We’ve heard how important it is for businesses to innovate in order to continue to grow and be successful. Many think of technology as the figurehead of innovation, but there is another quality that is just as important and contributes to the well-being of a business internally and externally. That is social innovation.
Social innovation is the adoption of new practices to address social needs, like working conditions and health. We’ve seen more demand for businesses to socially innovate in the last few years as consumers’ demands change. Below, nine thought leaders share why they think it’s important and how businesses can practice social innovation.
Understand What Social Innovation Means
Social innovation has different meanings to employees. Rather than rush to a solution, a business should first seek to understand what a solution should look like. Listen to the definitions of social innovation from employees. Hear out their ideas on how the company can be more innovative on social challenges. Then, a business can collectively arrive at the right way to practice social innovation.
Brett Farmiloe ‘06 BSBA (Accounting), CEO and Founder of Markitors
Adding Value to the Rest of the World
It's long been believed that the purpose of a business is to return value to shareholders. But that doesn't have to be incompatible with adding value to the rest of the world. One of my favorite examples of social innovation is MIDCO, a regional Internet/cable TV provider in the midwest. They give each team member a stipend that they can use to support a nonprofit of their choice.
Jay Baer ’92 BA (Political Science), Keynote Speaker
It Fits Naturally With Company Culture
Social innovation can be ingrained in a company's culture—or even in a whole industry's reason for existence. Especially in a capitalist society, it's critical for businesses to play a role in shaping the future of our society or do what's right for the world. Social innovation can help across the board internally with issues like morale and motivation, and it can also impact public relations and financials.
Joshua Schlag ’05 BS (Computer Science) ’11 MBA, Digital Marketing Manager at Pyramid Analytics
It Allows Teams to Share Social Preferences
Social innovation is important as it can define and reinforce company culture. Each employee needs to be included and to feel important as a valued member of a team. Social innovation can bond employees and also bring compassion and understanding into the workplace. Introducing social topics into daily or weekly virtual meetings is a great way to allow teams to share social preferences with one another.
David Musselmann ’94 BSBA (Marketing), President and CEO of Paramount Financial
Implement a Group Chat Solution
When employees work remotely, it is challenging to keep everyone connected. It is essential to implement a group chat solution. We use Slack, and it acts as our primary company communication tool. People can see who is online and ask each other questions in real time. In my opinion, it allows for better communication than a traditional office environment.
Brian Greenberg ’00 BSBA (Entrepreneurship, Marketing), CEO and Founder of True Blue Life Insurance
Seek Employee Resource Groups
This is how we push ourselves to do better, as individuals, as companies and as a society. While we all come from various backgrounds, cultures and diverse thinking, we have an opportunity to align ourselves around common goals, or causes. Employee Resource Groups or Intentional Communities are a great way to practice social innovation and continue to educate, embrace and align our actions in support to create inclusive environments and drive innovation for good.
Melanie Waldron ’07 BSBA (Business Management), Head of Global Total Rewards at NortonLifeLock
It Lets You “Stay With the Times”
The success of a business depends on its ability to adapt to the environments around them. Social innovation is one of those evolutions that allows a business to “stay with the times.” One way businesses can practice social innovation is to redesign and reconsider working conditions. Look for opportunities to improve the everyday life of employees by identifying pain points like length or frequency of breaks, paid time off, comfortable desk chairs and others.
Kristy Bach, CEO of BestCompaniesAZ
Think of It as a Force for Good
Social innovation is just as important as technical innovation in business. Without social innovation, businesses risk losing employees and businesses alike in today’s markets. Think of social innovation as becoming a force for good. Reduce your business’s carbon footprint by digitizing files, encouraging recycling and employee carpool, replacing lights with LEDs, and other initiatives. Not only do you, as a business, work toward sustainability, but you also help your employees develop these habits for their own lives.
Max Hansen, CEO of Y Scouts
It Ensures Long-Term Success
Many companies place a high emphasis on technological innovation, which is important and beneficial to a firm. But social innovation is just as crucial to long term success. Stakeholders are increasingly demanding that companies pursue safe and sustainable environmental practices. Social innovation unlocks solutions to environmental challenges and spearheads efforts to create these sustainable practices. Another facet of social innovation is its focus on empowering employees to expand their skill sets and impact the community at a local or even global level. By listening to its employees and consumers, a business can shift its operations to be more inclusive and environmentally friendly utilizing a bottom-up approach. One way businesses can practice social innovation is through meaningful partnerships. For example, certain food companies partner with Fair Trade International in order to ensure that supplies and labor are ethically sourced and focused on the health of the planet.
John Haley ’08 BS (Computer Science), VP of Engineering at Qwick