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Social Innovation 2.0: Getting from 'If' to 'How'

I recently participated in the annual Social Innovation Summit held at the United Nations. Although the forum started just last year, it quickly has become the go-to gathering for thought leaders to share insights and trends around social innovation.

During our fall summit, I interviewed Jonathan Greenblatt, director of the White House Office of Social Innovation. That spurred me to write an article for Forbes that asked: Is social innovation simply a buzzword and passing fad or something much more meaningful? The response was clear: Social innovation -- both as a way of sourcing innovation via social channels and innovating to solve social problems -- is here to stay.

This year's conversation wasn't about if, but rather how, we can leverage education, technology and leadership to usher in the next era of change. Here are a few of many takeaways

1) Technology is the agent of change. Steve Gleason, a former New Orleans Saints defensive back diagnosed with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), gave an impassioned speech about his personal plight. Confined to a wheelchair, he noted that "what ALS takes away, technology can give back." He cited such advances as synthetic voice tools for transforming how ALS patients can live their lives. Social entrepreneurship serves that link between developing technologies that solve some of the world's biggest social, environmental and health challenges -- like ALS -- and delivers them to the people who need them most. Together, these two factors are also drivers of the new economy.

2) Filling education gaps is critical to sustained innovation. Improving education has been a key theme for driving U.S. innovation, and we as a society are improving on listening to teachers to deliver what classrooms really need to fill the gap. For example, last year the Bill and Melissa Gates Foundation announced a $20 million investment to identify and expand game and digital-based learning applications through social networking platforms. The goal was to embed real-time metrics into learning and understand how digital platforms can complement traditional educational environments. PwC also recently launched PwC's Earn Your Future. It's a five-year, $160 million commitment to youth education and financial literacy to help impact more than 2.5 million youth and educators. Recognizing that a critical gap exists in financial literacy among youth -- an essential element for generating a healthy economy and job growth -- we confronted the problem head-on. We have set our goals high and are eager to be part of the solution.

3) Leaders emerge from the nexus of constructive disruption and scalability. We live in an era when success hinges not just on a gem of an idea but also on how we can scale, maximize and help it take root for the long-term. Leaders emerge when one great, disruptive idea can be replicated for different situations and markets. What's more, the best results often are achieved via partnerships among sectors, leveraging best assets of business, government, nonprofits and social enterprises, among others. J. Craig Venter, M.D., among the first scientists to sequence the human genome, noted that while the private sector moves faster and uses money more efficiently than governments, governments have a long-term vision above quarterly profits. Both are needed for innovation.

Please offer your reactions to these observations. What is the future of innovation? How can we successfully integrate and justify investments in sustainability and social change? How must the business role evolve? I look forward to reading your comments.