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What is Social Innovation? Reflections from the National Conference for Service and Volunteering

Shannon Schuyler, US managing director of Corporate Responsibility, for PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP (PwC), is our guest blogger, writing from San Francisco at the National Conference for Service and Volunteering.

After three days of celebrating, learning and sharing with exceptional service advocates from around the world, I left the conference energized and inspired to make a more significant impact in the communities in which we live and work. We all had access to tools and resources that have better equipped us to enhance our volunteer efforts, measure our impact and further develop meaningful relationships that will prove to be pivotal to building a nation committed to service. We are now partners in this effort - not individual companies, organizations and communities, but united as one driving force that will make an overwhelming difference in our society.

On Wednesday, I provided opening remarks for what I thought was one of the most interesting sessions of the conference: The White House session on Social Innovation: Harnessing What Works to Address Critical National Challenges.


For those who are not familiar with it, The White House Office of Social Innovation and Civic Participation is a newly created office located within the Domestic Policy Council and is responsible for coordinating efforts to enlist individuals, non-profits, social entrepreneurs, corporations and foundations as partners in solving social problems. Through the Social Innovation Fund, it works to identify the most promising non-profit programs, provide growth capital for these programs, and improve the use of data and evaluation to raise the bar on what programs the government funds.

One of the panelists, Michele Jolin, senior advisor for social innovation for the Domestic Policy Council at the White House, opened the session and underscored that “the Office represents President Obama’s new governing philosophy: providing growth capital to support projects that work, bringing promising projects to scale, and supporting others who are leading the change in their communities.” To me, this type of focused, measureable and sustainable philosophy and investment strategy is how we are going to spur valuable change and shift the norm within the social sector.

So what exactly is social innovation?

Another panelist, Steve Goldsmith, vice chair for the Corporation for National and Community Service, explained that “social innovation is a new organization or procedure that changes the way we operate and view ideas…These are the projects that are not only filled with energy and passion, but also have a sustainable business model and are focused on outcomes and impact.”

Panelist Cheryl Dorsey, president of EchoingGreen, a global non-profit that awards seed capital to social entrepreneurs, echoed this sentiment and further reiterated that the rise of social innovation comes from three overarching causes:

1. Technological advances and business entrepreneurs who want to apply their expertise toward creating innovations in the social sector
2. A change in attitudes, especially among millennials, who want to be a part of creating positive social change
3. The rise of new types of leaders who understand the power of convening diverse parties and views to solve complex problems

How do we create an infrastructure that supports innovation?

Dorsey went on to explain that creating an ecosystem that supports innovation is critical to actually spurring change. She underscored the need to “value both ideas that work and do not work.” Understanding why something failed can be the key to unlocking the successful idea. She also reiterated “the value of open source platforms” where people can share thoughts, collaborate and build upon one another’s ideas to create change.

What is the role of business in social change?

Panelist Ian Hardman, president of Management Leadership for Tomorrow, a national non-profit that helps minority young adults prepare for professional leadership positions, underscored the need for business involvement to foster social innovation and change. “Businesses must create a culture of service [and innovation],” he said. With its expertise, resources and most importantly—its talent—businesses can be a powerful force in unlocking new ideas and driving change.

Dedicated “innovation spaces” like iPlace, an open forum that we have at PricewaterhouseCoopers for our 31,000 US employees to exchange ideas and spark discussion around different innovation themes, is exactly the type of information sharing tools that we need more of within the private sector.

This is just a snapshot of all of the discussion that came out of this informative session. To learn more and watch this entire session, click here.

Thanks to Chris Jarvis for letting me share my experiences and learnings from this amazing conference and thanks to all of you for following my blog. See you next year in New York City!

 


The photo below: Shannon Schuyler, US Managing Director of Corporate Responsibility for PricewaterhouseCoopers, introduces the White House Session on Social Innovation. Panelists included (from left to right): Michele Jolin, senior advisor for social innovation for the Domestic Policy Council at the White House; Steve Goldsmith, vice chair for the Corporation for National and Community Service; Cheryl Dorsey, president of EchoingGreen; Sarah Di Trioa, president, New Profit Inc.; and Ian Hardman, president of Management Leadership for Tomorrow

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