Innovation. A word that drums up excitement, and thoughts of positive change for the future. The aptly named Social Innovation Summit certainly lived up to this hype again in 2018, offering inspiring stories from organizations across the private, public, and social sectors. Nimrod Elmish from Cardboard Technologies proved that sustainability, social impact, and profitability go hand in hand, creating a new local industry that breathes new life into recycled products. What do they mean by “new life”? Cardboard Technologies uses recycled plastics and cardboard to create bicycles and wheelchairs – at an affordable cost! Deena Shakir from Google Ventures shared the following stat: smartphones are one million times more powerful than NASA’s computing power when we went to the moon in 1969. Imagine the possibilities today!
I could go on about other fantastic presentations – and encourage you to watch them on the Social Innovation Summit Twitter page – but I want to focus instead on what we heard to be the most important inputs to get to this level of innovation. Consider these areas, and how incorporating some of these ways of thinking into your organization can inspire innovative solutions to old problems or challenges.
- Be intentional
We talk about the importance of authentic intent at Blackbaud, and this theme was prevalent at SIS18. Lyft highlighted several successful programs they’ve launched, all aligned with their company mission of providing transportation infused with humanity. Due to the harmony of their CSR efforts with their company culture, they’ve especially seen tremendous engagement from their customers as well as their employees. Another great example came from Katja Zastrow, VP of CSR at Anheuser-Busch. Katja stressed that sustainability is the bottom line at A-B, embedded in the culture of their organization. They have sought out a partnership with a wind farm, and work with River Network to ensure they can lead conservation efforts with local organization as well as larger national partners, among other initiatives. What’s more? A-B ties their bonuses to sustainability metrics.
- Incorporate different perspectives
Gary Bolles from Singularity University said it perfectly: “Only by having a diverse set of problem solvers will you solve the problems of tomorrow.” SurveyMonkey put this idea into action, creating an inclusive atmosphere at their office that celebrates curiosity. As their CEO Zander Lurie highlighted, if they want to represent their 190 million customers, they need to look like them. This connection between diversity and innovation is exhibited on their board of directors as well, incorporating members from a multitude of backgrounds.
- Partner with organizations from across sectors
Anne Emig from Bloomberg Philanthropies works on their Mayor’s Challenge initiative, collaborating with U.S. city leaders on ways to tackle local problems. A key development in the program that is resulting in more successful initiatives? Taking the idea of “prototyping” from the private sector, and applying it to public sector projects. By visualizing and mapping out projects before going into action, cities can identify obstacles earlier and be more efficient in their roll out. Get thinking about partners of yours or other organizations that may have a solution you could utilize for a new approach to an existing problem!
- Recognize who your customers are and what they value
Damien Hooper-Campbell, chief diversity officer at eBay, heavily stressed the importance of the identity of the marketplace, along with that of your workforce and workplace, when considering diversity and inclusion. Awareness of what your customers look like can drive business decisions that solve the needs of your entire market, resulting in not only inclusivity but also demand for your services. An excellent example was the creation of a curated marketplace on eBay in Europe for plus size clothing.
- Get to know Generation Z
Aria Finger, CEO of DoSomething.org, spoke about how almost half of Gen Zers say it’s important for a brand to have social change initiatives. She talked about the power of this generation, and how to best reach this passionate group. For example, did you know social media is not in the top three ways that Generation Z spreads information? Instead, it is talking to friends, sharing at home, or speaking at school. It was apparent as the conference heard from teenage inventor Alexis Lewis and Julia Cordover, student body president at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, that our next generation of the workforce has a fire behind them to be more active and expect more from corporate responsibility.
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