Business Innovation Factory 10th Annual Summit – Transforming Social Systems

Last week, I had the opportunity to attend the Business Innovation Factory (BIF) 10th Annual Summit in Providence, Rhode Island. The conference is a unique gathering of the minds where famous entrepreneurs mix with social change makers and share their stories. These stories help presenters connect with the audience, spark creativity, and “show” instead of “tell” how to have the courage to forge ahead into a future of endless possibilities.

So, what does BIF do? This is taken directly from their words and may help you to understand exactly what I was doing over the past few days: “We work with individuals, organizations, and communities who believe that business model innovation is on the critical path to transforming our most important social systems. We help leaders design and test new business models in the real world.”

BIF is all about innovation, and the model can lead to solutions. There are a few fundamental beliefs within the model that lead to success, and I believe have a direct connection to what we’re doing at Hunger Free Colorado; systems thinking, for example. Instead of coming up with a point solution, the model suggests looking across systems.

Another element of the BIF model is the idea of collaboration or as BIF speaks about it, co-creation, which encourages the engagement of people to not just design for users, but to design with users. Ding, ding, ding! This really resonates with what we’re trying to do with other organizations, government entities, and our customers, with the ultimate goal of ending hunger.

BIF also stresses being rooted in human-centered approaches. In other words, engraining within ourselves the idea that we must truly understand the needs of the people we serve. I feel so lucky that I am able to work on the Hunger Through My Lens project. I get to work with project participants who are the real-life experts, and I get to see the issue of hunger through each of the participant’s unique perspectives, but Hunger Through My Lens is not the only project that strives to understand the people we serve. It is an ideal at the core of our mission, and one of the reasons we’ve found success in increasing access to healthy food.

Finally, the use of storytelling is used by BIF to pull people together to co-create a narrative. The power of the story, creating a will, and moving leaders is at the center of BIF and their annual summit. This also hits pretty close to home with what we believe at Hunger Free Colorado and also resonates with the current tone throughout the anti-hunger movement.

So for two days, I listened. I was let into people’s lives, people’s experiences, and people’s ideas. Some shared stories about their own difficult personal trauma, and how their experiences allowed them to find no problem too overwhelming. Some shared stories about their success in the business or nonprofit world, and how they got there.

There were a few themes that were fundamental throughout the #BIF10 summit. Words like creativity and collaboration were ever present. Suggestions were made like thinking horizontally and disregarding traditional forms of organizational hierarchy to develop lasting solutions.

One presenter and social change maker, John Hagel, Co-Chairman at Deloitte Center for The Edge, talked about stories vs. narratives. He defined a story as being self-contained with a beginning, middle, and end. Whereas a narrative is open ended, as we know something can be and will be achieved, but the exact resolution is unknown. He went on to say that narratives hinge on the audience, because they are also part of the resolution, and Hagel made it very clear that every movement needs a narrative, an opportunity based narrative instead of a threat based narrative. Hagel also discussed what he calls creation spaces. In other words, he made the point that there’s a need to develop platforms to share narratives; to spur action.

While the idea of storytelling is arguably the oldest form of creating human connection, and the notion that every movement needs a collective narrative is nothing new, from time to time we need to step back and examine what our narrative is and what kind of platforms we’ve created.

The narrative isn’t your individual organization’s mission statement or recent statistics about how hunger is impacting your community, but asking yourself, what am I doing to come up with a solution to end hunger? How am I involving people impacted by the issue to help create the narrative? What platforms are out there already for me to involve myself or my organization in? Do we need a new platform? Maybe you see yourself as an audience member of the anti-hunger movement? If so, are you asking yourself, what am I going to do about the problem?

My final takeaways: I’ve been reminded to constantly examine and re-examine what I’m personally doing to end hunger, what I can do better, and I’ve been reminded how important it is to collaborate and build off each other’s ideas.

If you’re interested in more of the conversations and takeaways from the summit, search #BIF10 on social media.


By Lauren Engle, Hunger Through My Lens Project Manager

About Sarah Skeen

Sarah is the Community Voice Advocate for Hunger Free Colorado


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