatives present from Unilever, IDEO, UNDP, and UN Global Pulse. We engaged in topics around technology and program innovation, scaling up breakthrough initiatives, partnerships and multi-stakeholder engagement, and organizational transformation and leadership development. We asked our attendees to break into groups and brainstorm innovative approaches to the topic of their choosing by creating a poster on flipcharts using magazine pictures, sticky notes, markers and their business cards in order to make it easier for people to communicate their ideas and encourage conversation.
Participants sparked very interesting conversations and found exciting connections with one another. What I think was remarkable is that while we closed-out our session rapidly to meet schedule obligations, the participants stayed carrying on with their poster discussions and their own follow-through conversations, which continued on throughout the night. The topic and passionate discussion had resonated with all involved!
Following the success of the opening sessions, day 2 was hosted at the UN Headquarters in NYC. Soon-Hong Choi, Assistant Secretary-General and CIO welcomed us, as well as UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon (by video). As an aside, I must admit that it was a thrilling experience to be at the UNHQ not as a tourist, but as participant of such an inspiring event, which, by the way, was happening next door to the Rio+20 Sustainable Development Consultations. Through the day, we had various panels that touched on diverse and engaging topics: Technology Channeling Social Impact & Innovation, Education, Women & Girls, Youth Leadership, the Sustainability Debate, Technology as a Cure, and Moral Capitalism, to name a few. Included in this was a humorous and direct conversation with film producer Tom Shadyac, who talked about morality vs. mechanical problems and how service can make all the difference when we share our talents.
It was such an extraordinary experience for The Refinery to be a part of this fascinating event and join in on the impactful conversations with people whose day-to-day actions are working to make a difference. I look forward to continuing the conversations that we started last week and I invite you to engage with us. It starts with a question each and every day, “what can I do better?” and the answers help lead us to innovation and betterment. This is what we ask our clients to be a part of every day, and the answers bring our clients better, happier, healthier leaders. So will you be the one to ‘ask the question’ at your organization? firstname.lastname@example.org