Thursday, 24 March 2016

Social innovation and benefits



Exactly a decade ago, the Nobel Prize committee awarded the year’s peace prize to Muhammad Yunus, a Bangladeshi social entrepreneur together with the Grameen Bank. The world, through the prestigious honour recognized their contribution of pioneering the concepts of microcredit and micro finance. It had helped and continues to help a huge percentage of population out of poverty by making them economically self sufficient. A brilliant social innovation, it breathed in a new air to the existing social entrepreneurship system.
Social innovation involves creating, developing and implementing new practices where the beneficiaries are not just the company but society and its people as well. Today, these innovations are helping to untangle the problems around us with new solutions. From United States where President Barack Obama launched the Social Innovation Fund, to Japan, where, following the 2011 tsunami and nuclear disaster, social innovation is serving the country’s rebuilding efforts, the world is waking up to the role of social innovations in making prosperous societies. Closer home, Arab World Social Entrepreneurship Program (ASEP) pioneered by Ashoka is focusing on enhancing social innovations to create and enhance social entrepreneurship ecosystem in the UAE and the Gulf region.
A truly prosperous society is one with interwoven strands of economic prosperity and social prosperity. Societies with economic opulence are truly prosperous only if those benefits are availed by everyone in the society. Social and economic schemes have to work in concert for sustainable prosperity and self-reliance. This requires active participation of the organisations along with other stake holders. Many companies, realising the importance of social entrepreneurship are now investing heavily in social innovations. The fundamental steps to take the plunge are -
  • Social initiative should be the expression of the company’s mission. Determine the social action that are in tandem with the company value system, that your product or service can aid.
  • Establish frameworks like conditions and time frame. Work with the various stake holders as you build prototype and implement the pilot programmes in the society around.
  • Incorporate social innovation into the company’s ecosystem so that the employees get involved. Organisations achieve the best results by allowing the stake holders inside and outside the company to collaborate and innovate.
  • Social innovations should grow to match the needs of the society they serve. Scaling up and scaling out the innovation to solve social problems can also lead to new business opportunities for the company.
    Social innovations should be applied from margins to mainstream and to every strata - health care, education, nutrition, environment, sanitation, knowledge, social inclusion, housing among others. From self-help health groups to Wikipedia, microcredit to consumer cooperatives, zero carbon housing schemes to community courts you can witness the examples of social innovation where new ideas immensely improve peoples’ lives.
    Social enterprise can be a key aspect of economic diversity and development too. Many companies use social innovation, as a double-edged sword, to not only improve the world but to gain a competitive advantage too. Instead of just focussing on profit maximization, spreading out the business to the realms of social innovation can help you to impress a positive influence in the minds of your customers and employees, which in turn will help in revenue growth. Companies can get maximum results from social innovations when they operate it as a part of a system including employees, competitors, NGO’s, customers, investors and policy-makers.
    Unfortunately, not many countries have a decent action plan for social innovation that is equivalent to the strategies for innovation in business and technology. There is a long way to go for social innovations to be treated on parity with commercial innovations. Across the GCC, social and environmental needs have at times been drowned in the frenzy of economic surge of the past two decades. A pinch of creativity, innovation and goodwill would go a long way in ensuring the area’s forward march, along with the world’s.