What Is Corporate Social Innovation? Understanding the New Driver of Change

Nowadays, you hear terms like “corporate social responsibility” (CSR) a lot. Business schools are teaching courses on CSR, top-notch organizations are too. This concept is fairly new and different to what was practiced before.

Previously, NGOs and companies “co-existed.” CK Prahalad talked about this relationship and what it meant. While the two entities didn’t clash with one another, they didn’t contribute to one another’s business models either.

Times have changed. CSR is now a huge part of large corporations. Large corporates are quickly thrust to the headlines if they’re not respectful of this new wave of sustainability and responsibility. A good corporate image is now reflected in the environmental and social issues a company corresponds with.

Hence, companies are investing their time and energy in thinking about the impact of their actions on both the community and climate. The need for a socially appropriate goals and actions of a corporation has given rise to corporate social innovation where companies form partnerships with NGOs.

And what was once a coexisting relationship is slowly morphing into a cooperative and collaborative partnership, what Prahalad like to call the “co-creation” model.

What Is Co-Creation?

Co-creation refers to the phenomena of two entities working together to overcome a challenge or an issue. This involves one party extending their helping hand toward another. Mutual cooperation, collaboration, and consultation are the essence of a co-creation model.

What Is Social Innovation?

The social aspect of CSR drives innovation, and the EU Commission has aptly defined social innovation as initiatives that implement social responsibility in both the means and the goal. In layman terms, not only is the goal something that creates a positive change in society, but it is about how you achieve the goal too.

These innovations can be an idea, whether that is a new business model, a product or a service. The key is that the idea must make a positive social impact or solve a social problem. At the same time, it should aim to build new social relationships.

Take Patagonia as an example. They work hard to ensure that their work environments, and their production belt is sustainable. Green buildings, renewable energies, and clothes made out of recycled plastic are just some of the steps they have taken. The company works hard to live by their green mentality, and so they donate one percent of their profit to conservation.

Merely doing something that is deemed to be good is not social innovation. Remember, at the end of the day, it is about creating a unique idea that helps the masses. It must have long-term value rather than short-term benefits. Social innovation is a process that is driven by innovation and adds a goal and value system to create sustainability.

How to Drive Social Innovation?

The thing about innovation is that not all succeed. A lot of great ideas are generated, but only a few see the light of the day or are sustainable and doable in the long run. The same is the case with social innovation. Just because you thought of something that has the potential to be revolutionary, doesn’t necessarily mean that it is feasible. Making it to the list of 100 Most Innovative Large Companies is not easy. Being socially innovative is much harder. Here are five ways you can ensure the success of your social innovation.

  1. Change Your Corporate Mission

You can’t have a corporate mission that clashes with or is not inclusive of your social stance. All the leading companies are now in the process of changing their corporate mission. If you wish to be socially innovative, the first step is to change your purpose to something which reflects your commitment to society.

For instance, if you deliver food items, your purpose could be to deliver responsibly sourced ingredients. The purpose should be community-based and how the said product is helping society. The days of merely having a factual purpose are over.

  1. Define Your Goals and Needs

The societal issue that you target cannot be something as general as “education” or “poverty.” It must be specific and should have deliverables. While the purpose is more of a symbolic goal, your needs must be practical and have standards.

For example, rather than saying your aim is to deliver nutritious food to the poor, you can say that the goal is to increase distribution of nutrients to a population with a particular income by 100% in the next 2 years.

The more specific the goal is, the better. It allows you to have standards and benchmarks that deliver clarity about what is expected of you as a company.

  1. Measure Your Success

How would you know that you are meeting your goals? Even when you are being socially innovative, you must know whether you are performing as per expectations or not. For this purpose, measuring the impact of your social initiative is integral. Set a benchmark and see if you manage to create enough value to achieve your goals.

This will allow you to know whether you underperformed or not. Let’s say you did. You can then find out where you slacked and improve. This makes sure that your social innovation does not fail in the long run.

  1. Never Forget to Co-Create

Even if you think you can do it alone, you shouldn’t. The essence of social innovation is doing something for the masses. By partnering with an NGO, you not only show your commitment to the cause but also lend a helping hand to the organizations that need it. This enhances your credibility. It shows that you truly wish to make a difference rather than following a trend.

There are no better social innovators out there than NGOs. Be it educational or civil institutions, both you and the NGO can benefit from a partnership. Accept their help and extend the same hand. Together, you are in a much better position to deliver change.

  1. The Culture and Structure Within Your Organization Matters

Not all organizations are good breeding grounds for innovative ideas. To ensure that you are able to deliver quality and sustainable social innovation, you must change how your organization works. If there are aspects of the business that hinder the creation of innovative ideas, it is time to change them. This includes both processes and policies.

There has to be a structure, which must focus only on social innovation. Separate it from the business units, but don’t isolate it from them. For instance, a cross-functional team can be assigned the task of designing a socially innovative campaign. By doing so, you are designating resources to the act but not isolating it from the organization altogether.

Where Does Corporate Social Innovation Stand Currently?

The question arises, are companies actually indulging in corporate social innovation? If so, how?

Well, the success stories are limited. This might be because it takes time for an innovative idea to develop. Organizations like Intel and HP have embarked on the journey and have also linked their business sides to it as well. HP has developed a separate group called “Global Social Innovation.” This group is responsible for using its innovative ideas to create a positive impact in the world.

Corporate entities are not the only ones who are delivering social innovation. Academia is doing it too, with business schools creating centers that focus on social innovation. The same holds true for research. Governments, like in Germany, have decided to fund research projects that develop socially innovative ideas.

What Does This Mean for the Corporate World?

The rise and development of corporate social innovation have significant implications for the corporate world at large. While there was a time when you could get away with merely focusing on the business side, those days are long gone.

If you think you can survive in today’s landscape without starting a socially innovative campaign or project, you are mistaken. People are getting more conscious about the societal impact. This includes your potential customers as well. In order to ensure that you don’t end up on the wrong side of the masses, you have to be socially responsible. Your brand image depends on it.

Have a positive outlook. Your goal should not be to merely earn revenues. It is essential to earn profits, but it is equally integral that you don’t hurt the society in doing so. Be socially responsible and leave a positive impact. Play a role in solving the issues of the masses and watch as your company is appreciated for the right reasons.


This article is a guest post authored by Taylor Ryan. Taylor Ryan started ArchitectureQuote.com (a SaaS platform to disrupt the tendering process in the Architecture Industry) as well as KlintMarketing (a growth-hacking agency). He has co-founded 5 startups. He’s published a few marketing e-books, consulted on SEO/SEM for 3+ years in Washington, DC area and grew up in Washington, DC but have been living in Copenhagen, Denmark for the past 3 years. He is a passionate mentor, startup junkie, technical marketer, and growth hacker.

This article was originally posted on the IdeaScale blog here.




IdeaScale is the leading innovation management software platform for the enterprise, government, and education. Gather ideas, implement them. www.ideascale.com

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IdeaScale is the leading innovation management software platform for the enterprise, government, and education. Gather ideas, implement them. www.ideascale.com

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