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Social Innovation: Reimagining Professional Priorities in Today’s Day and Age

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From TikTok to the #MeToo movement to a global pandemic, connectivity around the globe is changing public opinion more quickly than ever before. 

Gone are the days where consumers mindlessly selected products off the shelf. Companies in the modern era are either being boycotted and “cancelled” or supported and uplifted by public opinion, all based on their overall actions (or lackthereof) towards social issues.

Social innovation is becoming an essential piece of any company’s long-term strategy in order to maintain market relevance and longevity.

social innovation

What is Social Innovation?

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) defines social innovation as, “The design and implementation of new solutions that imply conceptual, process, product, or organisational change, which ultimately aim to improve the welfare and wellbeing of individuals and communities.” 

Social innovation covers a wide array of activities implemented by companies to address socio-economic issues, ranging from climate change to education, healthcare and social injustice. The term encompasses a vast array of initiatives, ranging from strategic philanthropy and activism to urban development and open sourcing.

Social innovation within an organization is often spearheaded by “social intrapreneurship”, a term used to define employee involvement in a company’s corporate social responsibility initiative (also referred to as CSR). 

Oftentimes, social intrapreneurs within a company are the first to start innovation projects, which then go on to make a significant impact after gaining the support of the company as a whole. Companies working to fulfil their CSR goals through social intrapreneurs is what leads to meaningful social innovation.

Examples of Social Innovation Strategies

There are many instances in which companies have implemented strong CSR goals. 

For instance, IBM established the IBM Corporate Service Corps, a volunteer initiative that for more than ten years has given employees the opportunity to use their professional skills to help communities tackle social issues around the world. 

Coca Cola Brasil launched its Coletivo initiative back in 2009, partnering with local NGOs training youth in business development, retail sales, and entrepreneurship strategies. They then match participants with local retailers to address and overcome specific business challenges. In the end, 30% of graduates begin employment within four months of finishing the program, graduates reported a 20% increase in their self-esteem, and families where a Coletivo graduate was employed saw a 40% average income increase. 

BNP Paribas Group also announced in 2017 that it will no longer do business with companies whose principal business activity is the exploration, production, distribution, marketing or trading of oil and gas from shale and/or oil from tar sands. Their goals is mke policy changes in like with the International Energy Agency (IEA) scenario, which aims to keep global warming below 2°C by the end of the century.


Why Invest in Social Innovation?

Social innovation is vital for long-term success of a company or corporation in the 21st century. 

Social media has an enormous influence on brand image, and both customers and clients are putting increasing pressure on companies to go above and beyond offering products and services to make active change. 

Companies who don’t commit to social innovation — or who actively work against it — risk severely diminishing their brand and losing revenue. 

Beyond brand reputation, the global economy is creating an ever-increasing scarcity of resources as companies expand, streamline, and compete for limited materials. Coming up with creative solutions both prevents resource exploitation and creates long-term sustainable solutions for companies themselves. 

Employees increasingly consider social responsibility as having a direct correlation with their professional fulfilment. Millennials are set to make up 75% of the workforce by 2025. A Cone Communications Millennial Employee Study from 2016 found that 64% of millennials would refuse to accept a job if the company did not maintain a strong CSR policy, while 83% would consider themselves more loyal to a company that helps them contribute to social and environmental issues. 

It is clear that in order to retain high-level talent, employers must offer strong social innovation initiatives and CSR policies.


Fostering Social Intrapreneurship Within an Organization

There are several things that a company can do to encourage social innovation within its current workforce, and to attract employees with a propensity to do so:

  • Clearly define both a company’s fiscal and social missions, values and objectives
  • Communicate openly with current employees about CSR goals and opportunities
  • Create an employee development plan that allows staff members to pursue personal initiatives in line with the company’s mission and values
  • Encourage management to actively and openly embrace social intrapreneurship and social innovation initiatives


Today’s Social Innovation Experts

Today’s professionals care more than ever before about the impact they are making on the world, and their education proves. 

Universities are integrating social innovation into their curricula in order to satisfy this demand. 

For example, EDHEC’s MSc in Entrepreneurship & Innovation prepares professionals to confront a new dynamic workforce which emphasizes both business success and social development. Students graduate prepared to implement creative and dynamic innovation strategies.


Social Innovation: The Path forward

Ultimately, social innovation is the clear path towards building business sustainability. In a world where information is easily found with a quick Google search, consumers and employees alike are calling for transparency and accountability from companies. 

Employees are imperative to the success of social innovation initiatives. Social intrapreneurs act as leaders of, and often instigate themselves, many initiatives that satisfy CSR objectives. Social innovation enterprises are the best way to balance social impact with profit, and to ensure the satisfaction of employees, consumers, and ultimately the company itself.