The concept of social innovation builds on the belief that the potential to tackle sustainability issues lies in the power of collaboration.
By Dr. Thomas Osburg, Director Europe Corporate Affairs, Intel Corp. and Board of Director, CSR Europe and EABIS
Looking at the current issues in Europe, we might be a little misled by day-to-day news.
Undoubtedly, the ongoing financial instability in the Eurozone remains a serious issue for most European countries. However, the real long-term burning problems are in two areas, which are ultimately more interlinked than what one might think. And which CSR Europe aims to tackle in its new 2013-2015 work program:
Challenge 1: Europe's Unemployment Rate
First, the unemployment rate in Europe has hit record levels. In particular, the unemployment rate of people under the age of 25 is alarming and unacceptable with more than 50 percent of young people failing to find a job in countries like Greece and Spain.
At the same time, we witness an increasing dropout rate in schools and a declining interest among youth in STEM subjects (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math). This is particularly worrying because Europe is missing more than 100,000 engineers and IT specialists; jobs, which could be filled if people had the appropriate qualification.
Challenge 2: Sustainable Living & the Urban Landscape
A second area of major concern is the challenge of sustainable living in cities. This is driven by a growing population and more people leaving the countryside to live in urban areas. This poses a significant challenge for housing, social welfare, energy consumption and related issues. It is no surprise then that businesses are being asked more and more to make a contribution to solving these problems.
The new Work program for CSR Europe that will officially kick off in April will address these sustainability problems in a much more focused way than before.
CSR Europe’s Board of Directors, which is composed of representatives from major companies globally, were clear that we need to support the EU and national governments in helping them to find and implement solutions to long-term challenges.
Shared Value, not CSR: The Potential of Social Innovation
One of the most promising approaches we've seen is the concept of Social Innovation. While it is broadly understood as a new form of cross-sectorial collaboration between governments, NGOs and private companies to create shared value for all stakeholders, the concept builds on the belief that the potential to tackle sustainability issues lies in the power of collaboration.
Explored with those nuances in mind, social innovation instead of becoming the next generation of CSR, takes on a different approach from the very beginning. Social innovation focuses on finding a joint, innovative solution to a societal problem and its subsequent implementation.
Happily, a lot of companies have already embarked on this endeavor.
Yet, taking a path of Social Innovation is not a mission with a guaranteed results; a number of companies aiming at delivering good results fail to do so by not generating a targeted impact or lacking long term viability. In particular, social innovations, which often get started with an enthusiastic but narrow, focus on the problem itself. Such an Invention-centred approach, without long term perspective planning fails to deliver a scalable Innovation.
How Does Your Organization Approach Innovation?
To overcome this shortfall and advance social innovation concepts, it seems more promising to first investigate companies’ innovation concepts. The traditional process predominantly focuses on economic sustainability for the firm, which means it should help the company to stay in business.
For many years, this was sufficient and doing good was an add-on to gain reputation or secure the license to operate.
Today, true Social Innovation is supplemented with a solution driven approach with every successful enterprise establishing a well thought-through process. This is key for continued competitiveness.
However, this too is changing now.
Following requests to companies for Triple Bottom Line reporting, that requires communication of economic, ecological and social sustainability; a pure economic focus of the innovation process is not sufficient anymore. In order to achieve the necessary ecological and societal sustainability, the Innovation process needs to change to allow for solutions contributing to the Triple Bottom Line and thus bearing potential for shared value creation, both for companies and society.
The European Business Campaign on Skills for Jobs and its reference initiative Enterprise 2020 strategy aim at including Social Innovation into the innovation process to help companies increase their own sustainability or – in other words - their capacity to endure. It is the dedication to social innovation, and shared value creation that made Enterprise 2020 the leading European movement for companies committed to developing innovative business practices and working together with their stakeholders to provide solutions to existing and emerging societal needs.
The next step: Evolving social innovation to create shared value for our organizations, community and the environment.