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Social Futures

Lismore, New South Wales

Social justice organisation Social Futures used a CommBank Design Jam to test their idea for a children’s mobile mental health service. See how learning and using design thinking ideas helped them make future plans.

Social Futures is a voice for positive social change in regional Australia, helping to create connected, resilient communities. Based in Northern NSW, Social Futures delivers services across 80 per cent of the state. Each year its team of 260 people works with over 20,000 clients.

Social Futures is one of the regional leaders and brings strength and innovation to the individual and sectors they work with. Social Futures key areas of focus are youth, children and families, mental health and wellbeing, homelessness, disability and inclusion.

Their Senior Manager Business and Social Strategy Sam Henderson says the organisation’s vision is both broad and clear: it wants to lead positive change in regional communities.

“The list of services we offer is always growing and changing but ultimately it is about inclusion, fairness and social justice. We have more than 40 years’ experience as a regional leader, advocating for the communities we work in.”

Funding equals freedom

Organisations like Social Futures do critical work in communities, but funding is always a challenge. Government funding can morph or end completely, and they sometimes come with parameters which make it difficult to tailor programs to local needs.

“We’ve been working hard to reduce our reliance on government funding,” Sam says. “By finding new ways to generate revenue we create the opportunity to develop new kinds of programs and plan longer term.”

New thinking for non-profits

One of Social Future’s big focuses is on using technology to demonstrate the impact of programs, which Sam says is crucial information that is generally not easily accessed across the NFP sector.

“Non-profits need to show the impact of their work. Not just how many people have been through their programs or how many sessions they have run, but how they are changing lives. This is the data that shows the value of programs and it’s also what convinces partners to provide funding."

“We’re really investing in technology to help us measure that impact. To measure it we need a consistent approach to data and a client management system that lets us access the information we need.”

Social Futures is also committed to promoting the value of a ‘lived experience’ workforce. Sam explains, for example, that there is value in homeless services providers employing people who have experienced homelessness. “It’s an idea that is beginning to get traction but there is a way to go and we’re looking to scale that.”

More recently, Social Futures decided to take some of its services direct to its clients with a mobile unit, and CommBank was on hand to help the team turn ideas into reality.

Two teams from Social Futures have been through the CommBank Design Jam workshop, and the experience has helped them refine their plans, challenge each other to be more creative, and seek out different perspectives.

“We went into a Design Jam with a concept for a children’s mobile mental health service, and the workshop gave us a lot of tools to firstly open ourselves to suggestions and then really narrow our focus on what was achievable. It taught us to challenge each other’s ideas and explore new directions,” Sam says.

“We used lots of techniques to get us thinking quickly, from standing up, or putting on music, and what it added up to was a much clearer direction, and for this particular project it showed us that we needed to bring in experts and do some more work on our tender development.”

Social Futures is now integrating design thinking into other projects and training others across the organisation how to use the techniques in other areas of innovation.

A bank that is more than a bank

Social Futures looks to experts in a range of fields to help it start and refine programs and get new ideas off the ground, and Sam says CommBank has been instrumental not just in funding new projects but in supporting the organisation understand industry trends and innovate with new projects.

“Our banker knows us well and has the resources of the bank available to call on. CommBank brings a lot of corporate, knowledge, skill and expertise to our relationship."