Norah Sullivan: Helping Companies Create Positive Outcomes, Step-by-Step

By Norah Sullivan, Inter-American Development Bank

“All corporations seek to differentiate themselves and look for new ways to create value. But when many traditional routes have been exhausted, how does an organisation change the way it does business?”

 

This fundamental question is at the heart of the recently released Practitioner’s Guide: Steps to Corporate Investment, Innovation, and Collaboration (now available in Spanish). This easy-to-digest, workbook-style guide provides step-by-step guidance for companies looking to generate both positive social and financial returns by pursuing or improving social innovation and investment strategies. Through concrete examples from over 20 companies, the guide highlights why and how corporates are investing in creating positive outcomes as part of their core business strategy. The “how” includes a number of different approaches, such as corporate incubators, accelerators, and venture funds.

For example, Spanish telecomm giant Telefónica has created a global entrepreneurship and innovation network (Open Future_), which includes Wayra, a tech accelerator that feeds into the company’s core product and strategy development needs, while at the same time supporting entrepreneurs across Europe and Latin America. While mostly focusing on commercial tech startups, Wayra has also experimented with accelerating tech-driven social enterprises in the UK, with an eye towards piloting this approach in Latin America.  Similarly, Spanish bank, BBVA, created the Momentum Project to support social entrepreneurship in Spain, Peru, and Mexico, in collaboration with PwC and ESADE business school. Momentum provides entrepreneurs with training, advisory services, and financing, and BBVA has created a financing vehicle to invest in social enterprises graduating from the program. As far as funds, the case of Centrica’s pioneering Ignite Social Enterprise – the UK’s first corporate impact investment fund for energy-related enterprises with social impact - is woven in throughout the guide, providing firsthand lessons and advice.

 

In summary, the guide outlines a “7 step” framework for developing corporate innovation, investment and collaboration strategies:

 

  • Step 1 - Stimulus: What captures the imagination to prompt companies to think about creating outcomes and then actually do something about it?

 

  • Step 2 - Seeding: How can companies begin to develop innovation and investment activities?

 

  • Step 3 - Strategy: What are the objectives of the initiatives, and what are the key parameters?

 

  • Step 4 - Structure: What is the right structure that will enable the company to achieve the intended outcomes?

 

  • Step 5 - Source:  Who are the right people to bring on board the program? What are the requisite characteristics, networks and skills?

 

  • Step 6 - Set Up: How will you set up your innovation or investment program so that it has the best chance of exceeding expectations? How will you measure and communicate your success?

 

  • Step 7 - Start and Strengthen: How will you launch? Internally? Externally? And how will you keep a culture of constant and continuous learning?

 

An underlying theme throughout the guide is the importance of collaboration and partnerships. Instead of going it alone, companies that build alliances with other corporate players or organizations, such as development finance institutions and NGOs, are able to better maximize the impact of their efforts.

So, whether a company is already actively pursuing social innovation strategies or is thinking about doing so, this guide can help stimulate new thinking and help get activities off on the right foot.

 

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