Now more than ever

Words Sarah Gillinson

We’re in the midst of a major, global upheaval of norms and values that we have taken for granted as the aspirations of Western democracies. We must create serious, sustainable impact with and for communities that have been left behind.

I was travelling back from an inspiring time with Innovation Unit’s Australian colleagues when I received the shocking news of the Trump win.

I am feeling that increasingly familiar wrench of personal despair, mixed with high ‘professional’ energy. I am disappointed and angry for the way in which the world is developing and I am saddened that there is such a huge swathe of people in supposedly rich and flourishing countries who have no political voice, few economic opportunities and have lost their sense of control and agency.

If it wasn’t already clear that we’re in the midst of a major, global upheaval of norms and values that we have taken for granted as the aspirations of Western democracies — tolerance, openness, fairness, some belief in the importance of truth-telling (!), then it is now.

If we needed a greater indication that most of our existing public ‘solutions’ are simply not up to the task of growing socially just and sustainable societies, here it is. (This was after all a massive vote against the status quo — just as we saw with Brexit.)

More of the same cannot move us forward towards that goal. And perhaps most tragically, the choices that are emerging from the discontent with the status quo, will only move us backwards. Trump’s policies, from tax cuts for the rich to imposing trade protection, will almost certainly make life ever-worse for just the people who have voted for him.

So where does this take us?

On the eve of Innovation Unit’s 10th birthday we are setting out our ambitions and mission for the future — for our next 10 years. More than ever, our work must be focused on having serious, sustainable impact with and for those communities that have been left behind by global change, and for whom existing public ‘solutions’ — our institutions, systems, and governance — just don’t work anywhere close to well enough.

More than ever it is our firm belief that any new solutions must be about innovation. More of the same can only mean ever more justifiable discontent, disengagement, resentment and division.

Innovation Unit will work tirelessly to build alliances for change that are focused on helping to grow the capability and agency of all communities to shape their own destinies, positively, on an ongoing basis — not simply to be left with the only option of sounding a foghorn of anger every election year.

We must take seriously our leadership responsibility in all this, which is about continuing to do work which ultimately helps to build thriving societies, and also the public conversation that enables that work to happen.

At Innovation Unit we have a different version of ‘authenticity’ to Trump’s. We believe in human potential and collective agency, and we have seen the amazing results when communities, long without voice in shaping their own lives, participate in growing new solutions that work for them and their families, and which help them to thrive.

These are positive, open, constructive spaces — not negative, divisive, destructive ones. So, we must find more ways to help channel those voices out into the world, and join up with those who share that view, to begin growing an alternative narrative of authenticity. A positive one.

We can’t single-handedly change the world; but we will use every tool and connection at our disposal to help shape the world we want to see — a world where many more people belong and contribute to thriving societies.

At this moment we can take some solace from the fact that we don’t just have to live passively with this result — we can learn from it, and make a serious contribution to helping tackle the real discontent, hardship and disempowerment that lies beneath it.