Experiencing social innovation in action is definitely an experience of a lifetime. Our world is continually faced with new and existing issues, the complexity of which has an immediate effect on the way societies, communities, citizens, businesses and corporations interact with one another and their natural environment. Enter Corporate Social Innovation (CSI) as the apparent next thing in social innovation, driven by the need to forge new types of relationships. Creating shared value is certainly nothing new, yet the growing interest in the field is focused on the new approaches that corporations can take in a bid to move towards a resolution to our long-lasting wicked problems. Here, we shine a light on eight notable examples of CSI worth considering in your business. Stay put!
In 2011, Michael E. Porter and Mark R. Kramer published an article on the benefits of creating shared value. Businesses are perceived to flourish through their engagement with the broader community, which actually leads to a win–win situation for both. As such, the former earn a profit through their social impact strategies, while the latter engages with a great variety of stakeholders to meet and tackle pressing issues. Ben & Jerry’s is a remarkable example of a corporation that has created a transparent environment of engagement and accountability. The company is a Certified B Corporation (a business that meets the highest standards of verified social and environmental performance) and has a long-standing reputation for being socially responsible. Ben & Jerry’s has partnered with Fairtrade to ensure that all people included in the production of the goods, from small-scale farmers to workers, prosper in conjunction with the business. Today’s world is an ultra-competitive marketplace and by creating shared value, everyone gets a fair share. Two scoops with a topping of fairness and equality, please!
It is no secret that some of the world’s most successful corporations have scaled through collaborations. Partnerships can be seen as windows to new technological innovations or developments in similar and different industries and provide new insights and approaches to move forward. What if you could build a sustainable business through collaboration with others, strengthening the ‘ecosystem’ and innovating for good? Danone is moving business into uncharted waters with its co-creation initiatives. It has created the Danone Ecosystem Fund and implements innovative business models that generate social and environmental value in a sustainable way. Danone is committed to co-creation practices and mentions that ‘for each project we support, we seek to partner with locally-relevant actors with complementary expertise and a common vision. Depending on the context, these can be NGOs, local governments, academics, or for-profit companies.’ The promotion of an open source knowledge can be transformative for the company. Strategic partnerships can be viewed as examples of corporate social innovation that are essential to firms and demonstrate their ability to decodify and adapt the business environment.
What do corporate social innovation strategies look like? A company identifies key areas of social impact that will fit with its core mission, vision, strategy, services or operations. Then, it makes a commitment to deliver what it has promised, allocates its resources to the individual areas in order to achieve the milestones it has set and connects with a variety of stakeholders to accelerate the pace of change. In truth, there are tonnes of companies out there that make use of both financial and human resources to bring about greater change. Xerox is an outstanding example of a company that satisfies employees’ need to achieve meaning and purpose from their work. The company runs a ‘Community Involvement Program’ that encourages employees to get involved in voluntary activities. From the Xerox Science Consultant Program, which sends employees to teach science in elementary schools, to the company’s lawyers that provide pro-bono consultation to non-profits, the company has supported a plethora of great causes. Since the scheme’s launch, more than 500,000 Xerox employees have been involved in regional community-focused projects. Reimagining societal transformation through employee engagement is happening right now!
All global businesses and technology trends are avowedly pointing in the same direction. There is a clear need for more innovative systems of governance and management of innovation capable of creating or reinforcing a firm’s competitive advantage, along with promoting a more sustainable future in terms of finance and community. The shift from corporate social responsibility to corporate social innovation seems to be the new management imperative. Transforming the boundaries of our societies demands a new role for business in the world. It is crucial to create a more inclusive business environment to help steer innovative governance and promote a shift from top-down to bottom-up management. Disney is a notable example of a business that invests in corporate social initiatives. From the community to the environment, embracing voluntarism along the way, the company is committed to protecting the environment. The Disney Conservation Fund ‘carries forward a commitment to sustainability through focused grants that leverage innovation and collaboration and storytelling to protect and restore natural resources and habitats in areas important to our business.’
Resourcefulness can be understood as the capacity of a community to engage with their local resource base. In today’s world, the ability to be resourceful is a sought-after skill that companies and employers try hard to develop. But what exactly does it mean? According to Social Innovation Academy, learning to be resourceful means ‘being flexible, creative, brave, effective and thinking outside the box, all at once.’ By adopting and implementing a corporate social innovation strategy, firms have the potential to seize the benefits of resourcefulness and at the same time innovate for good. Google is known for its corporate efforts to use resources more efficiently. The corporation notes that ‘the path to a cleaner, healthier future begins with the small decisions we make each day. That’s why we’re committed to making smart use of the Earth’s resources, and creating products with the planet in mind. We constantly look for ways to be even more responsible in our use of energy, water, and other natural resources—and to empower others to do the same.’ Intuitively, learning to be resourceful can help you reduce costs and invest in other development areas of your business. If you want to learn how to acquire this skill, click here to discover the way!
Product & Service Innovation
In the modern world, people and governments, institutions, firms and corporations are trying to come up with solutions to address societal issues that include social injustice, unemployment, climate change, poverty and many more. Companies and corporations should see these issues as opportunities for innovation and not challenges. Corporate Social Innovation refers to a product innovation with a social purpose. Having a long-term corporate vision can help you sort your business priorities into a hierarchical order and redesign or substantially improve your company’s product or service. A fantastic example of a business that saw a social issue as such an opportunity is Unilever, which innovated towards a more sustainable living. Unilever has set out a Sustainable Living Plan and aspires to change the way people do business. Insightfully, the company mentions that ‘the Unilever Sustainable Living Plan sets out to decouple our growth from our environmental footprint, while increasing our positive social impact. Our Plan has three big goals to achieve, underpinned by nine commitments and targets spanning our social, environmental and economic performance across the value chain. We will continue to work with others to focus on those areas where we can drive the biggest change and support the UN Sustainable Development Goals.’ The company’s goals are to improve health and well-being for more than 1 billion people, reduce environmental impact by half and enhance livelihoods for millions and here are its 9 other commitments. Feeling inspired? Next time a challenge arises, why not think about how your product, service, idea or concept could help to resolve a social issue?
In case you were wondering what corporate citizenship means, let’s have a look at Investopedia. According to this online ‘bible’ for investors, ‘corporate citizenship refers to a company’s responsibilities toward society. The goal is to produce higher standards of living and quality of life for the communities that surround them and still maintain profitability for stakeholders. The demand for socially responsible corporations continues to grow, encouraging investors, consumers and employees to use their individual power to negatively affect companies that do not share their values.’ However, being a good corporate citizen doesn’t necessarily imply an act of voluntarism or the model of philanthropy. Target is a profound example of what such a strategy entails. The company is devoted to generating local and environmental support for the communities in which it operates. For more than 25 years, Target has connected with public safety agencies through their programme to ‘build relationships and promote efforts that enhance neighborhood safety.’ Interested in learning more about Target’s social responsibility initiatives? Then simply click here.
What if integrating a corporate social innovation strategy to deliver societal impact and sticking to it could seriously impact on your company’s turnover? Raising awareness of your initiatives while innovating for good has the potential to generate unexpected benefits. People tend to pay attention to the way brands communicate their services and products with their customers. Having a brand that is socially conscious towards the environment could potentially lead to better sales, an increased share price, less financial risk, and so the list goes on. Integrating sustainability into a company’s operations can reimburse you for being socially active. Aspiration is one such example of where spending money is seen as a highly conscious act. In a nutshell, Aspiration is a Certified B Corporation online bank that rewards socially conscious savers. Wait, what, how? The company pays cash back rewards to clients that shop at businesses with a conscience and helps them track the impact of their spending on people and the planet. Cultivating a reputation for being socially responsible can certainly affect your brand value. Just take my money already!
Learn more at Social Innovation Academy
Why Social Innovation Academy? Social innovation is increasingly being perceived as the answer to the rising number of European societal challenges. While the European authorities, leading academics, policy experts, business people and activists agree that social innovation is the key to a better future, it is extremely difficult for professionals to obtain high-quality training on what social innovation offers and, more importantly, how it can be done in practice.
Social Innovation Academy aims to change this situation in Europe and beyond. If you’re interested in keeping up with the project, you can subscribe to our newsletter, become one of our Friends, apply to become a member of our Global Advisory Board or follow us on social media (LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook). We welcome all requests for collaboration here!