Social innovation, a world of challenges and opportunities

Incremental innovation, we’ve seen, promotes not only trust and collaboration but also calculated risk-taking. Yet innovation also takes shape in radical, disruptive, social frameworks, and by building the adequate organisational competencies. Let’s have a look at two examples.

Social innovation is an area full of endless challenges and opportunities. The concept is relatively recent, but, throughout history, examples of social innovation abound, from hospices through to the cooperative movement.

One more recent and celebrated example is that of microcredit. Through small loans and low interest rates for poverty-hampered individuals, this revolutionary social innovation model helps turn talent and ideas into businesses. Muhammad Yunus,the ‘father of microcredit’, and the Grameen Bank he founded in 1983, were jointly awarded the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize ‘for their efforts through microcredit to create economic and social development from below’.

For this paper’s purposes, I use the definition of the Open Book of Social Innovation (Murray, Caulier-Grice and Mulgan, March 2010). Social innovations are ‘new ideas (products, services and models) that simultaneously meet social needs (more effectively than alternatives) and create new social relationships or collaborations’.

Whirlpool – building innovation competencies
In the late 90s, faced with stagnation in revenues and market share, Whirlpool decided to make a bold long-term investment: fostering a new corporate innovation mindset. With the help of Strategos, the company launched a global initiative to instil innovation as a core competency.

Thousands of employees were trained (as I-mentors and I-consultants). Whirlpool redesigned business processes and put together a new system of innovation management, changing the company’s culture.

Since then, the firm’s employees around the world have been contributing to innovation efforts. They participate, share their ideas for products and services and get involved in the process. In 2013, Whirlpool reported $19 billion of sales. It’s also the world’s leading global manufacturer of home appliances.

From Intel and Fleury to Whirlpool, each of these organisations has put innovation to work to address very diverse challenges:

  • Developing new business models
  • Increasing the number of their patents
  • Improving operational efficiency
  • Improving customers’ experience
  • Developing a culture of innovation
  • Engaging their companies’ talent
  • Building new capabilities
  • Creating a new marketing strategy
  • Having a true social impact

Without results, every one of these efforts would be useless and irrelevant. We need results, but we also need to assess them, taking into consideration the resources invested and the processes’ efficiency.

To measure outcomes, we will most likely have to adopt different metrics or different combinations of metrics, according to the goals we want to achieve. Next, I will identify and discuss some of the most relevant metrics we can use to do this.

READ MORE:
Measuring innovation: the human factor

FROM THE START:
How can you measure innovation management?

Pedro do Carmo Costa, Exago’s director and co-founder
pcc@exago.com