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Sustainable Business Oregon: It’s time to build a social innovation cluster in Portland
Author: Jacen Greene, PSU Impact Entrepreneurs
Posted: June 26, 2013

Read the original story from Sustainable Business Oregon here.

What if Portland could build a cluster of organizations around not just a certain product or technology, but around an idea?

The Elevating Impact Summit, hosted by Portland State University’s Impact Entrepreneurs at the Gerding Theater on June 21, was an attempt to address this question by bringing together social innovators from diverse backgrounds, industries and sectors.

Social innovation seeks to address society’s problems in ways that are more just, effective, and sustainable than existing solutions. Social innovators work at nonprofits and foundations, in education and business, for government agencies and as elected representatives. They tackle disparate problems — homelessness and unemployment, access to quality healthcare and education, climate change and ecosystems protection — yet they are bound by a common dedication and a shared vision of a more just and resilient world.

The Elevating Impact Summit provided a way for social innovators of all stripes to share their experiences.

The Impact Awards — given to Evan Thomas of PSU, Kazi Huque of Grameen Intel, Orion Falvey of University of Oregon, and John Haines of Mercy Corps NW — showcased the work of entrepreneurs, students, and nonprofit and corporate leaders doing remarkable work. The Pitch Fest gave local entrepreneurs a chance to share their innovative business models with the public, many for the first time. A cash prize and legal support were given to the winner of an audience vote: Consano.org, a medical research crowdfunding site.

Sessions throughout the day showcased the work of journalists covering positive change, organizations funding innovative models, social entrepreneurs tackling re-entry for the formerly incarcerated, new approaches to education, and the challenges faced by startup entrepreneurs. Keynotes from Peace First Founder Eric Dawson and Oregon Secretary of State Kate Brown addressed youth engagement and our state’s new Benefit Company legislation.

It seemed, to some attendees, a grab bag of disparate ideas—but as the event wore on, the connections became clear.

Social entrepreneurs cannot succeed without supportive government policies and a well-educated workforce. Nonprofits need access to skilled staff and funders who understand the most effective models. Educators, journalists and policymakers need our support and engagement to help them create positive change. Across ages and sectors, social innovators striving to create a more just and resilient world can accelerate their learning, amplify their impact, and achieve their full potential only by working together.

We hope that the Elevating Impact Summit will be just one of many events to help social innovators build essential connections and create a cluster of organizations and individuals all contributing to positive change. Such a cluster would be a powerful force in the regional economy, environment, and community.

We must break down the artificial distinctions that keep us from the kind of radical collaboration needed to solve the increasingly interconnected and complex problems we face as a society. In Portland, we have a real opportunity to create a unique cluster not of similar organizations and individuals, but of disparate ones, and, in doing so, elevate all of our impact.