people coast1Innovation, change for social good, and change for a better future – these are phrases we hear a lot of nowadays, but if I asked you to describe social innovation what would you say?

Social Innovation can come in a range of forms including the traditional social enterprise where an organisation has both a social and for profit focus and the lesser known social innovation which is not about profit, but rather benefits society as a whole and not just the individual.

The idea of doing things to make life better isn’t a new thing, but the focus on creating novel solutions to address social problems that are more effective, efficient, and sustainable and a step up from current solutions is rapidly gaining momentum.


According to a number of recent reports there are about 20,000 social enterprises in Australia alone, this is a 37 percent increase on the number operating 5 years ago. The majority of these have been operating for an average of 3 years, indicating that growth has been quite rapid. Those social enterprises with a commercial aspect to their operations generate around $22 million annually, accounting for 39 percent of their income and around 2percent of GDP.

The level of investment in social innovation is a bit harder to estimate, but according to the Australian Centre for Social Innovation the amount is in the billions if you take into account the investment made by government in welfare and social inclusion programs – think about Medicare and its origins and more recently the National Disability Insurance Scheme. The government focus in on increasing productivity and participation and stimulating a vibrant, dynamic and inclusive social economy.


Innovations in the social space often bring together old elements in new ways. Micro finance for example, combined the concept of small loans and the notion of community focusing on establishing social enterprise. These loans were established to provide low income earning communities the opportunity to come together and create business enterprises to support the growth and wellbeing of that community. Recent examples gaining traction are community windfarms and water wells where the community as a whole benefits from the asset.

Lighthouse has delivered the microcredit loan program for over 5 years and has supported a number of individuals, groups and organisations with both for profit and social benefit objectives. The loans helped those who, for a range of reasons, couldn’t access traditional debt at that time. It is very rewarding to Lighthouse that all applicants say that without access to microcredit loans they would not have been able to launch their enterprises. The founder of one of these enterprises, Deb Evans will be talking about her work with the children of incarcerated parents at the Festival of Ambitious Ideas: Social Innovation on August 18.


Many of you may have heard of organisations like StreetSwags that provide waterproof basic shelter to people experiencing homelessness. The innovation comes from the change of focus for the enterprise making the bags (commercial to social) and the fact that the initiative supports and hopefully feeds into other shelter options available to the homeless. The other recent example that has gained a lot of interest and support is OrangeSky, the free mobile laundry service for the homeless. This type of innovation is referred to as an adaption to a current social solution. The big question is always, how you fund it if there is no commercial aspect to the enterprise?

The Festival of Ambitious Ideas: Social Innovation on Thursday 18 August will showcase 12 speakers from a range of different sectors, exploring opportunities, innovations and issues associated with funding and supporting these bigger social solutions and how government, the not-for-profit and the commercial sectors can work together to make them sustainable.


About Lighthouse Business Innovation Centre
Lighthouse has a strong track record of supporting entrepreneurs, researchers and inventers on the path from concept to commercialisation. Since July 2008, Lighthouse has worked with over 990 distinct enterprises and provided group and peer based services to over 3400 enterprises and individuals. For over five years Lighthouse has successfully delivered business advice, education, mentorship and networking opportunities to help these businesses commercialise their ideas and grow their companies. Lighthouse also delivers programs such as the ACT Microcredit Program for the ACT Government. Visit for more information.