Genuine innovation or same-old-same-old?

With friends

“If I look at you like an impoverished person and you see yourself as a victim, no amount of money will change this.”

Below is an excerpt of a speech I delivered for The School for Social Entrepreneurs titled “Social Enterprise and its potential for creating more inclusive and sustainable communities” – February 20th, 2014.

“I’m very excited this evening to tell you a bit about the enterprise I founded, InCharge, and also to share my thoughts on the connections between social enterprise, genuine innovation and the creation of an inclusive society.

When I was 7 years old, my older brother, Matthew, left our family home, to be cared for elsewhere. Far from aiding our family as it was promised to be, it skewed it, and sent my brother on the path of a different and separate life to us. He spent his childhood languishing and abused in a large hostel and then in group homes. I remember arriving at his 18th birthday celebration to find that the only people there were his immediate family, and the paid staff of his group home. I remember my father cried. It was a wake-up call for me.

Imagine if your only relationships were with people paid to be there? This is the life experience of a client, not a contributor. So something had to change.

Matthew has now lived in his own home for 16 years and shared it consistently with people without disability. He has his own small business built on his interests and capacities. He has frequent gatherings of friends, supporters and family.

The difference is extraordinary. Yet Matthew is only one of 400,000 people with significant disabilities in Australia. So actually and unfortunately his deprivation is not unusual.

InCharge was created to change the experiences of others who struggle to experience a life of contribution and rich relationships. Our vision is a society where everyone’s potential is realised and where we thrive among people who love and care about us.

We exist to assist people with disability be the authors of their own lives. When people are truly in charge they are ignited by possibility in their own lives, and they also have the resources, tools and mindset to go get it. This is a self-directed life. Through our products, services and partnerships we seek to ignite possibility and then assist people put the pieces in place that turn possibility into reality.

Why is this important?

Let’s go back to that moment when my parents stepped forward and asked for assistance. What did they encounter? Well they encountered a human service system. It is now an industry, and it is essentially predicated on the belief that ‘special’ people need specialist solutions delivered by experts in specially built places. Separate schools, classrooms, homes, workplaces and centres to train people and provide therapy and other interventions. Mostly we encounter people as they drive past us in white buses or as they move in groups through our shopping centres. We see them in the distance of our lives. In our desire to assist people get a better deal we have actually created the tools of exclusion.

Such a system cannot deliver the stuff of a good life. It cannot deliver love, it cannot deliver intimacy, it cannot deliver belonging or purpose, friendship, or being an actor in one’s own life.

Ultimately this is what we want for ourselves; a life of contribution, a life of richness.

If we are to bring such an inclusive community to life then we need to look now in different places for solutions. This is all of our business – to look for the real leaders and the genuine solutions.

We are fortunate in Australia that there are now many more opportunities for people to step beyond a life lived in ‘service land’. There are so many more people now who have ideas about their good life, who are trying things and who have different expectations. Who are basically sticking their fingers up at the persistent and draining low expectations that pervades our society.

So we believe that one of the most powerful things that can happen is to shine a light, support and nurture ideas people are generating themselves. These are the places it make sense to look for the kinds of solutions that really create an inclusive society. And this is also where support to social enterprise could be of such benefit.

As the founder of InCharge I have chosen a social enterprise framework because it has allowed the freedom to find the best ways to shine a light and support genuine innovation. It has been so beneficial to explore the kind of petri dish that bubbles and ignites this stuff. Remaining loose but focussed, allows us to explore the spaces between, where exciting things might burst forth. I believe the 4 way partnership that has supported Nathan – who will speak to you in a moment – to become an SSE student is a fine example of this. Social enterprise has really helped us to think about our sustainability. The idea that we can create our own resources and scale when we need to. Focussing on the internal assets and capacities of the organisation as a starting place to generate value, including financial value, has been revolutionary to me coming from a traditional non-profit background.

So you are going to hear from Nathan Basha tonight.

But what other interesting innovations are we finding?

People with significant disabilities are finding ways for themselves to work. Micro-enterprise and small niche businesses are becoming a very attractive idea for many people assessed out of employment support, and otherwise find themselves relegated to a drab life of endless activities, community access and training.

People are finding very interesting ways of being supported to move into their own homes, thus breaking the nexus of the non-choice between being their parents home forever or living with other people with disabilities. They are living with people without disabilities, they are creating intentional communities of disabled and non disabled people.

People with intellectual disability and their advocates are creating pathways into university

  1. see University of Sydney
  2. and the formative program in Alberta, Canada

They are building their own enterprises built to address very specific barriers – please look on our links page for some fabulous examples.

So what are the threads that bind these kinds of ideas, projects and movements?

I want share with you what I think are some of the hallmarks of genuine innovation. Again I hope you see the universality in these for all of us working to create more inclusive societies.


Long lasting, personal relationships are the key to ongoing quality of life. Innovative enterprises create a more inclusive society by assisting people to tap into the wealth of ideas, people, energy and financial resources within their own networks, or to build these where they don’t exist.

 Active citizenry

People are not just receivers. Innovative enterprises showcase and build on people’s innate capacities and interests, in order to realise potential.

Addressing adaptive barriers to change

When we are seeking to be the author of our own life, many things have the potential to de-rail us. What are the barriers to change that confront those in the communities you work in?

For people with disability for example, the fear of being rejected when you take a step forward in your community can be a huge thing, but making lasting change depends upon stepping forward.? Innovative enterprises aspire to be with and for people in their own efforts at change.

Developing rich relationships

Unsatisfied with the dominance of paid relationships, innovative enterprises break this dominance and offer people a vision of a life lived with many different kinds of people and relationships.

Welcoming environments

Innovative enterprises work with the richness that already exists in our community to assist it become more adept? at inclusion. We don’t need to keep building separate.

Autonomy and control

Innovative enterprises focus on the conditions in which autonomy and greater control by people themselves can thrive.

I think we need to invest in the leaders, projects or enterprises which are attempting to show value in very non traditional areas and seeking the kinds of impacts that go to the heart of an inclusive society then we are on to something very exciting indeed.

Thank you for your time.”



  1. Lisa Hollingsworth says

    Would love to keep updated on the wonderful work your organisation is doing.

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