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Innovate to make the world a better place

During the first day of the Boston Innovation Festival, I attended several sessions in the “Disrupting Business as Usual” track. While I found all the sessions engaging and informative, I was most inspired by the session titled Managing Moonshots: How to Lead Large Organizations so They Reach Their Most Audacious Goals. Cutting the burden of depression in half by 2050, making Los Angeles 100% sustainable by 2050; creating a healthier, sustainable, equitable global food system by 2050. These are truly altruistic and audacious goals.

Mark Bunger of InnovationLab introduced and moderated a discussion with Michelle Popowitz, the Assistant Vice Chancellor for Research & Co-Founder/Executive Director of UCLA Grand Challenges, and Sara Eckhouse, Executive Director of FoodShot Global. Both Michelle and Sara talked about what it means to embrace a global challenge. They talked about how the challenges were defined and the ongoing evolution of process and partnerships.

At UCLA, the challenges were defined by engaging individuals within the university before announcing the challenges and responding to multiple requests from external groups and corporations, eager to participate, who offered expertise and resources. While the level of interest was welcome, Michelle talked about the challenges when engaging partners after the challenge is defined.

At FoodShot, the partners have been collaborators from the beginning, helping to define the annual challenge and engaging an innovation network with the goal of transformational impact rather than a quick return on investment.

While almost everything about the two organizations is different – UCLA is a large, well-established institution with deep resources and expertise and FoodShot is a new, nimble, start-up, both Michelle and Sara shared the understanding that addressing these audacious goals means embracing new ways of building partnerships and networks and that the challenges they encounter often require new models, new structures and breaking down barriers.

Leaving the session, I had the opportunity to chat with Mark Bunger. We talked about the need to gain mind-share and visibility for these and other “moonshot” visionary projects. As the networks and partnerships to support these grand goals grow and the necessarily messy process of innovation and iteration happens, how do we ensure that the clarity of the vision remains? How do we build global support at all levels? How do we brand science and innovation as catalysts for change?

Grand goals, grand visions. Check out http://www.foodshot.org/ and https://grandchallenges.ucla.edu/ to learn more.

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