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STRONGER TOGETHER: The power of why

Last updated: 02/08/2023

"STRONGER TOGETHER" is a weekly column where Tanya explores key issues. This week Tanya discusses the power of 'The 5 Whys'.

By IMPACT Community Services Managing Director Tanya O'Shea

Tanya O'Shea, IMPACT Community Services Managing Director

This week has been a profound journey into the realm of social innovation, as I had the privilege of sharing my insights at CQUniversity's Lunch and Learn event. As the managing director of IMPACT Community Services, I've witnessed firsthand the incredible power that lies within innovative thinking. In a world that is in a perpetual state of change, embracing the status quo is no longer a viable option.

During my presentation, I introduced the concept of "The 5 Whys," a problem-solving technique that involves asking "why" repeatedly to get to the root cause of an issue, helping us understand the true reasons behind it and find effective solutions.

Take the case of IMPACT's own social enterprise, New iMAGE Laundry, which began as a means to fill a funding gap. At first glance, it appeared to be a straightforward solution. However, when we applied "The 5 Whys" formula, we unearthed something much more significant - the pursuit of autonomy from funding bodies and the creation of employment opportunities for locals facing mental health challenges and disabilities.

By asking "why" repeatedly, we delved deeper into the heart of the issue, exploring its root causes and understanding the broader implications. This discovery prompted a paradigm shift, elevating the purpose of New iMAGE Laundry to new heights, and transforming it into a force of social innovation, empowerment and inclusivity.

But the power of "The 5 Whys" is not limited to those in positions of leadership or authority. It is a tool that can be wielded by anyone, in any setting. Take, for instance, the Solar Cow program, which tackles the issue of child labour in third world countries. On the surface, it sought to incentivise parents to send their children to school by allowing them to charge electronic devices there instead of walking long distances to charge them for their parents.

Yet, as the program implemented "The 5 Whys," it unravelled a more profound revelation - the root cause of children not attending school wasn't solely a matter of charging devices, but rather a complex interplay of socio-economic factors, cultural norms, and educational barriers. This realisation paved the way for a comprehensive approach, addressing the broader issue and creating lasting change.

The power of social innovation lies not in settling for quick fixes but in relentlessly questioning and digging deeper. "The 5 Whys" serve as a compass, guiding us to the heart of challenges and illuminating the path to solutions.

Knowing your true why is essential to drive change, and social innovation and change are intricately interconnected. While some may argue that I don’t deal with change (I’ve been at IMPACT since 1999), the reality is quite the opposite. Since joining IMPACT in 1999, I have witnessed and actively participated in a multitude of transformative events. Within six months of my start, IMPACT experienced a major contract loss, leading to a significant downsizing from over 60 staff members to just 20. This challenging period required us to innovate and find new ways to deliver our services effectively. The journey didn't stop there; we faced further upheaval when the devastating 2013 flood hit the region, leaving us with the daunting task of rebuilding both our organisation and the community we served. Throughout these years, change has been a constant companion, reminding us that adaptability and openness to innovation are essential qualities in making a lasting impact.

Recognising the interplay between knowing our why, social innovation and change has been an important lesson. I have come to understand that social innovation doesn't merely involve developing novel ideas and initiatives; it also demands the ability to embrace change and navigate through uncertainty.

Please note: This website may contain references to, or feature images, videos, and voices of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples who have passed away.

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