Social Innovation: The Answer to Progress

By Rob Acker, CEO,

Inspiration spurs ideas and ideas spur solutions. I am personally inspired by working with a community of 42,000 non-profits and education institutions that are on the frontlines of change every day. 

Innovation is not just about new ideas and methods, it’s about the new ways of thinking that lead to them. It’s also about new data models and being open to change that can improve products and services. In fact, at, our most trailblazing products came from ideation and co-creation with customers, volunteers, interns and employees.

As the 2019 recipient of the Social Intrapreneur of the Year Award at the World Economic Forum, I have been reflecting on what makes innovation really tick at Salesforce. I think there are three ways we do this:

The model matters. We “start with the why” at, and that “why” is our belief that the business of business is to improve the state of the world. In order to fully realize that belief, we were set up first as a corporate foundation and we evolved from there into a social enterprise. Most recently, we are now excited to be the dedicated social impact center at Salesforce. This evolution from checkbook philanthropy to a self-sustaining business to now an in-house team dedicated to technology for good has driven our innovation mindset. In each step in this evolution, we kept our nonprofit and education customers as our compass. As the community evolved, so did we.

But our purpose always remained. For example, Salesforce and the American Red Cross worked together to create a financial assistance application for relief efforts after Hurricane Harvey. In one week, Salesforce employees volunteered to create an online application that helped the Red Cross to disperse $225 million in financial assistance to more than 573,000 households. 

Salesforce employees and experts never stop innovating, even outside the workplace. Employees have volunteered more than 4 million hours in communities around the world and many of these hours have been skills-based volunteering through our Pro Bono Program. Our employees volunteer their expertise to help customers make the most of their investment in Salesforce, which empowers the social sector to do even more good with our technology.

In fact, our internal management and tracking of employee volunteer hours – Volunteerforce  – was the impetus behind one of our clouds – Philanthropy Cloud. Our volunteers wanted to know what was out there in the marketplace of causes and nonprofits that they could get involved with or donate to. We created an internal matching tool for employees to find out what opportunities were most aligned with their passions. Philanthropy Cloud is a place for employees to connect to causes while getting their workplace and companies involved.

The most valuable ideas are community-driven. We have more than 40,000 customers who ideate with us everyday in our online community called the Power of Us Hub. Listening to our community’s thinking has propelled us to test new boundaries and approaches when solving social problems. They are the experts and our job has been to provide a space to be creative, try new things, and adjust to the changing tides of the world we live in. 

We see this in action with Community Sprints. We’ve created a space for social impact organizations to come together and “hack” solutions. Our open source platforms like Nonprofit Success Pack and Education Data Architecture are prime for co-creation. Some of the best features in Nonprofit Cloud and Education Cloud came directly from these Sprints.

We have a responsibility and opportunity to leverage technology to accelerate impact for non-profits, educational institutions and philanthropic organizations. We can do this when we explore ideas and build technology for the greater “why” – to improve the state of our world.  

For more social innovation news, see this piece in The Guardian on changemaking.

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