How social knowledge shapes new models

As societies, economies and policies struggle to define models and strategies that efficiently answer challenges faced on a global basis, social innovation led in limited yet impactful initiatives showcase the talents and skills needed to drive intelligent change. By outlining the shortcomings and opportunities identified in our current business, economic and social models, experts call on organizations to be inspired by social innovation and replicate attitudes that can lead to measurable benefits for all. As key players, companies and businesses partner and initiate new programs as a way to better include social impact in their objectives. They are yet to be supported by a political willingness to drastically invest in social changes.

New models

Left with no other choice but to efficiently manage critical issues that are increasing both in number and complexity, social innovation highlights the interconnection between the economic, political, social and business concerns that require a new approach, including better planning. As Michael Collyer reminds for the World Economic Forum;  “The WMR argues that problems of access to services – such as housing, sanitation, education or employment – that result from rural to urban migration, are not inevitable. Rather, they are caused by poor planning. Although all socio-economic classes are reflected in migration to cities, migrants from rural areas are disproportionately poor, and inadequate planning is often a result of a weak political will to support them.”

Some experts argue that new business models participate to develop social oriented strategies. The sharing economy is one example where new approaches to market enable to better understand customer needs and deliver services while optimizing resources. As Eric J McNulty writes for Strategy and Business, “Conceptually, I embrace the sharing economy wholeheartedly. I like to see more efficient use of resources, individual initiative rewarded, and innovation that makes our lives easier. Sharing can help build community.”

Society, economy and politics are in search of new models. Courrier International explains how ““For the vast majority, they are white, wealthy, old and male individuals, in a nation constantly reshaped by youth, women, Black American and Hispano-American votes.” “They” are those that represent the 158 American families which, on their own, provide almost half of donations to fund the race to the White House, as a report from the New York Times reveals.”

Our societies indeed need structural change. The ability to renew our skills and learn to better adapt is dependent on the change policies we develop, including in the higher education area. In an interview for Jean François Fiorina, François Garçon explains how “This issue in endemic. Name one of this planet’s newspaper such as Les Echos which, each and every day, informs us that if another seventy years old senior director moves from Marketing at Total to Human Resources at Thalès (that must exist somewhere!) that is because he is a former HEC or ESSEC student. (…) This information seems more important than the rest. These academic charms are pathetic, just as the decorations hanging on North Korean dictator’s jacket.”

Business and organization now evolve in complex matrixes where they understand economic, political and social issues are influencing the decisions they make. They therefore react accordingly, deploying efforts where possible to contribute to saving lives. As Theo Priestley explains for Forbes, ““The refugee crisis is incredibly urgent in terms of the number of vulnerable people being affected every single day. As a band we wanted to get involved and decided to partner with SAP and Apple AAPL -0.88% to try and make a difference,” said Dan Reynolds, lead singer of Imagine Dragons.”

By outlining the benefits and risks linked to a now aging capitalism, experts enable to better scope changes that need to occur in the economic sphere, and where social innovation could contribute. As The Economist reminds, “pro-capitalists should also remember two things. The first is that most people do not distinguish between good and bad capitalism: they see a world in which the winners are unleashing a tide of uncertainty while reserving themselves luxury berths on the lifeboats. The second is that the forces sweeping through the capitalist economy are also sweeping through politics: the old party machines are imploding, and political entrepreneurs have the wherewithal to take over old parties or to build new ones. Anti-capitalism is once more a force to be reckoned with.”

Social knowledge

In parallel, experts outline the necessity to engage workforce not only for talent and productivity, but also for purpose. Ben Schiller from Fast CoExist explains how both individuals and organizations benefit from a purpose-oriented workforce. As he writes, “Despite a greater prevalence of “purpose-oriented” people in certain professions, the report argues that anyone can be purposeful. Purpose “is a trait not a state”—something people carry with them from job to job and “the core of who they are,” say the authors. ”

Social innovation also provides expertise and know-how to develop social oriented projects within companies. As such, social innovators are seen as a key enabler of change, and are critically needed in specific sectors such as urban development. This is what Elizabeth Rapoport explains for Policy innovations  “As the market for sustainability becomes global so does the market for the global intelligence corps. Practitioners with experience working on sustainable urban development projects are in demand. Their clients, usually city officials and property developers, often believe that when it comes to sustainable approaches, local expertise is lacking.”

To better drive change that affects multiple areas, combining expertise in partnerships is seen as a necessary option. As Tynesia Boyea-Robinson reminds for SSIR, “Yet for many nonprofits, local partnerships with businesses are a challenge. If the nonprofit and philanthropic sectors could find ways to collaborate with private businesses more effectively, imagine the potential for quickly scaling solutions that tangibly improve the lives of low-income people.”

Social innovation requires political willingness in order to reach its optimized level of impact. Neil Reider underscores the need for further political support to better drive impact investments and business strategies that align with social and environmental goals. As he explains in his article for SSIR, “In short, without an increase in resources for the development of impact measurement, investors will continue to under-rate the achievements of programs that take a more holistic view of social and environmental improvement. Despite much effort, there’s still a long way to go if impact investing is to measure and promote what truly counts.”

In order to turn profitable businesses into socially profitable businesses, young entrepreneurs come up with new ideas and values that can help further develop social innovation. In his article for the Financial Times, Stephen Foley reminds that “Young entrepreneurs often have a social mission as well as a profit motive, and more companies are set up explicitly to pursue a “double bottom line”. Non-profits are experimenting with sustainable financing models that are opening up investment opportunities such as social impact bonds.”

New energies and skills are developed to further enhance social innovation impact. Among them, the ability to build at scales that accelerate change. In their article for the MIT Sloan Review, Urs Jäger and Vijay Sathe describe how “Like social entrepreneurs, social scalers focus on market-based solutions that do not consume the scarce resources of donors and government agencies. But social scalers are able to go well beyond the social impact normally achieved by social entrepreneurs, even in regions of the world characterized by weak institutions and nonfunctioning markets.”

Innovation experts also question the place of technology in our daily lives and the role they play in solving global issues. Jan Alexander from Strategy and Business met Kentaro Toyama, University of Michigan professor, to discuss this topic. As he writes, “Toyama calls himself a “recovering technoholic” who once believed technology was the answer to almost every problem in the world. Now he is trying to spread the word that the more technology we have at our disposal, the more we need human skills, both to solve problems and to use all this technology effectively.”

Technology developed in a civic way can indeed generate change in our societies. This is what Stacy Donohue explains for TechCrunch: “Civic tech entrepreneurs look at pain points as fuel for change. In fact, some of the best civic tech businesses have been born out of the challenges their founders faced.”


Partnerships and Inclusiveness

In Europe, policies try to counterbalance social inequities by outlining key changes that have occurred in society and should be reflected in our decision bodies. As a way to encourage gender equality in businesses and companies, the European Commission reminds that “Today, 60% of university graduates in the EU are women”.

More generally, experts and analysts seek to better define innovation and change by including social impact. As Gianpiero Pietriglieri writes in his article for HBR, “Technology can only be called revolutionary if it changes the way power is experienced, understood and distributed. And even then, the question remains open as to who benefits from that redistribution and what they do next.”



In order to optimize social impact, communication is encouraged in organizations driving change. Beyond reaching a wider audience, it allows social innovation to keep opening conversation with other experts and stakeholders, potentially multiplying social innovation potential. As Salisha Chandra and Jessie Davie explain for SSIR,  “strengthening an organization’s communications (and paying closer attention to potential supporters in the process) doesn’t have to break the bank; nor does it have to take away from programmatic focus or compromise an organization’s values. Instead, new technology—such as free social media platforms, myriad affordable online digital editing software, and do-it-yourself websites—are helping level the playing field in a way that didn’t seem possible a decade ago.”


By connecting to external views and expertise, social innovation benefits from a community led effort that drives change in a both efficient and intelligent way. In their article for SSIR, Eric Heitz and Barbara Wagner outline how “From the start, a network approach made sense. We needed innovation to design new multi-family efficiency policies. We needed to collaborate with building-energy experts, housing practitioners, tenant advocates, and community-based organizations focused on economic development. And we needed a mechanism to go into a dozen states, and work with utilities and utility regulators to launch and broadly apply these programs. Our organizations decided to support two new networks and set a target to secure $170 million in new utility investments in energy efficiency over four years (2014-2017). ”


Social innovation is also paving the way to more crucial partnerships that include both private and public sectors. This link between political, economic and social bodies enable to better scope and drive change in societies. As Duncan Maru reminds for SSIR, “What’s more, there is a way for governments to prepare more fully for unexpected disasters, and also improve their work when they are not in crisis mode. One solution lies in strong public-private partnerships (PPPs)—in which various government organizations come together with private businesses and nonprofits toward a common goal.”


Organizations also need to reconsider their performance evaluation tools to better drive change. Aligning these metrics and indicators to their core social objectives is one of the examples that Sarah Keller outlines in her article for  Fast Company. As she explains, “Meighan Stone, president of the Malala Fund, said because the organization works to secure girls’ right to an education, the question it uses to evaluate itself is the same as any parent uses to assess their own children’s education: “What are you learning?””

Collaboration between governments and privately owned businesses also enables to develop inclusiveness. Marjorie Kelly from SSIR explains how “At a time when wages have been stagnant for 80 percent of Americans for 30 years, and when African-Americans and Latinos are more than twice as likely to live in poverty as non-Latino whites, a growing number of municipal leaders and economic development professionals are joining efforts by nonprofits, foundations, and community groups to champion a more collaborative approach to creating thriving, inclusive communities.”

Partnerships are needed to get as many voices as possible into critical discussions. Varying viewpoints enables social innovation to better manage risks inherent to change. In an article for SSIR, Sheri Brady writes: “To achieve equity, all perspectives and voices must be able to enter into the conversation in full voice—they must have power and agency to impact solutions. Otherwise, we run the risk of what author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie calls “The Danger of a Single Story”—the danger of believing that a single story represents the experiences of an entire group of people. ”

Businesses and organizations are starting to realize the short term financial benefits of social innovation. Not only does it build a better society in the long term, deliver efficiency benefits in the mid term, but it also answers customer concerns in the short term. As Norbert Bol outlines, “Nowadays, many companies engage in social causes that are aligned with the social concerns of their customers. In the Strategy Blog “Business sustainability and cost of equity” it was shown that social sustainability has a more indirect effect to business performance.”

Although aging, legacy models are leaving enough space for experts and analyst to question the validity of known approaches to social, economic and political issues. This questioning is now followed-up by tangible example and recommendations to associate public and private interests into socially driven projects, from scoping requirements to financing change. Businesses and organizations are now fully able to hire, develop and sustain social ambitions as a way to develop responsible growth while improving their impact on society and the environment. 











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