Creating A Place Where Social Impact Movements Ignite

By Dan Graham, Owner, Notley Ventures

Every great movement had a physical space — a birth place where the seed of that movement took root. New Orleans and jazz. Silicon Valley and the Internet. Oftentimes these movements are sparked by a serendipitous time in history. The right group of people in the right place at the right time.

But what if you could engineer a movement? What if we could fast-track important changes in society just by bringing the right mix of people together under the same roof?

That’s what we’re doing at The Center for Social Innovation, or what I often refer to as CSI.

CSI is an integrated campus in East Austin bringing together nonprofits, social entrepreneurs, artists, creatives, universities, advocacy groups and many more. Opening in Fall 2018, this community will be unlike any other. CSI was designed to provide affordable commercial space for Austin nonprofits struggling to find a place to call home. That is just the beginning.

Once the community is moved in, the real work begins. Nonprofits, social enterprises, city innovation leaders, capital providers, incubators, accelerators, universities, and advocacy groups will come together in a space tailor made for creating impact — everything from affordable healthcare solutions to bringing entrepreneurial education to underserved populations.

Architecting A Culture of Changemakers

Starting a successful social impact movement requires an environment that provides three important elements — 1) shared purpose, 2) diverse resources, and 3) a physical location that brings #1 and #2 in close proximity.

Community with a Shared Purpose

All great CEOs know the importance of “culture fit”, but what about purpose fit? Purpose fit means having shared vision and purpose in your life and work. Create a community with a shared purpose aligns everyone to the same north star and allows people to visualize what they’re working toward and what new behaviors they’ll need to adopt.

At CSI, we’re bringing together a wide range of nonprofits and social entrepreneurs with a shared purpose of championing important causes in our community. Whether you’re Austin Buchan from College Forward or Chelsea Elliott from half Helen Foundation, you’ve decided to dedicate your career to mission-based work and you’re pushing the limits of what is possible by constantly innovating within your issue area.

It’s important to start by identifying your purpose and associated goals, who you’ll be serving, what value your organization provides, and how your organization can create innovative, new approaches to achieving these goals.

A Variety of Resources & Approaches

It’s nearly impossible to create impact without the right resources or connections. No movement was made successful by one person alone. It takes a team, and more importantly, a team with different skill sets. And every great birthplace had those ingredients — from capital resources, to support systems, to strong personal networks.

These elements are necessary to fostering culture and environment rooted in positive outcomes and movement-making actions. Diverse ideas and perspectives breed better decision making 87% of the time, according to Forbes.

It’s not a big leap to presume that inclusive, impact-focused communities have a higher probability of creating sustainable, more innovative changes that scale.

Creating Opportunities for Serendipity

Proximity has been proven to matter when it comes to innovation, and this is especially true for social innovation. The issue with cause-based movements is that training individuals, especially social entrepreneurs, on social issues isn’t accessible to most people. The biggest way to improve this is by bringing the entrepreneurs together with the nonprofit leaders, who are experts in the issues.

Intermixing nonprofit organizations directly with entrepreneurs and companies who care about those same issues empowers both sides to be more innovative while also unearthing the most effective solutions. It’s a two-way street and everyone benefits.

It’s also about giving people enough room to creatively solve problems. The Center for Social Innovation features over 100,000 square feet of office and coworking space for these groups to serendipitously run into each other, hunker down on new solutions, and collaborate.

Why It Matters

We can no longer wait for these movements to spark on their own — whether a movement is on an important issue, or advocating for policy changes at the statewide level. We have to create opportunities and environments for new world changing ideas to catch fire.

Leaders who understand this are those that know they need to adapt their organizations and tap into environments where they can cultivate changemakers across their organization.

Dan Graham

Dan Graham cofounded Notley, a local firm and catalyst for social innovation, in 2015 with his wife, Lisa, as a way to leverage their own business and investing success. Prior to Notley, Dan cofounded BuildASign.com in 2005 and transitioned from Chief Executive Officer to Executive Chairman in early 2017. Dan is a recipient of various awards including Ernst & Young Entrepreneur Of The Year® 2013 Central Texas Award, Austin Business Journal’s 2012 Best CEO Award, and Austin Under 40 Austinite of the Year. Dan was also named a winner in the Business and Entrepreneurship category in 2012. As a native Austinite, Dan personally gives back to the Austin community through participation on the Board of Directors for numerous philanthropic organizations including Austin Community Foundation and Glasshouse Policy among others. He also acts as a mentor to aspiring young entrepreneurs working with Capital Factory and SKU. Dan is a member of esteemed local and national organizations including The University of Texas at Austin’s College of Natural Sciences Advisory Council, Young President’s Organization, Startup Games (Board Member), The Texas Lyceum, Entrepreneurs’ Organization, and the 2016 Class of Henry Crown Fellows and the Aspen Global Leadership Network at the Aspen Institute. Dan earned undergraduate degrees in computer science and philosophy from The University of Texas at Austin (2003), and a J.D. from The University of Texas at Austin School of Law (2005). As the father of three incredible daughters, Dan spends his free time with them and his wife. Dan is an avid reader and enjoys practicing yoga a few times per week.

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