The walls of Te Papa’s Soundings Theatre reverberated with calls for a better future over the weekend. Not only did the diverse audience at the Festival for the Future want change, they got to see compelling examples of it happening, led by social entrepreneurs from around New Zealand.
Organiser Guy Ryan, chief executive of the Inspiring Stories Trust, founded the festival to reframe 21st century issues as opportunities for Aotearoa. He aims to make New Zealand a world‐class incubator for social innovation.
Now in its second year, the festival engaged people from all walks of life through a series of interactive workshops; these followed keynote speakers who shared their passion, projects and vision for New Zealand.
“Festival for the Future is about ideas, innovation, and action. It’s about exploring the big issues of our time, here and now in Aotearoa and asking what are new tools, techniques, and technologies that we can harness as young people, and as older people to collaborate and tackle the big issues of our time.”
With a strong emphasis on youth and creativity, the festival included keynote addresses on catalysing change from Generation Zero’s Jack Tolly; Shruthi Vijayakumar, leader of New Zealand’s largest youth development NGO, the P3 Foundation; and Shay Wright from the Maori development team at The Icehouse.
These speakers proved that New Zealand has a wealth of articulate and very capable yoof who are well underway working towards a better New Zealand. This was in contrast to the lamentable opening address from the Minister for Social Development and Employment / Minister of Youth Affairs, Paula Bennett in which she joked that she “hated talking to youth".
In her own words a “failed social worker; recovering CEO, and lippy lesbian,” Vivien Maidaborn led the round of keynotes about entrepreneurship for a better world. An attendee of many conferences in her time, Maidaborn believed this festival was special.
“This festival has an amazing intellectual cross-fertilisation of people from diverse industries and networks,” she said.
As one festival-goer put it, it was a “meeting of geeks and hippies” and such a meeting spouted a wealth of innovative ideas on how to solve diverse and complex problems from affordable housing to child poverty.
This idea of ‘collaboration as the new black’ resulted in the ability of the festival to sidestep the charge that social movements can miss opportunities for aligning passion with purpose alongside making a living or a meaningful contribution through business.
Equally, it was asserted by almost everyone in attendance that business and innovation cannot lead the way without incorporating the principles of social entrepreneurship as a driving force.
Nick Churchouse, venture manager for business incubator Creative HQ, was looking for entrepreneurs who would add sustainable value to New Zealand, not just high growth followed by an exit.
“We want big ideas that impact how we live. Investors want to invest in something that can impact or change the world,” he said.
Ideas need time to incubate
The focus on ‘doing’, however, underwent some constructive criticism in the Innovation Café. Better by Design’s Simon Holbrook (read more about Better by Design's evolution here) staged a workshop on ‘ideation’ in which he challenged the ability of New Zealanders to be amazingly "pragmatic" but adept at shooting down big ideas in the early stages.
“Ideas need to be allowed to percolate for a while, because they can take you to some amazing places,” he said. “We want to challenge the perception of New Zealanders as 'Yes, but…'”
Sam Judd from Sustainable Coastlines invigorated with his straight talking surfer-speak and shocked with his visceral images of sea life choked by plastic. He was followed by Anna Guenther of PledgeMe fame, who grounded the opportunities for innovation in the pragmatic goal of sourcing funding from networks.
Through Enspiral, the softly spoken and incredibly switched on Vial is helping people who want to change the world have the time and money to do so. Enspiral has been a part of 12 startups in its two-and-a-half year history. Vial’s goal is to turn the “trickle of human energy currently spent healing the planet into a river".
Also contributing to the stellar speaker and workshop lineup were Alex Hannant of the Hikurangi Foundation; Sacha McMeeking, formerly the general manager of strategy and influence at Te Runanga O Ngai Tahu; Pat Shepherd from the One Percent Collective; social activist Nicky Hager and Green MP Gareth Hughes.
Ryan is looking forward to the 2013 festival growing beyond this year’s 300-odd attendees and hopes to secure further funding to make this happen.
“The possibilities are endless, and we’re committed to growing this into a world-class inaugural event.”