black and white San Francisco, California

A Bird’s Eye View from SIS 2015

— Patrick Boardman, WE 

When you find yourself at the intersection of hundreds of innovators from business, academia and the impact sector meeting to discuss how to reshape our world, it’s best to bring a pen and plenty of paper. At the Social Innovation Summit last week, we saw firsthand how the power of people, brands and disruptive technology is transforming industries and communities around the world. The kind of stuff where life-changing dreams are made realities. The energy was electric, and the agenda’s pace was clocked to ‘one perception-shattering revelation per hour’ so I buckled up and bottled up some of the genius that was flying around the room that most definitely needed to be shared.


Your north star is your lifeblood

The path to progress is rarely paved—at times we stumble and get dirty—but with social innovators as our guides, the journey itself can prove invaluable. Talk of vision and purpose dominated sessions, but what became clear was a shift in balance from simply where we’re going to also how we’ll get there. For example, if the goal is to fight youth unemployment, commit to a specific hiring target through the 100,000 Opportunities Initiative as Taco Bell and Starbucks did. Everything doesn’t have to happen all at once, as we were reminded to focus on the epic, not the episode.


Remember why you’re here... and what people expect from you

Frequently forgotten by most, technology was designed to solve human challenges. “Sometimes the best thing High Tech can do is get a little closer to the ground,” Caroline Barlerin, Head of Twitter for Good, notably tweeted. What was shared was how this concept is being brought to life in the following impactful ways: Sutter Health is using big data to improve diagnoses in at-risk communities where healthcare access is poor. GlobeOne is leveling the playing field and putting mobile banking in the hands of those who need it most. Bitty is rejecting cultural taboos by showing that eating bugs could just be our best hope for food security where limited infrastructure has made financial stability impossible. Human challenges being tackled head on through opportunities created by technology.

Melissa Waggener Zorkin gives keynote address at the Social Innovation Summit


Be the story you want to tell.

And finally, we were reminded to always be the story you want to tell – live it. . A core concept at WE, it was a main focus of CEO Melissa Waggener Zorkin’s keynote address., a corporate philanthropy movement, is living their story by encouraging individuals and companies to pledge 1% of profits, time or product to social missions while holding them accountable for turning their pledge into action. Gap Inc. saw that the majority of its supply chain workers were women facing significant personal and professional barriers, especially those in developing countries. In response, the company started being the story they wanted to live by creating a program that teaches financial literacy and business skills to these women with the goal of reaching 1 million by 2020. Stories without substance will never take root.

Impact programs can suffer from status quo syndrome which is something WE can work to eradicate. The time has passed to check the box and just move on. We must, instead, heed the above lessons (and more) as we authentically and impactfully navigate social innovation.