The Social Innovation Imperative
Some time ago I attended a lecture sponsored by the Citizen’s League given by Alex Cirillo, now retired vice president of 3M, a company widely recognized for its innovation. In his talk Cirillo defined innovation this way, “The use of knowledge, either from discovery or from some widely known knowledge base, to achieve an output that is new or novel.” He went on to characterize innovation as having these attributes:
- 1. It is seldom wholly new and is usually a recombining of existing elements in new ways.
- 2. It happens at the interface of cultures, organizations, disciplines, and sectors.
- 3. It happens through relationships. Innovators are highly networked to use the current parlance. They are also what Cirillo called, ‘bi-lingual’, meaning they can communicate well with others from disciplines and sectors outside their own.
Two excellent examples of social innovation at work in SVP are profiled in this newsletter. The first describes how Brad Van Bank and Kristin Pardue have merged their business and social change goals in the form of the Reve Academy, whose mission is to give low-income kids a pathway to digital marketing careers. Reve Academy illustrates how mixing cultures and disciplines can create fresh ways to solve social problems. Brad and Kristin are bi-lingual innovators combining the discipline of business with the creativity of design to offer practical, hands-on learning in a high demand field to low-income students.
The second innovation highlighted is the Full Cycle growth capital campaign prospectus created by Full Cycle staff and a team from Meristem (one of SVP’s corporate partners). High growth nonprofits with proven models need large amounts of general operating capital to take their work to scale, and such capital is difficult to come by. The growth capital campaign prospectus uses a format long used in business to raise growth capital and applies it to the needs of a high-growth nonprofit. The prospectus combines the power of story telling with the discipline of financial analysis to create a tool that is both emotionally and intellectually compelling and makes a strong case for funding program expansion. As skilled financial analysts, the Meristem team built a pro forma financial model that shows the resources Full Cycle will require to meet its growth goals and offers investors a data driven social return on investment analysis while the Full Cycle staff painted a vivid picture of how their program works and its impact on homeless teens. Facilitating this cross-sector tool making are SVP partners Bob Boucher and Guff Van Vooren.
Our partners and investees are uniquely positioned to help each other foster social innovation by melding ideas and tools across sector boundaries and challenging each other’s thinking. Its true, the good stuff happens at the boundaries.