After interviewing Nathan Pham from Goodjoe I noted his passion for bringing together people and creating new forums for ideas. I pitched him the idea for an unstructured gathering of social innovation thinkers and doers. He was (thankfully) enthusiastic and interested. We worked together to plan an informal “social innovation unconference” involving a relatively small group of people immersed in different disciplines, with a knack for creating impact.
It was a grand experiment to see what happens when you put people with different life/work experiences, who are passionate about creating a positive impact in a room together with the premise of identifying local problems and brainstorming solutions.
the first group
Our initial group included: a youth services professional, founder of social enterprise GoVoluntr, graphic designer with a passion for virtual currencies, a pediatrician with international relief experience, founder of social enterprise Goodjoe (Nathan), and founder of a blog on social innovation (myself).
the first venue
The event was held at the beautiful, hip storefront LegalForce BookFlip—which is a sizeable experiment of its own. The Founder of Trademarkia and LegalForce, Raj Abhyanker, founded the swanky concept store as a retail location for law. Nestled in the heart of bustling downtown Palo Alto, across from the new Apple Store, LegalForce is what you might imagine an Apple approach to law to look and feel like. Bold bursts of orange draw the eye and the modern, design-centered theme carries through to every corner of the shop. Attorneys are on hand to answer questions and there is an array of legal and leadership books available for browse and buy.
Raj and his team welcomed us to use their lower level conference room for our un-event. Against the creative backdrop, we sat down and begun to explain our backgrounds and what experiences have shaped our desire to use our careers to create change in addition to generating value.
a social innovation unconference/hackathon
It was a fascinating few hours. The congenial atmosphere led to an abundance of humor and joking, as well as serious dives into pressing issues.
At the end of the session we whiteboarded our options for issues to address, what we wanted from the experience, and solutions to begin exploring. One local issue that came up was the lack of youth resources in the county. While a number of organizations serve youth, there didn’t seem to be many centers or creative learning spaces for youth to seek mentorship, build skills, and just hang out.
The idea to address the youth issue through building some kind of youth accelerator program emerged. It could be a way for professionals to mentor youth, and for youth to drive their learning and interests. We have informally continued exploring the idea, even ‘validate’ the concept by pitching it to local youth.
The day for me sparked something amazing. It was an opportunity to attend an event—and be transported from the audience to the speaker panel on stage. It was empowering to share some of the high-level concepts I have gleaned from writing and thinking about these issues for a long time with others who have also been exploring social innovation through their own lens.
We are hoping to test out this social innovation hackathon unconference concept out again in the near future.