“There’s heaps of innovative practice and ideas already, but it hasn’t always gone to scale, or across countries,” says Anna Trahair, who heads up the innovation fund.. “And, at the same time, technology is creating new opportunities. Significantly there are some parts of the population that find it hard to participate in volunteering, but would love to. For example, people with disabilities and professionals who can’t leave their jobs and families for two years.”
Anna Trahair, AVP’s innovation manager (centre, front row) at an idea generation workshop in Mongolia, related to networked volunteering, with partner organisations from across Asia working in inclusive development. Photographer: Teagan Glenane
Innovation in organisations often starts with a particular idea or problem that needs to be solved. Innovation in the Australian Volunteers Program started in a different place, with the budget to design and run an innovation fund that would create the conditions for effective innovation – all the way from idea to program integration.
At the height of the space program, NASA was allocated 4% of GDP and created jobs for half a million people. The resources for the Australian Volunteers Program innovation fund are a bit more modest – they receive funding of approximately 1% of the Program budget, plus a person, Anna. Now, Anna’s time is supplemented by an innovation coordinator (Karla), an innovation partnership with TACSI and a team of 16 Innovation Associates, 10 of which are volunteers spread across 15 countries.
Like NASA and product development processes around the world, a stage-gate process is the central infrastructure for innovation in the Program. It’s designed to make sure that worthy innovations get resources, and to weed out the weak ideas early on, even if they happen to be the pet idea of the innovation fund manager. “I think I’ve had my best ideas killed, and rightly so,” says Anna. “I think all of us have at some point, but that means it is working.”
Diagram: Innovation Pathway for the Australian Volunteers Program.