What is Symbiotic Innovation?

‘The root causes of the social challenges we face lay in our lack of understanding of how important we are to each other. If we can create environments where communities and their members can unite to each share their unique human value in solving their shared social challenges, adversity can become our advantage. We can become our own teachers and learn the vital lesson of interdependence. Only through this can we begin to undermine the very foundations of conflict and disadvantage.  Symbiotic Innovation is the model that creates these environments.

                                                                                                                           – Gavin Ackerly, Founder of the Symbiotic Innovation model

Symbiotic Innovation (SI) is a model of 8 Principles that is used to create social environments of interdependence and innovation for communities and their members. Its focus is on ‘what works in practice’ when it comes to communities.

SI is not a prescriptive model but an easy to use guide for those working to connect communities and individuals around social challenges. It is not a competitor to other community led approaches such as the Promitore model or Asset Based Community Development – but adds to these bodies of work.

The approach was initially founded and developed by Gavin Ackerly in his work with refugees and asylum seekers at the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre in Melbourne, Australia. Ackerly later travelled to 9 countries across Africa, Europe and America as part of a Churchill Fellowship to study best practice in community led innovation. This led to further breakthroughs in the SI approach which were documented in Ackerly’s most recent work, Humanitarian Symbiotic Innovation.

In 2015, the Symbiotic Innovation model became the subject of a Oxford University’s Refugee Studies Centre research project. The result was the paper Humanitarian Innovation in Practice – A Symbiotic Approach by Bloom and Faulkner, which concluded: Symbiotic Innovation ‘has the potential to revolutionise humanitarian assistance worldwide.’

SI has been used in welfare and education settings through to community development projects. Community Four continues to deliver and develop its Symbiotic Innovation projects with refugee communities in Australia and abroad.

communityfour_symlab AGENCY EMERGING COMMUNITY TRADITIONAL AGENCY CENTRIC APPROACH community4-family-icon-01 community4-arrow-icon-01 Agency assumes role of helper Challenge is connected to person Social environment is largely ignored SI-1-line1

c4-transparent-bg HOST COMMUNITY COMMUNITY FOUR'S SYMBIOTIC INNOVATION APPROACH community4-arrow-icon-01 Challenge is seen as a community-wide challenge and separated from the individual Supportive social environment relevant to the individual is developed EMERGING COMMUNITY COMMUNITY FOUR community4-family-icon-01 Community Four is invited to act as a connector to unite diverse communities around the challenge More established communities play long-term role in the solution SI-1-line1 SI-1-line1

SI is based on the understanding that human beings build strong connections and bonds when they are faced with shared challenges and recognize that they have a shared purpose. For example, consider the way humanity unites quickly and organically when faced with events such as natural disasters. Shared challenges such as these create a catalyst for ‘value exchange’ between individuals, as they are encouraged to work together to find mutually beneficial solutions. Studies show community interdependence continues to thrive long after these challenging events have passed. SI builds from this type of community bonding and uses shared challenges to build interdependence across diverse communities. In essence, the SI approach focuses on the following:

  • Addressing the environmental aspects of disadvantage within communities
  • Working through community to deliver relevant and effective social impact for their members
  • Working with the community to develop and facilitate solutions that are community based, as well as relevant and meaningful to the experience of the members within the community
  • Connecting communities with more established ‘host’ communities, to work together for mutual benefit
  • Opening pathways for value exchange between individuals and diverse communities and
  • encouraging ongoing relationships we term: Integrated Social Response Frameworks
  • Creating the often-missing link between social capital and social cohesion

Further Resources

Additional reading and resources can be found here.