The Critical Role of Leadership in Driving Social Innovation
December 28, 2013 | 2958 views
Skoll World Forum has partnered with Landmark Ventures to produce an online series of op-eds to spotlight innovative solutions to a wide range of societal challenges. Tied to this year's Social Innovation Summit, which takes place on November 19th and 20th at Stanford Business School, contributors to the series include key speakers and delegates such as Shannon Schuyler of PwC US, Somaly Mam of the Somaly Mam Foundation, Dave Evans of Cisco, Sarah Elizabeth Ippel of the Academy for Global Citizenship, and more. The Summit is a twice annual event that represents a global convening of black swans and wayward thinkers. Those who are playing at the nexus of technology, investment, philanthropy, international development, and business come together to investigate solutions and catalyze inspired partnerships that are disrupting history.
Across different sectors and diverse geographies, leadership has always been an integral element to driving progress. So it’s no surprise that the theme of dynamic leadership emerged time and time again at the recent Social Innovation Summit. Across discussions of disparate topics, from education to health to poverty, speakers talked about the evolving role of leaders driving social change.
In the rapidly emerging field of social enterprise, the importance of effective hands-on leadership is clear. Like traditional start-ups, social businesses are often led by an individual or a small group of dedicated entrepreneurs, personally bringing their missions to life. The same is true for many traditional non-profit organizations, which often begin as causes championed by a single person looking to make a difference, and grow through inspirational leadership.
Founders of two upstart organizations talked about both the opportunities and challenges of leadership. Nuru International founder Jake Harriman shared his experiences growing an organization that tackles extreme poverty. Somaly Mam, a survivor of human trafficking, founded the Somaly Mam Foundation, which aims to end the sex slave trade. For both organizations, a key factor for effective leadership was collaboration. Nuru International worked with Stanford faculty and students to identify smart approaches to development, and then sought out angel investors in Silicon Valley to implement the work. Similarly, the Somali Mam Foundation has taken a multilateral approach, engaging governments, corporations and survivors themselves to advance the cause.
For many years, corporate leaders also have played an important role in tackling societal challenges, primarily by driving companies’ philanthropic contributions. Executives championed “giving back” and encouraged employees to get involved, and allocated funding for giving.
Today, leaders are increasingly realizing that the best way to drive social change is by moving beyond solely grantmaking and community volunteering to apply the power of their core business through collaboration. This includes shared value programs, which deliver benefits for both society and business, and catalytic philanthropic initiatives that are aligned with a company’s operations.
By harnessing their human capital and companies’ value chains, these new approaches hold great promise for further catalyzing progress in addressing crucial social issues that align with business imperatives.
At the summit, Shannon Schuyler from PwC talked about the increasing need for corporate leaders to pursue game-changing approaches rather than safe, incremental improvements, and to embrace collaborations that can cultivate new ideas. A recent survey from PwC pointed to the value of accelerating change: leaders who are targeting breakthrough or radical innovations are expecting their companies to grow twice as fast as their less innovative peers in the years ahead.
The same factors that drive successful social innovation also place new demands on company management, requiring an even higher level of involvement and engagement from the C-Suite on down. Successful programs and partnerships take time and resources to coordinate and sustain, and require executives and managers across functions and teams to apply their operational acumen in new ways.
At Abbott, we’re sending expert lab technicians on long-term assignments to train and mentor local lab teams in Tanzania to help the government ensure sustainable lab operations. In Haiti, our top nutrition scientists and engineers helped Partners In Health build a new production facility to address malnutrition and catalyze local economic development. In India, we’re working across our value chain to build a more inclusive business that better meets the needs of local communities and drives long-term shared prosperity.
For each initiative, top leaders across our diagnostics and nutrition businesses are closely engaged in the operational details. They apply the same rigorous analysis and strategic insights that are required for core commercial operations, which has been integral to the success of each partnership.
In an era of heightened competition in the marketplace and with many internal priorities vying for resources and attention, allocating core assets and human capital to untested new initiatives is not an easy thing to do. Fortunately, many corporate leaders recognize the heightened challenges we all are facing around the world, and the value that innovative new programs and collaborations can return to their business over the long term.
More broadly, these examples point to the critically important role of leaders in driving change, and the promise of creative collaborations. Heads of governments, companies, social enterprises and non-profits are increasingly recognizing the power of partnership, which holds great potential for driving even stronger results for their organizations and society in the years to come.