Social innovation is a fast-paced game. An idea can easily become redundant or irrelevant if not executed quickly and extraordinarily well.
In this ever-shifting landscape, opportunities for everything from workshops to training, grants to loans, and networking events to outright competitions, simply abound. So how does one choose with which opportunities to engage? Once the wheels get rolling, how do you separate real traction from the noise? I’ve been asking myself these questions a lot lately while struggling with how to balance evolving opportunities alongside JustAccess’ ultimate vision of increasing access to justice and civic engagement through crowdfunding.
Let me first back up a moment and say how grateful I feel to be living and working in an environment (i.e. Toronto, Ontario) that offers so many quality resources for social ventures. Now, down to the business of managing opportunities.
1. Have as many conversations as possible
Talking to people, being in the room and making connections, is not only great for fostering mutually beneficial networks, but also for receiving real-time feedback and more quickly iterating your idea. This also means signing up to listservs and mailing lists more liberally. Although these tools may seem dated in our Internet savvy world, incubators, accelerators, community organizations and funders all share opportunities through listservs. So, get involved in the conversations and don’t miss out.
And, of course, get on Twitter. It’s a message you’ve heard before. And yes, it is important. But no, you don’t necessarily need to know how to use it (at least not at first). Just start by following people who interest you (less creepy than it sounds, I promise) and consuming information. Then read a few articles, commence re-Tweeting and voila! You’ll find your voice. Spend 20 minutes on it per day; strategy will develop naturally, and with this modest effort rewards will follow.
2. Use grants and competitions as your timekeeper
After you’ve made a few connections and quickly moved your idea along, it’s time to seek funding; applying for grants and entering competitions forces you to produce specific deliverables within specific deadlines. By filling out grant applications you’re also researching for your business plans. By practicing for pitch competitions, you’re learning to present your ideas cohesively, while becoming more comfortable with answering the hard questions. And by making pitch videos you’re creating shareable products that profess your organization’s vision and story. So even if you don’t win the prize, you’re coming away with tangible creations that will further your venture. All good things. However…
3. Know when to scale back and prioritize opportunities
This last point is probably the most important. Your venture’s priorities won’t always align with the suggestions above. This is especially true as you get closer to launch. So make sure to have clear metrics for success, the requisite evaluation tools, and preset stage gates at which data from these tools is analyzed and the difficult conversations had.
This is a lesson learned for me and something that I’d do differently the next time around. Having a clear picture of what constitutes success allows you to properly frame emergent opportunities and prioritize resources – including your time and cognitive energy.
As we get ready to launch this spring, my team and I will undoubtedly unearth numerous opportunities that we missed along the way. Or recognize areas that we tried too hard to cultivate. But as I said earlier, innovation is a fast-paced game. Although there are a plethora of tools to help you on your journey, trying to see and do it all along the way will almost certainly wear you out before the finish line.
JustAccess is a crowdfunding platform to the justice system that increases access to justice while offering new opportunities for civic engagement and social empowerment. By leveraging the power of the crowd, JA creates a novel and democratic revenue stream to fund legal cases. We all want to create a more just society, one where everyone regardless of income has equal access to the courts — JustAccess helps make this a reality.
You can find more information here.
Sam Saad is a lifelong learner, educator, recovering hypocrite and social entrepreneur. He focuses on democratization and civic empowerment, and is currently part of SSE-O’s inaugural cohort.