Introduction by Dan Woods, returned volunteer and DFAT’s innovationXchange staff member
As we celebrate Innovation Month, I am delighted to be able to introduce this edition of the Returned Australian Volunteer Network (RAVN) e-newsletter. I'm a returned volunteer who is currently working at the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade’s (DFAT) innovationXchange, an innovation lab within the Australian aid program that was established to identify, test and scale new solutions to intractable development challenges.
A key part of our work is the effort to build a community of innovators who can connect to solve our biggest challenges, whether it be improving education outcomes for children and youth in emergencies, understanding the workforce of the future, or finding ways to create water from air. This is driven by the understanding that innovation comes from a diversity of personal experience.
I was recently fortunate enough to spend a day working with other returned volunteers at an innovation workshop at the CommBank Innovation Lab. Through experience gained on their volunteer assignments, participants identified specific development challenges and developed innovative business models to address them. The workshop built a design thinking skillset that helped participants deliver on the best idea possible. You might even call it capacity building.
The scope of the ideas on display at the workshop – ranging from an app to assist nomadic herders with livestock management in the Gobi desert to innovative approaches to sustainable food tourism in Timor-Leste – was inspiring and highlighted the diversity of both volunteer assignments, and the people filling them. The spirit of problem solving and of finding new ways to contribute is, I think, central to the volunteer experience. On that note, it was also great to see that two volunteers in the Philippines were selected to participate in the recent Solve-a-thon on youth, skills and the workforce in Manila.
Returned volunteers contribute in many ways, not just in support of international development, but also through the new projects you dive into on your return, and through the network of relationships built with your peers and host organisations. Get along to RAVN events, build these networks, and inspire others to contribute.
It's also an exciting time for returned volunteers wanting to take advantage of opportunities for innovation funding. I encourage you to follow the iXc Twitter account where new opportunities are announced regularly, and to share this email with your networks who may not be on this mailing list.
To those considering applying for a placement, I hope that the stories in this edition of the newsletter – from surfing to plastic surgery – will inspire you to do so.