Social Innovation Goes to the Global Prom

Among the important gatherings around social entrepreneurialism taking place this year, there's one I'm particularly excited about: The Social Innovation and Global Ethics Forum (SIGEF).
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Among the important gatherings around social entrepreneurialism taking place this year, there's one I'm particularly excited about: The Social Innovation and Global Ethics Forum (SIGEF). Although only in its second year, SIGEF has already proven itself to be a substantial platform for international dialogue and action aimed at improving the world.

To be held in Geneva this October, SIGEF will gather nonprofits, renowned speakers, social entrepreneurs and the general public for three days of dialogue and interaction around issues that include social empowerment, job opportunities, gender equality, business ethics, and equal access to water, education, housing and health services. The event, organized by Horyou, the social network for social good, is expected to involve 5,000 participants and reach over 80 million people.

As a social entrepreneur focused on leveraging capitalism to accelerate social impact, I see how disruptive innovation and cross-sector collaboration is imperative to moving the needle on entrenched social issues. Without cooperation and creativity, everyone rows the boat in different directions (and some are missing oars).

You have nonprofits engaged in vital work, but they have finite resources and are often missing key professional talent that would help them better manage the business functions of their enterprise and go much further with their goals. You've got corporate leaders who have aspirations of applying their business mission to impacting the world but too often underutilize, misdirect or don't fully grasp their vast resources and potential to change the world. You've got activists with heart and skills who truly want to make a difference but frequently don't know how to properly align their concern with the greatest needs.

The application of new ways of thinking about thorny issues that face our world is crucial to bridging the disconnect between different stakeholders and forging a unified path. Innovation in social change is as important as innovation in business in making breakthroughs and succeeding. And because it's social change we're talking about, I'd argue that innovation is even more vital than in the business sphere, because inadequacies and inefficiencies in the channels around changing the world often mean the difference between life and death.

Increasingly, companies recognize the essential role they must play in the march toward social change. Checkbook philanthropy isn't enough to impact communities or benefit a company's culture; rather, businesses are seeing the positive results that happen when they engage all aspects of their mission and functions around corporate social responsibility.

Here are just a few ways this evolution of corporate philanthropy is changing the global business landscape:

  • As the world grows more connected, global volunteering and giving is increasing as a priority for businesses. According to a 2013 study, nearly 60% of companies reported foreign charitable donations, which seems logical when you consider two factors at play: 1) corporate philanthropy is an ever more important investment for businesses, and 2) more businesses are entering foreign markets, which means they now have stakeholders crisscrossing the globe.
  • A study from CECP finds that pro bono service has experienced an explosion of growth that is sweeping across the world. As the fastest-growing employee engagement program, pro bono service is now represented across every industry for the first time in the study of pro bono service. Half of all surveyed companies now offer pro bono service as an element of their volunteer program. That's up from 34% of all surveyed companies just a few years ago, when pro bono was a benefit offered mostly by service companies.
  • CECP's Giving in Numbers report found that increased giving of all kinds lead to greater company investments in communities, which in turn leads to better business performance. Companies which increased giving by 10% since 2010 also increased median revenues by 11% between 2011 and 2013, while revenues fell for all other companies.

As corporate philanthropy assumes a greater priority for all aspects of organizational bottom lines, it's important for business leaders to interact with other stakeholders engaged in social change to forge relationships and improve efficiencies. An event like SIGEF offers socially conscious companies the opportunity to exchange ideas with global experts and entrepreneurs, engage around different social challenges, and ultimately propose effective solutions.

The issues up for close examination at SIGEF 2015 include the ways social entrepreneurial strategies are not just assisting local struggles but pushing the global economy in new directions; the urgent need for socially responsible media and its users to positively contribute to sustainable development; the way culture and art blend deeply rooted traditions with technology-based and multicultural approaches to social good; and exploring new directions in public/private partnerships that have contributed to food security, poverty reduction, agricultural development and sustainability.

SIGEF is inspired by one of Horyou's objectives: to bridge the online and offline worlds through meaningful events dedicated to social good. Events like SIGEF offer excellent opportunities for cross-sector collaboration to thrive, and I'm looking forward to seeing the positive change that results from this exciting social experiment.

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