School navigation

Environmental Studies

Regional Innovation Forum

April 29, 2009

Regional Innovation Forum at the Portland Expo Center

April 29, 2009

Sarah Bobertz and I attended the Regional Innovation Forum at the end of March in Portland, Oregon, which sought to bring together “engaged citizens and community leaders from every sector to explore the systemic challenges facing our region that require coordinated effort between individuals, communities, organizations, and local, regional and national policymakers” (Blue Ocean Event Inc., 2009).

We both chose to follow the Social Innovation track, which emphasized the importance of communities working together on similar interests, enabling its members to solve challenges collectively through hard work, collaboration and taking risks. A social entrepreneur is someone who assumes the risk, recognizing injustice and its embedded support structure and sees it as malleable. This entrepreneur then takes the opportunity to disrupt the equilibrium at a deep level and stabilize a new and more just equilibrium. Current social entrepreneurs are already busy at confronting these challenges and are creating models.

What this forum really stressed was the need for social change within the community and a need to change our methods of communication. To emphasize this point, the social innovation track was designed to allow for more engagement between the individuals sitting in the audience and to lessen the impersonal speaker vs. audience relationship. To mimic a community model and better our communication, we were asked by Jolene Estimos from the Warm Springs Reservation to introduce ourselves through a story telling method. We were then asked to define our place, our role, our gift, what we were concerned with and what questions we had. This method of introduction helped us understand our physical, social, relational obligations to our community and recognize that we each bring something unique to the table, which we should use to benefit the community. We need to learn how to use our gifts to bring about real change and become entrepreneurs.

Amy Pearl, founder of Springboard, a social innovation organization in Portland, facilitated the discussion on social innovation. One thing she said that really resonated with me was, “The answer to hunger is not food.” We need to bring about real substantial social change that addresses the root causes of social and environmental challenges, not just shallow solutions.

This forum was inspirational as well as confronting. I realize that there are a lot of changes that need to be made, most of which are not easy to establish because they are unpalatible. Social change is going to be necessary although difficult to spread. Through the improvement of communication and community models as well as the daring initiative of individuals and groups in the community, change will slowly occur across local and global scales.

Written by Rosanne Wielemaker