A time to dig in and act up

WE Communications Blog: Social Innovation

— Patrick Boardman 

When it comes to social impact, “you are what you do.”

These words became a catchphrase at the 2016 Social Innovation Summit West, a gathering of some of the smartest minds working at the intersection of technology, social impact and responsible business to drive social good.

Why this emphasis on “doing”? The presidential election earlier this month had fatigued many attendees and left them with a low tolerance for empty rhetoric. People were looking for substance and action. At one point, Zeev Klein, founder and curator of the Summit, said that the results of the election were the clear undercurrent of the event.

For years, the Social Innovation Summit has been a place where folks who create change in the world meet up and chart a positive path forward. This year was no different, and several key insights stood out that can help drive social good forward.

  • Get serious about inclusive entrepreneurship. William Crowder from Comcast Ventures hit us with a sobering statistic: Fewer than 2 percent of all venture capital dollars go to entrepreneurs of color. Women founders, meanwhile, receive approximately 10 percent. VC firms must get to work on hiring a more diverse set of funding decision-makers, and quickly. Communications companies can do our part, too, by identifying and amplifying stories like Code Trip’s, a film project supported by Microsoft (client) that documents the journey of students from backgrounds underrepresented in tech and their mission to diversify the industry.
  • Apply existing innovations to the social sector. Juvenile justice reformer Adam Foss made a compelling case for innovation within a stagnant criminal justice system. He envisioned a future where technology gives prosecutors better, more accessible information thanks to technology. What if, Foss asked, prosecutors had real-time information about rehabilitation options based on geolocation? Using in-kind donation and sustainable investing, tech in Silicon Valley could change the face of sentencing and help us think more compassionately about how to make our communities safer. Let’s get on it, Yelp! 
  • Use new models to subvert slow systems. As they become more sophisticated, crowdfunding tools are being used more to bring a little hare to the tortoise of bureaucracy. Founder Charles Best used the education system as an example. Traditionally, introducing new tech or learning platforms to schools requires months of back-and-forth with district procurement officers. Crowdfunding has now paired teachers with funders who can circumvent red tape and quickly bring innovation like 3-D printing to classrooms. Companies can also get on board to match public contributions and use social media to get the word out. Hare wins.

Between the recent public demonstrations and the steep uptick in hate-related incidents, it’s clearly not just Social Innovation Summit attendees who are showing a bias toward radical action. Now more than ever, companies must be thoughtful about how their business can stand for transformative change. This is especially important in today’s media landscape, where constant content and sharing can either drive your brand’s influence or bury you among the noise.

For those ahead of the curve: You have so many inspiring stories just waiting to be shared. Stories that serve as a blueprint for the rest of us. So let’s get to work telling them.


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