Michelle Williams – founder of Ideaction

Michelle is the founder of Ideaction, a connector, facilitator, community manager (offline and online) and strategist. Michelle and Ideaction have a focus on the “participatory” environment – co-design, collaboration and online movements to solve social and environmental issues, with projects in business, government and community. Michelle is also on the board of Vibewire.

With 10+ years in marketing, communications and project management, Michelle previously co-founded Social Innovation Sydney, a place where Changemakers meet. Begun as a series of Unconferences it developed into community initiatives included movie screenings, StartUp camps, Innovation Festivals and international speaking engagements. Michelle also ran the Indigenous Innovation Unconference in partnership with the National Centre of Indigenous Excellence.

My raison d’etre for doing this is to support the change in the world that many would like to see but don’t have the mechanisms or support to make it happen.”

Michelle was intent on turning the ideas from these events into action and founded Ideaction in 2012.

Tell us a little bit about your idea and what made you decide to take the plunge and make it happen? 

We’re also tapping into the power and creativity of the crowd, sometimes on a mass scale, to find answers to big and small problems, and to build movements to support this.”

Over the years I have discussed with hundreds, maybe thousands of people ideas on community, on finding ways to solve social and environmental issues. I founded Social Innovation Sydney as a platform for the community to connect, talk about and collaborate. Many were passionate, yet often felt powerless, especially relating to the environment. Social enterprise is an option but unfortunately it often does not get the support or resources needed for mass, lasting impact.

My raison d’etre for doing this is to support the change in the world that many would like to see but don’t have the mechanisms or support to make it happen.

I founded Ideaction in 2012 because I wanted to take the next step after all that talking. In this time I’ve been working on projects with and education of government, big and small business, community, academia and media. I’ve also been developing a documentary to take awareness of this space to the mainstream.

From Consumption to Participation 

Society’s focus on consumption and growth has always baffled me, even before environmental concerns became so apparent. We work damn hard to buy lots of stuff and replace it as soon as we can as we’re always reminded that we never have enough. Many of us (estimates of up to 70% of us) are working in jobs they don’t like nor connect with, and our natural environment is creaking under the pressure. Why?

All of this coincides with being in the midst of a massive transition from the Industrial era to what I call the Creativity era. We have the opportunity to drive and shape this change or it will drive us. It feels like it’s time for us to step it up, to take a different path, redesign society so to speak: “from consumption to participation”.

My focus this year is on building a movement around this “Participatory” revolution.

The Participatory Revolution means people are a part of the solution. Design principles now put the individual at the centre of the design process. We now have the tools for self-expression/self-realisation, we’re reconnecting to community and to the land, we’re becoming the makers, we’re super informed, we’re holding business/government to account when they’re doing bad. We’re also tapping into the power and creativity of the crowd, sometimes on a mass scale, to find answers to big and small problems, and to build movements to support this.

As this continues to evolve, governments, businesses, communities and media outlets that embrace this change will not only be successful, they can build stuff that matters and a society that is resilient, increasingly democratic, healthy, environmentally sustainable and socially just. We’re focused on what we can do to help government, business, community and media to design and implement and make the most of this participatory world.

If you’d like to know more about this movement sign up to ideaction.co

How do you make money? (please explain your business model)

I am currently project focused and consult for a number of clients using my skills including strategic planning, community management, communications and PR, facilitation, event and project management. I also run regular education workshops, including at UTS, and occasionally public speaking engagements.

I am focused on projects and clients that align with the purpose and values of my business. It has taken a little longer to build a portfolio of clients when I have such a narrow focus but, long-term, the work is far more rewarding with more depth and far-reaching impact.

What are you working on right now and what are you most excited about in the next three months? 

I’m most excited that I’m finally realising and connecting the dots on what I’d always dreamed and talked about doing.”

Oh, just building a movement, you know, the usual. I’m currently co-designing with potential attendees an event that’s part of a big Sydney festival. It will be a platform for the “Participatory Revolution”. It’s for key strategists and leaders in business, government, community and media to connect with key “participatory” practitioners.

Michelle chatting to Lord Mayor Clover Moore in the co-working creative spaces provided by City of Sydney

Michelle chatting to Lord Mayor Clover Moore in the co-working creative spaces provided by City of Sydney

In the next 3 months I’m also running innovation and education workshops, community management and collaboration projects. I have plans to do movie nights and continue building my capacity to do more and more.

As my big passion is connecting, I’m most excited that I’m finally realising and connecting the dots on what I’d always dreamed and talked about doing. I have good, supportive people around me and great opportunities to turn these ideas into action. I am very excited to build a team around this again.

How do you make ideas happen?

Making ideas happen is about using all those incremental tactics in a strategic way, it’s about building relationships with the right people, it’s about being resourceful and having patience in this process.”

Previously I just did it. Myself or a team would come up with an idea, suggest an event or some promotion or even the inkling of a new product and my brain automatically switched to what needs to be done.  I loved my project management tools. People needed to be careful if they suggested an idea around me as, well, there’s no point in an idea if you’re not going to action it!

With Ideaction, this has been a little different, I guess that’s because I’m not just about doing small, incremental things like events or marketing campaigns. Instead the focus is on how I can create systemic change and that’s a little harder. Making ideas happen is about using all those incremental tactics in a strategic way, it’s about building relationships with the right people, it’s about being resourceful and having patience in this process. I’m starting to see the impact and look forward to this continuing to develop.

What does your typical day look like? 

Pre-work day: yoga or a 5-10km jog & meditation plus a healthy, hearty breakfast.

Start the day with writing a blog post or “doing”. I find it easy to lose focus if I start the day consuming reading material. Following that I sort my to-do and priority list and get focused on working. I do this in a co-working space in inner city Sydney. I usually have a meeting or 2 throughout the day to continue building relationships and developing my connections.

HomeWork

In the evening I am most often at an event covering culture, tech, social change or entrepreneurs with some music in between (some weeks I have 3-4 events to choose from every night of the week). I thank my social networks for this access. The Fetch is also a great tool for being up to date on events that are important to me.

What challenges have you faced when starting or growing your business in Australia?

They are right when they say it takes longer than you expect when starting a business. I have found that because the main person I am accountable is me, well, it can be a little confronting. Although it does get tough I wouldn’t have it any other way. Resilience, persistence and patience have been important recent learnings.

Another challenge has been learning the skills to do the backend, the nitty-gritty part of the business. I found it a little hard to access this information at the start although, with the entrepreneurial community that’s emerged both offline and online in the last couple of years, it’s so much easier to find people who know the answers.

What is one idea you are willing to give away for free?

Society is ripe for innovation right now, it doesn’t have to be another pointless piece of junk or group buying site.  Innovations in transport, health, education, community, food, environment. I’m not saying that new products need to be developed from scratch but mechanisms for sharing, for connecting people or for educating on examples such as improving health and food. If it seems too big an idea use the Lean StartUp methodology to really focus your idea, and test whether your market will use it.

What people/companies/organisations do you think are doing really cool stuff in your industry, in Australia at the moment? 

The National Centre of Indigenous Excellence– Changing the dialogue from one of disadvantage to excellence and integrity.

Centre for Australian Progress – interested in a more progressive Australia, when the current political system is not really serving us and powerful vested interests are dominating debate. CAP is a relatively new organisation, from some of the founders of GetUp and it’s dedicated to building the skills and capacity of passionate people and advocacy groups to be heard and to have far-reaching impact.

What about internationally?

Spark* – Australian based, they enable local changemakers in some of the poorest places on the planet.

NESTA– is an independent charity with a mission to help people and organisations bring great ideas to life. They’re also a brilliant repository for ideas, success stories and frameworks, made available for all.

IDEO – At the heart of the user centred, co-design movement, IDEO helps organisations put people at the centre. They also have an amazing open platform for Social Innovation and have made available the Human Centred Design workbooks for people in the poorest areas of the world to have access to.

What role do you think business can play in affecting social change?

Businesses of the future will have the competitive edge when they see social and environmental issues as an opportunity.”

So much. Businesses of the future will incorporate mission and a purpose into their core.

We don’t live in a big wide world anymore, and we are starting to realise that we no longer have unlimited resources nor can we continue unabated growth. We are interconnected, more mindful of our impact, we are also craving more connection, meaning and purpose, especially of business and the products/services they offer.

Businesses of the future will have the competitive edge when they see social and environmental issues as an opportunity.

All of this is an evolution in much the same way software and PC’s evolved from Microsoft to Apple, although it may not happen if the people/society aren’t actively supporting/expecting it.

Name 3 websites you would recommend to our readers?

Fast Co (Design, Exist, Create) GOOD – great resources for ideas enterprises and initiatives both in America and around the world.

New Matilda – progressive media, providing the voices and opinion we don’t hear in mainstream media

and just a reminder of  NESTA – great resource for success stories and frameworks/methodologies

Name 3 Australians we should follow on Twitter? 

@AnitaHeiss

@matt_levinson

@sallyrhill

Are there opportunities for people to get involved with your idea (e.g. are you looking for funding, interns, marketing help)?

We are looking for volunteers to help build this “Participatory” movement much faster. Previous volunteers I worked with found this type of work was a great opportunity to build personal branding, develop skills and to connect with a diverse network of people. Ideaction and the movement is looking for marketers, community advocates, event managers and some admin people. Interns would be great. Enquiries can be left on the contact us form.

Our readers are smart, creative, talented and good-looking. Here’s your chance to ask them anything.

Are you doing something that matters or have you settled for mediocre? I know it’s tough to face your fears but have you or are you letting them shape your life? Are you truly connected to who you are, what your passions are or are you just doing what’s expected?

What’s your favourite bar/café/restaurant?

The Commons. the place I also recommend or take friends to. It has 5 areas including a basement bar.  We classify it as a social enterprise as it sources all it’s produce local and ethically. It’s also behind my co-working spaces.

There are so many nice spots in Sydney now that the bar laws have opened up.  Such an awesome experience to engage in civilised social drinking and some of the small bar owners are getting uber creative down back alleys, special western or asian fit outs and chilled ambience. Love, Tilly DevineShady PinesPocket Bar are some of my favourites.

I’m also loving Corduroy for coffee. In Surry Hills, the milkcrate seating area and concrete pipe garden add to this cafe’s style.

And Yullis is awesome for amazing food. The newly opened upstairs area often has movie nights and Beers and Bard’s, a spoken word poetry night with boutique beers and 3 course vegetarian meal.

What is your favourite song by an Australian artist at the moment? 

Ooh, I now have access to so much good stuff thanks to all the available web apps for accessing music.

So loving Flume and the tune On Top is the most motivational tune to get me going in the morning, or anytime for that matter! “All that I want in this life is the chance to do my thing”  “I want the top”  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9hUV2wNMv4s

We thought it would be cool to crowdsource an annual prize to award to the interviewee’s choice (each person interviewed gets one vote) winner for the year’s best interview. Are you willing to kick in a prize?

A mentoring session (maybe more) on what it takes to start down this journey, of turning your ideas into action. When I embarked on this I knew where I wanted to go but had no idea how to get there. I could find hardly anyone to help, to give me the advice I needed. I now understand it’s because the challenges and growth never stops and it’s hard to allocate time when you are time poor yourself.

Time is a valuable commodity. The advice on the journey is invaluable and was more important to me than any material reward.

Make sure you sign-up to join our amazing community for Australians making ideas happen.

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