Ideas4all, as it has done on other occasions, attended the monthly event organized by Innosfera. Here are a few brush strokes of what was said on a subject that is not very well known, Social Innovation.
Three speakers who, with their enthusiasm, managed to transmit their passion for social projects, and their personal vision on the originality and novelty that can be developed within the framework of social innovation. Whether their aim was to shake our social enterprising spirit or not, that is exactly what they did.
The conference got started with Alfonso Carlos Morales, patron and researcher for the ETEA Foundation for Development and Cooperation. (He writes a blog on “Social Innovation”, entitled “Cerillas en la Oscuridad” (“Matches in the Dark”).
With his clear, colorful and very photographic speech, he presented an historic outline of social issues up to the 20th century, with the appearance of micro-credits, recycling policies, open universities and organizations such as Amnesty International, among other subjects that have given a different meaning to social innovation, a new framework for these issues to become reality and gain strength in our society.
Alfonso knows the process one must go through within this environment well: first comes the visualization of the project, then a certain amount of opposition, until one achieves acceptance and diffusion. These are the systematic stages in the process of social innovation.
He shares examples of brands such as Rolex, who in 1976 organized awards for the discovery of innovative ways of achieving social well-being; these were the beginnings. The fact that Barak Obama has created an office for social innovation is a turning point, a paradigm change where these focal points become pioneers in the search for new solutions for this type of problems.
The Center created in Stanford University (USA), the Koll Centre (UK) and the CEPAL Fair (in Latin America) are some examples showing that social innovation is present, and looking to make an impact with results that solve social needs not included in companies’ balance sheets.
But how can we innovate in a product?
Alfonso describes 3 areas in which social innovation can be carried out.
.- Social innovation in territorial terms (COMMUNITY): This is the recovery of ancestral craftwork and activities (ecological agriculture among others), the integration of these in a process of economic and cultural sustainable development, and a space for communication with other generations. All of which entails a certain amount of inventiveness and knowledge of the market in order to achieve the right adaptational mechanics.
.- The Internet and ITC (THE WEB). Can become a reflection of various activities (culture, sports…), calling for talent through the use of 2.0 social networks to put activities into practice, that support solidarity with a global perspective.
Within this kind of 2.0 markets, many initiatives come from traditional business models (lucrative) that become social organizations, by benefitting from the Long Tail phenomenon.
.- Businesses as CORPORATE CITIZENS: Aligning social responsibility with the company’s main activity. One example is Inditex (shops with disabled employees).
Companies begin to develop social activities connected to their main activity, meaning these are no longer something that is peripheral to the company.
Social innovation seeks: autonomy (economic independence), Inclusion (human development), Environmental Sustainability, and of course, a more horizontal point of view, says Alfonso Carlos Morales.
The second speaker is María Zapata, she is Director of International Operations at Ashoka, a global organization that identifies and invests in innovative ideas by social entrepreneurs. A very important support for all those social entrepreneurs that are trying to launch enterprising ideas with one point in common: Innovation.
What is asked of these projects is that they generate a social impact through their idea, that these entrepreneurs have an enterprising vision and ability (perseverance). Ideas and people with a vocation to take them beyond their personal environment.
Certainly, as María says, for an entrepreneur to have an idea of such a calibre, it is essential for him or her to carry out a systematic analysis that results in a deep understanding of social innovation, allowing the entrepreneur to solve a real problem with his or her idea. What becomes clear to us, beyond any doubt, with her speech is that a social entrepreneur must have a social vocation.
Specialized in work therapy, Cristóbal firmly believes in work as a dynamic element in helping people with this type of problem (physically disabled or mental patients without much to look forward to, who perceive themselves as being of no use). One must not forget that 90% of mental patients are unemployed.
He explains they have not used social marketing in their cooperative for two reasons: firstly to avoid the possibility of social rejection that could boycott their social project, and secondly because, for the activity to be truly therapeutic, employees had to feel they were involved in the project, and this could not be achieved by “promoting their insanity” but by making them feel responsible for the project and, therefore, for their own lives.
There is no doubt in our minds that, as he says, success in their work has been the best therapy for employees as special as these.
Cristóbal Colón reflects on the actions carried out by DANONE in the Indian market, adapting its products to the Indian population: “Business policy is currently being adapted; cooperation models with social entrepreneurs begin to surface and proliferate”.
Our three speakers confirm that a company can have economic success while fulfilling social objectives. We should do without the stereotypical idea of business and social intervention being incompatible, for it does nothing but consolidate the rejection of the social work sector for the business sector, and vice versa. Both sectors can work perfectly well, hand in hand.
The conference was entertaining, intelligent, with a great deal of sense of humor and a pinch of irony, capable of moving anyone with some sensibility.