Social Innovation Summit: The Faces of Innovation

The Faces of Innovation ~ Visionary, Game-Changer, Spotter

(Artist Alexa Meade courtesy of Zeev Klein & photographer Jensen Sutta)

Candor still reverberates in the Silicon Valley from Patagonia's Vice President of Environmental Affairs Rick Ridgeway with the bold statement "It is important to lead a reflective life. Once you lead a reflective life inevitably you will realize that you are doing harm. Once you know this, you can make a positive difference." This was one of many powerful calls to action at the recent Social Innovation Summit.
Arriving early, I spent some time in San Francisco at the Contemporary Jewish Museum. There was a powerful portrait exhibition of Arnold Newman and the way he made historical icons either fragile or accessible by his use of light and prop placement. Rarely do I spend an hour and half merely studying people's faces. Yet the time flew by and I was greeted at Social Innovation Summit by a presentation by Los Angeles based artist Alexa Meade, who is best known for portraits painted on the human body that turn real life people into seemingly 2D works of art. I had no choice but to take away this year the theme The Faces of Innovation. From over 200+ potential individuals to feature, the faces that made the most impact on me were the faces of the visionary, the game-changer, and the spotter.

The Face of the Visionary

(Zeev Klein Founder of Social Innovation Summit courtesy of Zeev Klein & photographer Jensen Sutta)

Zeev Klein, founder of Social Innovation Summit, is the face of the visionary. Beginning in 2007 Klein, and his company Landmark Ventures, began a series of events called IT For Good held across 14 cities. The cities that generated the most synergy were New York and Silicon Valley. During those events Klein began to notice significant shifts in the giving economy; "the trend went from the concept of charity, to philanthropy to what we now know as social innovation." Klein observed that what used to be a one way conversation of donors and NGO's had become much more dynamic and more like a dialogue. A conversation that Klein wanted to enable and accelerate. Nassim Nicholas Taleb says, "wind extinguishes a candle and energizes fire; be the fire and wish for wind." While perhaps not inventing the term social innovation, Klein has been wind to the #socinn fire by coordinating the bi-annual prestigious Social Innovation Summit. Entrepreneurs, NGO's, and Fortune 500's spend two dedicated days sharing outcomes, discussing needs, and finding partnerships .

The Face of the Game-Changer

A chemical engineer from Shell Mandar Apte is the face of a game-changer. Inspired by a rat trainer who loved rats and wanted them to be perceived as helpful animals rather than vermin, Bert Weetjens found rat size and intelligence ideal to sniff out TNT and has trained over 800 of them. Mandar noticed that turning a rat into a noble animal was not only problem solving but truly game-changing. Mandar leads Shell's Game Changer Social Innovation program that invests in programs that not only solve social and environmental challenges but that also create transformational value for local communities and society at large. Another way Mandar is transforming the innovation landscape is through the EMPOWER program that has taught over 2000 Shell employees how to meditate. "To navigate complexity, people need to have more awareness. Innovation comes from awareness."

The Face of the Spotter

(Nivan Mullick photo courtesy of Zeev Klein & photographer Jensen Sutta)

Many of you might have already heard of Caine's Arcade. Nirvan Mullick, hands down, is the face of a spotter. Spotting is a new leadership core competency of being able to highlight and amplify people, content, and trends that have significant impact in the macro. On a random trip to a privately owned hardware store, Mullick noticed a nine year old boy who had built an arcade out of cardboard boxes. Boldly the boy approached Mullick and asked if he'd like "three tickets for $1.00 or a day pass for $5.00." Mullick paid for the day pass and was inspired by Caine's creativity. As Mullick complimented Caine's father on his son's ingenuity, the father said, "You have been his only customer all summer." Wanting to acknowledge the creativity, Mullick aggregated 200+ friends for a flash mob that became the documentary Caine's Arcade. The video has been seen over 9 million times. Mullick's organization, the Imagination Foundation, has engaged over 250,000 kids in 60 countries in creative play through their Annual Global Cardboard Challenge. Great ideas and great people all need a spotter who is leveraged to amplify and scale.

I am reminded by Albert Camus, "Real generosity towards the future lies in giving all to the present." Perhaps the face of innovation is you.