Emily Dunning: a social innovation journey

Emily Dunning: a social innovation journey

Before embarking on her epic journey of discovery, Emily was Manager of Cambridge Hub which supports student led action.

Emily Dunning
Emily Dunning

I have embarked on a trip that will take me halfway around the world, visiting places along the way and meeting with people innovating towards environmental sustainability. Both my journey and the new Centre for Social Innovation have some common aims to:

  • Mainstream the consideration of social/environmental benefits.
  • Create new ways to bring people together.
  • Increase knowledge and understanding for unlocking peoples’ potential.
  • Support and learn from all the incredible things already happening, and hopefully help them to have even greater positive impact.

Whilst the Centre for Social Innovation will have a much bigger focus on helping to create new initiatives, as well as on education, research and theoretical underpinnings, I am hoping to spread the word about all of the fantastic things already happening, and focus on understanding the practical elements involved.

More fundamentally, one of the main purposes of this trip for me is simply to discover more about that huge swathe of land making up Russia, Mongolia and China; to broaden my understanding and experiences of the people, cities, landscapes and cultures along the way from the UK to Hong Kong and then in Japan and New Zealand; and in particular to discover more about the social innovations being used to encourage citizens in all of these different countries to get involved in tackling environmental issues.

And what on earth inspired this journey in the first place?

Well, it goes back a little way, to when I was at university. After watching An Inconvenient Truth I decided I really had to do more than just learn about climate change, and actually do something about it too. I implemented a number of environmental activities in Cambridge, but I also realised that it has to extend to the way I live my own life. Since then I have always thought about my carbon footprint, and by extension how much I fly, since that is one of the most carbon intensive activities there is on an individual level. I love travelling so doing so overland from the UK towards Australasia became the dream. After eight years I am now turning that dream into reality.

The investigation of environmental sustainability initiatives came into it through a combination of natural curiosity, the desire to improve my own knowledge and understanding of what is happening outside of the UK, a great opportunity to meet people and see things off the tourist trail, and the aim to have positive benefits beyond my own personal development by sharing the social innovations that I find.

So what do I understand by social innovation in the context of this trip?

Well, approaches and actions arising from someone seeing a problem and doing something about it, trying new things, involving other people and developing approaches aimed primarily at tackling social and environmental challenges.

What I am most excited about is the opportunity to meet so many interesting people and hear their perspectives and stories

What I am most scared about…there are a few things!: being bribed in Russia, experiencing hostility, being unable to communicate at certain points, and being put in a cabin with three big burly men on the 31 hour train journey from Ulanbator to Beijing. But I also know that all of the potential difficulties and dangers are a part of the experience, and what will make me a more socially innovative person myself! Watch this space…

Find out more

Visit Emily’s website to find out more about her trip >

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