Social Innovation - Shared Value and the Double Bottom Line

Social Innovation - Shared Value and the Double Bottom Line

24 November 2015

The Building Change Trust have been working in Social Innovation for a number of years and a key part of what this means for Northern Ireland as a whole is cross sector buy-in, including the private sector.

On 3rd December we’re launching an exciting new co-design process to establish ‘Social Innovation NI’ – a collaborative ‘one stop shop’ for social innovation support. We’d be delighted to have as many business representatives involved as possible.

Social Innovation is essentially finding new, innovative and inventive solutions - whether it be apps to help people report crimes or services to help end rural isolation - to existing social problems.

Globally, the private sector has been playing an increasing role in helping solve social problems. In the past this has mainly been viewed as an ‘add-on’ to core business, under the auspices of Corporate Social Responsibility with the main intent being to show a softer side to business and to mitigate any potential harmful impacts of particular business practices.

However in recent years, more holistic concepts such as ‘Shared Value’ have come more to the fore – emphasising the importance of the ‘double-bottom line’ i.e both social and economic.

It is a belief not only that businesses can find ways of creating both social and economic value, but indeed that they must if they are to be sustainable and successful in the long-term. Social inequality and instability is bad for business as much as it is for society.

Some international examples of socially impactful businesses include:

  • Mobile money transfer systems such as M-Pesa which have been particularly impactful in developing countries by enabling millions of people excluded from the formal banking system  to transfer money to one another, pay bills and save
  • Novartis – a pharmaceutical company that invested in hundreds of community health educators in rural India to promote health-seeking behaviour and in so doing created a market for their products
  • Mondragon Corporation – the world’s largest worker-owned cooperative with over 70,000 employees and business activities ranging from the automotive industry, to groceries, to banking – it is one of the largest corporations in Spain and has helped the Basque region become the wealthiest in the country.

There are plenty of local businesses thinking about their social impact too – especially tech companies such as Total Mobile and Kainos, as well as global firms with a local presence in NI, such as Deloitte.

However the creative potential of cross-sectoral collaboration is still largely untapped in NI.

This could take many forms, such as tapping into the technical expertise of businesses in particular areas and combining this with the community and social knowledge of the VCSE sector. The Trust’s own Techies in Residence programme is an experiment in this kind of approach.

It can also be through the private financing of social innovation initiatives, whether that be through traditional instruments such as corporate social responsibility, equity investments, loan financing, or through new approaches tailor-made for social purpose business – impact investment for example.

Additionally, there is a reasonably well developed ecosystem of supports for business innovation in Northern Ireland, but what potential could be unlocked if these were more open and accessible to social purpose ventures?

Whatever the case this is about moving away from ‘us and them’ and identifying opportunities for mutual learning and mutual benefit. It is not about VCSE organisations simply becoming ‘more like businesses’ or indeed companies setting aside their need to generate profit.

Northern Ireland is facing into an uncertain future – medium to long-term reductions in public expenditure will hit those who most need public services hardest. Funding cuts to the VCSE sector will also reduce its capacity to mitigate for the inevitable negative social consequences. There is much talk about the private sector filling the void, but this cannot just be about jobs and macro-economic growth.

As with anywhere else, a thriving business environment and a thriving society are mutually interdependent. We need to collectively find new ways of addressing social problems – this is the crux of social innovation.

The Building Change Trust are hosting the launch of an exciting new initiative called ‘Social Innovation NI’- which we hope will be a ‘one stop shop’ for Social Innovation in Northern Ireland.

Whilst we will be part of it, we see this as a truly collaborative project and don’t think it will work unless we get buy in and input from all aspects of Northern Irish society – business, the public sector and community groups all need to be involved to put in place an ecosystem of innovative thinking to solve Northern Ireland’s problems.

We are launching at the Mac, in Belfast on the 3rd December and would love to see as many people from the private sector there as possible.

If you’d like to come along and find out more, please register here.

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