Building Know-How for Corporate Social Innovation

By Beth Jenkins, Challenge Director, Business Fights Poverty

Building Know-How for Corporate Social Innovation

There are growth opportunities outside its traditional markets.

It needs to stay ahead of potentially disruptive technological changes.

It has made high-profile commitments on complex sustainability issues.

It wants to engage, retain, and develop future leaders by tapping into the power of purpose at work.

For reasons like these, a growing number of companies are turning to “social innovation” – looking to develop profitable new products, services and/or business models that also create value for society.

To facilitate this, they are building internal support structures including investment funds, incubators, “hackathons,” leadership development programmes, online platforms and communities of practice. For example:

  • Barclays, a transatlantic consumer, corporate, and investment bank operating in more than 40 countries, launched its Social Innovation Facility (SIF) in 2012. SIF engages Barclays employees from across the business, nurturing both their talent and their most promising ideas to deliver commercial solutions that directly address social challenges. It provides both financial and non-financial support throughout the product development process, from market-scoping to commercialization – for example, by sponsoring talented employees to participate in The Intrapreneur Lab. This enables the company to overcome common challenges to successful social innovation, such as short-term planning horizons, uncertain risk and returns or the many competing priorities of managing time and resources. SIF-supported projects have included everything from a Women in Leadership Index (an Exchange Traded Note designed to provide investors with exposure to US companies with gender-diverse executive leadership) through to a banking proposition that serves the unique needs of the armed forces. There are currently almost 50 propositions that have received support through SIF.
  • Pearson, the world’s leading learning company with expertise in educational courseware and assessment, launched its Tomorrow’s Markets Incubator (TMI) in 2016. TMI helps identify and catalyze new product and service ideas for low-income markets, where Pearson’s biggest opportunities for future growth lie. In its first phase, 17 teams were selected out of 167 applicants to receive seed funding and coaching by internal and external experts to pursue their ideas. The goal of this first phase was to engage customers and learners to understand their needs, and develop initial operational and financial models to determine how their ventures could operate viably. In addition, teams explored how best to support the individual learning needs of their target learners and improve learner outcomes and access to education in a concrete, measurable way. At this point, a few teams have been selected to advance to a second phase, where they will receive larger amounts of funding to develop initial prototypes and pilots of their ventures.
  • Cemex, a global building materials company serving communities in more than 50 countries, has engaged in social innovation for nearly 20 years. Its most famous example is Patrimonio Hoy, an offering that enables low-income families that build their houses one room at a time, as cash flows permit, to do so faster and more cheaply. Today, Cemex is close to reaching a goal of positively impacting 20 million people by 2020 through channels that include what it calls “social and inclusive business.” Social and inclusive business ventures aim for commercial viability and are measured on criteria such as net present value and internal rate of return, but hurdle rates are lower and time horizons are longer than for traditional business ventures. Cemex is now building a global platform that will offer training, advisory, and support to employees with social and inclusive business ideas around the world.

For companies like these, a key priority is to ensure that employees have the know-how they need to take advantage of these offerings and bring their ideas to fruition. TIL Ventures, our partner on the The Intrapreneur Lab, has found that at any given time, in any given company, there can be hundreds of employees with social innovation ideas – and that they come from all different backgrounds and different roles from analysts, product managers even compliance officers. But how do they really understand how to go about developing a profitable product, services, or business with social impact? Do they know how to get insights on consumers rarely studied by market research firms? Have they ever done any financial modeling? Do they understand how to minimize cost and risk while testing their innovations?

Ensuring that intrapreneurs have this vital ‘know-how’ is the priority driving a new Business Fights Poverty Challenge we are launching today. The Know-How for Social Innovation Challenge will unfold in two phases:

  • In Phase I, we will engage employees from Barclays, Cemex, and Pearson and members of the Business Fights Poverty community to understand what skills employees need most to transform their ideas into positive results for their companies and for society.
  • In Phase II, we will work with expert partners to develop a series of skills-focused webinars and tip sheets that intrapreneurial employees – who are often engaging in social innovation on top of their day jobs – can use to come up to speed.

Have you developed a profitable new product, service, or business model with social impact – or would you like to?

Please join us!

Start by taking our survey and telling us about the skills you found most important. These could be skills you had, skills your team members brought, or skills you wish you and your team had had.

At the end, you can tell us whether you are open to sharing your social innovation story with the Business Fights Poverty community, and we will work with you on an interview or blog. We will be sharing what we hear from intrapreneurs at Barclays, Cemex, and Pearson, too.

Let’s get started! We look forward to going on this journey with you.

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