Social Innovation Is a Smart Business Strategy. Businesses Can Be Good Stewards of Our Societies

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Innovation takes many forms, but social innovation is least understood and today there are pressing needs and urge for the creation, adoption and diffusion of innovations. Innovation takes many forms such technological, organizational, product, service and business model etc. The term ‘social innovation’ has come into common parlance in recent years.

Some may consider social innovation no more than a passing fad, but many entrepreneurs and social scientists see significant value in the concept of social innovation because it identifies a critical type of innovation.

Social innovations will probably the most significant innovation in the next decades. Some distinguish social innovation from business innovation, and identify a subset of social innovations that requires government support, which I totally disagree with. Business innovation should have a component in social innovation when we think sustainability.

A good business strategy needs to be more than just maximizing value creation. It is important to make lots of money, but more important to ensure the business is sustainable. Our future is in the hands of a couple thousands of top Fortune 500 executives who are already very occupied with the daily crisis and make decisions that impact our future. They need to understand the long-range implications and impacts of their immediate, everyday, urgent actions and decisions in relation to the far-reaching social innovations now taking place which are management’s new and most significant dimension. This is a critical junction of modern management.

Last month, my friend Mehmood Khan (photo above), London based ex-Unilever’s global leader of innovation process development, took a public oath in his home village of Nai Nangla in India that he would dedicate the rest of his life to making the world a better place. He is starting from his home village in India. Wish more executive should do that. Imagine the all the smart minds in large corporations taking a little time off to do this?

He left his job at Unilever to return India to focus on innovation of a different kind. Khan’s job is to forge connections between the village of Mewat and big corporations to create employment. A year ago, Aviva, the UK’s biggest insurer, was looking to build its rural presence in India. Khan’s trust connected the company with 60 local young people and 12 were ultimately recruited. "It’s a cycle that generates money . .  Aviva hired some people whose income went up . . . This creates a market economy," Khan told Forbes magazine. He has set up a computer center in Nai Nangla. He has also facilitated ICICI Bank to recruit 16 of the 30 villagers trained in the first intake. Khan also engaged charities and NGOs to administer literacy programs. He is full of creative ideas on how corporations can participate in helping.

The question is should companies’ role in meeting basic needs be kept distinct from their desire to create more profits? For Khan, the two can work together. I totally believe that is possible and even necessarily. The lines between business strategy and social innovation have blurred and converged as the business world attempts to respond to the modern culture’s demand that businesses be good stewards of our societies. Hats off to Mehmood and Aviva.

Aviva is a bold and innovative player in the insurance industry (full disclosure: they are a client of ours and this is one of our innovation projects). Most people feel that insurance is just a black box and,you’ll never interact with them. For many it becomes very difficult to see the value in insurance. As an expansion to their successful “Change Insurance” communications platform, Aviva has launched “In Your Shoes”  which is a site dedicated to viewing the opinions and thoughts of customers about insurance. We started playing with the idea a few months back based on the notion of using storytelling to create customer engagement.

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