Social Innovation: delivering concrete change

Social innovation has become an increasingly driving trend among innovation experts, professionals and specialists. As companies increase their efforts to bring “people”, whether these are customers, employees, leaders, board members, at the heart of their values, developing innovative projects to lead to a better society is drawing nearer. Social innovation trends as shared on WAI networks cover three major themes: answering to human needs, protecting the environment and creating new sustainable and social models with innovation.

Social initiatives for concrete change

According to bandersson from HDS Community, Social Innovation is “our promise for safer, smarter and healthier societies”. Hitachi Social Innovation solutions are part of the increasing developments using IT and digital to help society live in a better world. As Pierre Nanterme on Le Monde, “the viability of a system directly depends on its diversity. Taken on an economic level, this means a company can only grow on the long term by contributing to the economic, sustainable and human growth of the territories they operate in.” Customers and influencers agree on that point. Consumers are starting using transparency tools to rate most socially responsible brands. As Stephanie Hepburn explains for The Guardian, “experts see transparency tools less as a way to change consumer behaviour than as a way to change the nature of discourse with business.”

social ecosystem
social ecosystem

Because we talk about improving a whole system, companies are not the only ones that need to play a role. On September 21st and 22nd, the city of Valencia in Spain will host the second Social Innovation forum, welcoming entrepreneurs from the entire country to promote and encourage social innovation. One of the projects, La Noria, specifically looks into creating public-private partnerships targeting youth in order to restore a lost confidence into politics and public initiatives in the country. It is indeed important to work on recreating links between communities locked in silos, and to measure the results. About social development measurement, Maitreyi Bordia Das explains for the World Economic Forum that “The Social Progress Index is a simple average of three dimensions of “social progress” – basic human needs, well-being and opportunity.”

Among these social innovations for tomorrow, initiatives are being highlighted to answer today’s social challenges. On his blog Brilliant Idea, Michael mentions “Finnegans (a brewery  in Minneapolis, Minnesota) founder Jacquie Berglund was pitched the idea of a Reverse Food Truck that would collect food rather than dispense it. ” GE Look Ahead describes the New Development Bank created to support infrastructure related projects for BRICS countries. As explained, “With such important timing, their explicit focus on infrastructure will be hard to dissociate from another important global challenge: sustainability.”

Building for the longer term

Social and sustainability are indeed closely linked in human centered innovation initiatives. Sophia Menhelsohn reminds for The Huffington Post that “A company’s charitable initiatives may have an impact, but that doesn’t mean customers don’t also care about other issues that may be harder for a company to address. Reputation, loyalty and transparency are more nuanced and I see companies getting more comfortable with the “risky” issues they once tried to avoid discussing openly.” For his part, Gus O’Donnell from the World Economic Forum asks for more than words, and explains that “Until now, the diplomatic effort to prevent dangerous climate change has focused on coordinating national cuts in greenhouse-gas emissions. But what is needed is more spending, not just more coordination.”

Global, Sustainable, Social
Global, Sustainable, Social

Because discourses are not enough, Red Creactiva lists 8 projects currently being ran in Spain that aim at protecting the environment while developing inclusiveness. And the list gets longer. Morgan Clendaniel has collected 14 initiatives that will change the world in 2015, according the Fast Co-Exist. In her own words, “They range from better treatment of low-wage workers to a guaranteed income for every person; from programmable physical objects to a doctor’s office in your pocket; from design that intentionally makes you uncomfortable to satellite detective agencies.”

Under the multiplicity of challenges and proliferation of ideas to tackle them, specialists remind the need for better organization and strategic focus in social innovation. For humanitarian aid in particular, David Miliband and Ravi Gurumurthy from Foreign Affairs outline how “The sector requires more funding, but it also has to embrace new ways of doing business: more joined together, more evidence-based, more outcome-focused, more hardheaded.” Strategy and Business explains that “companies need to view climate change through the lenses of insurance, risk management, and finance.” From a political point of view, the requirements reach a demanding tone. As Catherine Brahic and Rowan Hooper explain for New Scientist, a court in The Hague has “ordered the Dutch government to cut greenhouse gas emissions by at least 25 per cent by 2020” instead of the initially planned 2°C which the court ruled as an “illegal” objective. As the writers conclude, “A key point (…) is to show that governments already have legal obligations to cut emissions, regardless of the outcome of the UN climate talks.”

Developing new social models

The range of initiatives and partnerships deployed to lead social innovation have enabled new “social models” to emerge. As Ashoka reminds for Virgin Unite, “In the context of shared challenges it is unsurprising that some of the most exciting social innovation is located in the middle space, between business and charity.” In fact, the initiatives are so numerous that we are now able to clearly identify socially engaged companies. As Christopher White and Gerald F Davis found out for HBR, “They adopt a triple-bottom-line strategy that focuses on profits, people, and the planet”. The results are simply beautiful to read. In his article for Entrepreneur, R. Michael Anderson reports the following words of Andrew Hewitt from Game Changer 500: “Doing good has become good business, not only because of changing consumer values but also because good companies are attracting the top talent, particularly millennials who are estimated to make up 75 percent of the global workforce by 2025.”

Good as a Business
Good as a Business

Eric J McNulty from Strategy and Business explains the impact of this new models. “But now, according to a recent report from TrendWatching, an increasing number of brands are willing to undertake the costs necessary to reverse those social ills, and more, without affecting the consumer’s consumption habits. They call it “brand sacrifice.”” Yet Simon Zadek reminds on the World Economic Forum that “The gains could slip away if the moment is not seized. The real question is one of timing, and the irreversible damage that delays could inflict. More than 80% of the 140 countries surveyed in UNEP’s “Inclusive Wealth” report registered a deterioration in their stock of natural capital. The economic damage resulting from environmental degradation is estimated to be roughly $7 trillion a year, much of it irreversible. The longer we wait, the worse our problems will become.”

Anything else ?

We Are Innovation is keen to get the conversation going. You may add your view on comments below. If you’d like to highlight your own ideas and initiatives, you can also follow us on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+ and SlideShare. We spend a lot of time listening to the world talk innovation. Join the discussion!

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