By Jocelyne Daw
Social innovations are new solutions that more effectively meet a critical social need. They lead to new or improved capabilities and relationships and better use of assets and resources. Many people misunderstand social innovation to be an end goal in itself. The fact is social innovation is a means NOT an end. Social innovation is about HOW.An organization’s mission, vision and values should rarely change. But how an organization’s delivers on it mission and vision, through its operating principles and practices must constantly evolve. Changing organizational and community contexts require organizations to work differently, knowing that doing things the way they have always been done does not position them for the future or to achieve critical goals.Given today’s escalating and increasingly complex social challenges; the interconnectedness of various factors and stakeholders; and the fact that no organization on their own has the capacity and resources to address society’s significant social and environmental issues mean means that organizations from all sectors have to evolve their work in the community. Social innovation has become one of the trumpeted means that organizations can drive social change.
“How To” Social Innovation Framework
What is holding social innovation back? Why is there more talk than action? In our research the number one barrier was lack of internal leadership support and general misunderstanding about what social innovation was. Resources, both human and financial, were listed as secondary barriers; and the majority of people just don’t know where to start. If you face any of these issues, don’t worry. You are not alone. This article breaks the social innovation code into four principles that can expedite action and ideas that leapfrog traditional thinking. Tangible examples provide stories and insights that deepen understanding.
4 Principles for Social Innovation Breakthrough
Social innovation is not unique to the nonprofit sector. Any organization, government, nonprofit, university or business can drive social innovation. We have identified four principles that take social innovation ideas from inception to impact. These stages are not always perfectly sequential, there are feedback loops between them but they are mutually reinforcing. Optimal form and balance depends on an organization’s culture and context.
#1. Define a social purpose goal:
Identifying a social purpose goal is the first step in building a breakthrough social innovation. This helps an organization put a stake in the ground and focus around a common purpose.An organization’s social purpose goal must emerge from within. To have the biggest impact, an organization must intentionally define its social purpose goal by considering its strengths, assets and opportunities/needs and alignment with a critical social challenge.Leading organizations build their social goal through a cross-functional team approach. They bring together multiple departments and teams who can add value and benefit from any initiative. By integrating the social goal across the organization in meaningful ways, it eliminates silos, creates information-sharing channels and cultivates shared agendas. This approach embeds the initiative into an organization’s operations and strategies.Over seven years ago, Bell Canada embraced the social goal of addressing mental health stigma that has led to real social innovation in Canada. By aligning their strengths (largest employer in Canada), assets (their people) and needs (employee absenteeism), they were able to address a major challenge and are intentionally working to drive real social change.Mental health in Canada is estimated to have cost Canadian businesses $6 billion in lost productivity costs in 2011. The cost to individuals, families, and society at large is enormous – an additional $8 billion plus, which goes well beyond just financial outlay. As many as one in five Canadians have faced or will face mental health challenges in their lifetime and almost every Canadian has been affected by its impact.By working across the functions of human resources, community investment, communications, and marketing, Bell Canada was able to achieve multiple goals, synergies and deepen the value of it’s mental health initiative - both inside and outside of the company.
#2. Developperformance driven outcomes and action:
Once a social purpose goal is identified, it is critical to devote time and resources to develop a deep understanding of the social problem and identify leverage points for positive change; measures; and technology to help drive success.
Leverage points: Based on discovery research, using a human-centred design approach, determines leverage and impact points to focus work and outcomes. What does this mean? Start with the people you're designing for and ends with new solutions that are tailor made to suit their needs. This helps to understand where pressure and work can start to advance change. Without this an organization risks pursuing ineffective solutions. Leverage points also starts to help you determine who your might partner with as the initiative develops.
Measures: Put measures in place to ensure you can focus on outcomes, understand impact and adjust work for greater impact and value. Outcome focus helps evolve an initiative based on learning against measures.
Technology: Technology can play a major role in any social innovation initiative but needs to be built in to the initiative up front to maximize value. There are many different technological tools – from social media to tracking results and engaging employees.
Working from the inside out, Bell Canada instituted a major internal training initiative to ensure all staff from executives to managers and beyond had the tools and support to address workplace mental health stigma. Bell has championed the need to end stigma through its annual Let’s Talksocial marketing campaign and its ongoing grants and major sponsorships of mental health care and access, workplace health and research initiatives across Canada.This past January 2016 was the seventh year for Bell Canada’s long term commitment to mental health and early measures show its working – saving the company money, advancing an under-served well-being issue for all Canadians, and gaining accolades from staff, partners, health care professionals and society at large.
#3. Co-create and co-manage with the right partners:
There is an urgent need for action on a myriad of issues from education, public health, and environmental conservation, to economic development and more. These issues affect all of us. Working toward innovative solutions requires the resources and ingenuity of business, government, nonprofits and citizens combined. The critical issues of our time are far too complex and significant for any single entity to address alone. We all have a shared responsibility.For social innovation to be success requires partnerships - but it must be with the right partners. A commitment to partnership is not a commitment to inclusiveness. These two things are not synonymous. To achieve results, choosing the right partners, who bring value, assets and commitment to advance the work, is critical.Partnership is about sharing the risk and the rewards; and embracing the partnership principles of equity, transparency and mutual benefit. When done well partnerships are at their heart, vehicles for transformation.Partners must share the common goal(s), be willing to learn together and continuously adjust the program work AND partnership to achieve the greatest results. As the partnership evolves the right new partners can be added based on strengthening, sustaining and scaling the innovation. The right governance structure must enable innovation and co-management, essential to any partnership success.Bell Canada partnered with the Canadian Mental Health Commission and the Canadian Standards Association to support an innovative, made-in-Canada standard for workplace mental health and they continue to partner with the groups to improve and expand its adoption. The first of its kind in the world, the standard offers guidance to Canadian businesses and other organizations in addressing mental health and mental illness in the workplace. With 500,000 Canadians missing work on any given week because of a mental illness, the impact in lost labour-market participation was an estimated $20.7 billion in 2012 alone.
“Bell has embraced the Standard as part of our commitment to best practices in workplace mental health, a key pillar of the Bell Let’s Talk initiative,” said George Cope, President and CEO of Bell Canada and BCE. “We look forward to participating in the research project, sharing our own experiences and results with workplace mental health to help other companies understand the value of implementing the Standard within their own organizations.”
As the Bell Let’s Talk initiative evolves, new partners are enhancing and evolving the social innovation initiative aimed at de-stigmatizing mental health in Canada.
#4. Leverage internal and external stakeholders to build a community movement:
Engage and leverage internal and externalstakeholders for added support and value and transform it from an initiative to a community movement for change.
Educate and explain so internal and external stakeholders understand and can communicate initiatives and approach. Start from the inside and work your way out.
Engage and mobilize stakeholders to deepen value and impact.
Empower champions to support work through their own efforts, amplifying messages and results.
Bell Canada has worked with its internal staff to ensure they have enhanced and easy access to mental health information, seminars and other learning events throughout the year, and advanced return-to-work programs. All Bell senior leaders and managers are taking part in new training and information programs. Bell is participating in corporate roundtables and other initiatives to support the creation of an overall culture of mental health support across the Canadian business landscape.Citizens can engage with Bell Canada and the initiative through social media Let’s Talk Day and their 5 simple ways to end stigma around mental health. In so doing, citizens become knowledgable and can act as champions and advocates for this new approach to addressing mental health stigma in society.
Four Reinforcing Principles
To create social innovation requires all four ingredients – a defined social purpose, outlined leverage points and measures; the right partners and governance structure; and building a community movement. Each principle reinforces the another. While each social innovation path is different, social innovation requires consciously applying these four principles.Driving social innovation is not a straightforward process; it is an iterative journey. Like all great journeys, it starts with small steps, determination, and a willingness to learn along the way. As social innovation leaders will attest, although social innovation necessitates an investment of resources, when done right, the benefits far outweigh the costs. Ultimately, it pays huge dividends and is one of the most effective investments in driving social change.We must move from social innovation activities to action. We must accept that social innovation is no longer a nice to do, but the new must-do imperative if society is to successfully address some of its greatest and most retractable problems.
This blog was the second in a 2 part series about social innovation. Read Part 1, "2016: The year of Social Innovation Action".