Why we need to engage business in social innovation

There is a growing consensus that to tackle the most pressing problems the world is facing, such as inequality and climate change, we need to use the unique resources, skill sets and power of multiple sectors.

At the 2018 Social Innovation Exchange Wayfinder, which Nesta CEO Geoff Mulgan and I will be attending, we will be building on a call to action from last year's event: 'how do we get truly multi-sector in social innovation, including engaging corporates and the private sector in the social innovation process and outcomes?'

To create true social change and to have long-lasting outcomes we need to think systematically and take a multi-pronged approach to developing the social innovation sector and practice by:

  • Developing, amplifying and scaling social enterprise and social entrepreneurs
  • Building the capacity of public servants and the public sector, including developing an enabling policy environment
  • Building societal structures in order to create an environment ripe for social innovation
  • Supporting civil society organisations to innovate and engage in developing new and improved systems, products and services

But without the private sector as part of this story it is difficult to achieve the reach, scale and long-term change required. They are (often) the employers, the funders, the sellers and the consumers. Some corporations have power and influence that can rival governments, and the new wave of activist CEOs are reshaping the public dialogue around these serious problems.

For too long, private sector organisations have been seen as potential funders by social innovators and not as social innovators themselves. The private sector has also viewed the social innovation sector as something to support in a paternal way and not a sector that could support new, profitable and sustainable business opportunities. This paradigm has been challenged by the shared value movement and by some enlightened businesses who are trying to change corporate social responsibility into something more than compliance and PR.

But there is more to be done

At Nesta we are working with some large private sector organisations to engage in social innovation through the Inclusive Economy Partnership, as well as through other programmes in development.

We are also working to develop methods that best engage cross-sector groups to do the following:

  • Build coalitions around specific problems or missions
  • Engage in each other's strengths and harness each other's resources
  • Introduce the process of social innovation to the private sector and engage them as active participants
  • Identify the barriers for cross-sector collaboration and systematically try to reduce them

Watch this space for more information about this agenda. If you are an enlightened business wanting to change the world for the better, please get in touch with any thoughts or ideas about this work: [email protected]


Kate Sutton

Kate Sutton

Kate Sutton

Head of Corporate Social Innovation

Kate was responsible for managing Nesta's Corporate Social Innovation and Inclusive Growth work

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