During the last few years, evidence has shown that citizens are increasingly transferring responsibility for social needs towards companies. People want them to solve real problems and contribute to building a better world.
For many corporations, demonstrating their sensitivity and commitment to taking on some of the biggest challenges facing societies has been funneled through Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR). However, many of these CSR programs are becoming irrelevant and obsolete as corporations fail to prove the ethical stature that citizens demand today.
In order to meet these new expectations, companies are compelled to transcend the traditional paradigm of Corporate Social Responsibility and show a broader vision in their value-creating strategy.
WHAT MAKES CORPORATE SOCIAL INNOVATION DIFFERENT?
The key resides in redefining social commitment through the creation of shared value. In other words, the company must be able to generate economic value in a way that also produces value for society by responding to its main challenges. Unlike many of the CSR programs (which normally run in parallel with the commercial and production processes), this approach implies that social and human value be directly integrated into the core business processes of the company. According to the Social Innovation Exchange,
"Corporate social innovation (CSI) describes corporations who integrate social innovation into their corporate activities. Although a relatively new term, shared value companies are not new, although the recent influx in CSI is a sign of the growing strength of this field."
As Kriss Deiglmeier, the CEO at Tides, a company embodying CSI states,
“Corporations play a significant opportunity in the next decade to be part of the solutions for both social and environmental problems today. They have the resources and operate at a scale that most other entities don’t have to come up with real solutions for problems.”
However, many organizations are struggling to implement this concept of shared value whilst also achieving a competitive advantage from it.
If your company is one of them, or you just want to know more, keep reading!
INGREDIENTS FOR A SUSTAINABLE CORPORATE SOCIAL INNOVATION
More generally, corporations need to change the way they think about their operations and strategy – new skillsets must be developed and a new way of thinking adopted.
Here are 5 Keys to Corporate Social Innovation:
Leading social-innovation companies are aligning their corporate purposes around meeting social needs. So, rather than producing ERP software, they optimize use of the world’s resources; and rather than producing sportswear, they create a healthier society.
Investments are not anchored to a mere theme but aim to address a clearly defined need. A well-researched and data-driven needs statement allows a company to craft a clear business case and measure progress.
Innovative companies are smart about measuring the impact of these investments on society and making the link to their bottom line. They decide how to do this upfront and track just a handful of indicators that show the value creation for society and for their business, and how these connect. So, health-care companies might realize that giving people without health care the information to change their behavior and utilize that care will lead to an increase in revenue.
Companies look beyond their own walls to find partners in social innovation. NGOs are becoming innovation co-developers and unconventional partners from civil society, academia and philanthropy, all can add value at different stages of innovation.
- Innovation-enhancing structure
Policies and processes inside companies can often hinder innovation. So, what matters is intentionally choosing a structure (e. g. a separate fund or department) that is most likely to boost innovation.
These five ingredients are necessary and make Corporate Social Innovation a pathway to long-term business thriving, growth and resilience.
WHAT DOES CSI LOOK IN PRACTICE?
Finally, here two examples of successful social innovators:
- CISCO (USA)
Cisco, a technology and IT company, started donating their products to a local school. Unfortunately, these sat on a table as teachers and students did not only need products but training as well. So, the company launched a whole initiative called the Cisco Networking Academy where Cisco donates its products and the employees participate in communities training teachers and students, providing education and career mentorship. This global program has grown from something small with one school in California to a global movement in 180 countries.
- CEMEX (Mexico)
Cemex – a cement company – realized they could play a pivotal role in the development of their country by supporting poorer people in building their homes out of stronger material with cement and building supplies. Better quality homes lead to better health and wellbeing. Cemex created a comprehensive model that includes not only their building supplies but their technical assistance and microfinance as well. Over time they have built over 10,000 homes that are impacting people ‘s lives daily.
If you are interested in diving deeper into this topic, you can read this book, Purpose Incorporated, written by the Founder of social venture Room to Read, John Wood.
Hey, still here? Go ahead! Go be a social innovator!
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