As a nation we are facing new and growing social and environmental challenges. It’s more important than ever that business takes a leading role in helping to address these challenges. We believe that social innovation and technology can play a big role in helping find ways to increase the pace of developing new solutions that address complex social issues, both locally and globally.
Through technology, solutions have the potential to scale faster and more efficiently. It also enables us to rethink traditional models of learning. For example, virtual reality allows us to effectively change behaviour and develop empathy by seeing the point of view of others.
Technology also has the power to make healthcare more accessible and affordable to those in remote communities. ‘Telemedicine’ services offer remote medical consultations, allowing patients to speak to healthcare professionals through electronic means. We’re also seeing how technology can help enhance the precise detection and diagnoses of diseases, which will minimise the time and costs of treating chronic conditions.
The Optus Future Makers accelerator program aims to help solve many social challenges by empowering and accelerating social entrepreneurs, start-ups and non-profit organisations that use technology to address such challenges for disadvantaged and vulnerable people. It is a key part of Optus’ community investment and social innovation strategy, as we seek to promote innovative technology solutions that help address social issues faced by disadvantaged youth and communities.
Optus Future Makers, now entering its fourth year, is open to new applications for our 2020 cohort. During this we’ve learnt a thing or two about how we can help further develop and scale social enterprises.
Have an open mind
It’s easy to come into a program like ours with a fixed mindset on what you want to get out of it. Your sole intention could be to increase your brand exposure or secure a grant. Or you simply want to be associated with a big corporate like Optus. However, our accelerator program is here to teach you a different way of thinking and of how to articulate your asks. Throughout the program you’ll have the opportunity to talk with experts and mentors from multiple industries who will help shape your start up – and it may require you to pivot your business plan. The opportunity to discuss ideas with your peers and reshape your thinking is all a part of growing your start up.
Be open to change
Business needs are always changing. We’re always looking at ways to collaborate with our Future Maker alumni. While it’s good to have goals and a strong focus, it’s important to listen to ideas and thoughts from mentors, business experts and your peers. For example, one of our 2017 participants, VirtualPsychologist had the opportunity to pilot their solution with our retail colleagues to provide a proactive mental health intervention following customer aggression incidents. Following this, VirtualPsychologist had the opportunity to take part in the 2019 Singtel Group Future Makers program and is working on a pilot program with Globe Telecom in the Philippines that will eventually roll out VirtualPsychologist’s text-based counselling services to 218 schools and over 380,000 students. ?
Creating shared value is a two-way street
The key to creating shared value is understanding it’s a two-way street. Open and honest dialogue between everyone is essential. It’s important to lay solid foundations of trust, loyalty and collaboration. Taking the time to understand the business needs of each other is vital to success. We’ve seen great partnerships when social innovators dig deeper to understand our priorities around improving outcomes for our customers or engaging our people. And we’re always looking at ways to create shared value across the business with our Future Makers. Patience is also must! It is true, things do move slowly in large organisations, but don’t be discouraged because both parties want to grow and succeed together.
Helen Maisano is the Director of Group Sustainability at Optus. She has over 20 years’ experience in strategic community investment, and corporate sustainability. Helen led the development of Optus Future Makers in 2016, an accelerator program that empowers social start ups who leverage technology to provide solutions for societal challenges. The program has now expanded globally with the Singtel Group of companies.