Heard@ ESADE’s 7th Annual Social Innovation Conference

ESADE held their 7th annual Social Institute Conference last week to share knowledge, inspire future projects and activate the international audience. 

Esade Social Innovation Conference

Social Innovation is about addressing the challenges imposed on society related to housing, education, food, employment, poverty, safety and health. It shakes off indifference to rethink and improve upon the status quo: The key is see opportunities where others see problems. It is responding to social issues while allowing the community to make significant steps forward. Hence, it is related to a shared effort for a common cause while remaining economically viable. The goal is to make a social impact by applying market-based solutions to address public sector and market failures in an innovative way.

“Social entrepreneurship is not only about imagining the idea and bright future. It is about transformation, about system changes and delivering social and economic value. From Opportunity to Reality”
– Pamela Hartigan

The topic of social innovation is on the international agenda for a while and is closely linked to creating sustainable business. Besides of sustainable as green even more  related to having a financial return to keep the vehicle going. During the conference Pamela Hartigan, director of Skoll Centre for Entrepreneurship, made a plea to not position social innovation in a separate corner. It should be an integral part of ‘entrepreneuring‘: combine innovation, entrepreneurship and resourcefulness to achieve social value creation.

Often it is associated with charity and not-for-profit. This is a misperception. Pamela advocates that the focus should be on not-for-loss. Business models based on social value can have great financial returns as well. Making money is great, what you do with it makes it fantastic: double impact. It is about future proofing the business-doing good while doing well. During the conference some of the social entrepreneurs pitched their startups:

CiviClub: why not reward for civil activities for positive contributions to society?
Afables: share recommendations and find help on self- and home care.
La casa de Carlota: a design studio showing the capabilities and abilities of the disabled.
Harambee: awareness and access to treatment of hypertension in the slums of Africa.
Siel Blue: activities to keep the elderly active and in movement.

A nice feedback tool was developed to make the pitches more effective. The audience received a form with three questions: What is good about the pitch? What can be improved? and What interesting synergies can be found? In this way the whole audience was activated to not just listen, but to contribute by sharing their thoughts.  Another twist I liked for the networking where the colored key cards, showing you who visited a parallel workshop – making it very easy to approach someone and asking, “What was shared in your workshop.” The pitches proved that social innovation can be inspired and achieved by anyone. The most important part is your vision and taking action. Practitioners can be companies, foundations, standalone entrepreneurs or an organic movement. It is about ‘entrepreneuring’ and everyone can engage in it.

As for any startup or initiative, in this field money and contact to the network is of importance. Nicolas Hazard, vice-chairman of Groupe SOS explains in an exaggerated manner the 3 types of impact investors:

  • Social washer: a big company that wants to communicate about Corporate Social Responsibility. Condition: be super sexy. Think in terms of communication and they will be able to communicate through you in every metro station.
  • Hippies: care about social impact, instead of financial impact. Think in terms of social impact, but in a less sustainable sense. However, very committed owners.
  • The Wolf of Wall Street: the only concern is money. Money makes the world go round and a nice side effect if it has a social impact as well. In this category  the same returns as in a classical fund (10-15%) are expected.

So how can social impact be integrated in the business model? Ever since the Business Model Canvas was introduced in 2010, it has been a popular tool in workshop sessions to define business models and to see what opportunities exist to innovate the business model. I would propose an addition to integrating the social component and make it core to a business model. It should have a position next to value proposition, which is focused at the user. The social impact refers to the value to the world. However, it has deeper implications than the value proposition. The social impact interferes with the cost and revenue structure. New mechanisms are being defined and the clear cut between costs and revenue might become more permeable. Think about the crowd funding and revolving funds.  The benefit of including social impact already in the core of the business models is that assumptions are made explicit, accountable and clear to communicate.

 business model canvas + social impact

Leading organizations on this topic are the Skoll foundation or Ashoka. They have overviews with projects, (opinion) leaders and (social) entrepreneurs working on changing society. For an example of Social Innovation have a look at Groupe SOS. For more information on the meaning of social innovation go to The Social Innovation Foundation.  For information about social investments, go to the European Venture Philanthropy Association. For a Social Innovation Initiative Toolkit to ´sharpen the Swiss Army Knife of skillsets that a thriving venture requires´, visit the Venture Toolkit of Browse Brown University. To get inspired once in a while, follow #socent on twitter.

If you have a passion for a social cause and are currently work on an idea, you might try your luck with the Business‏ Competition for Social & Business Co-creation guided by the changemakers of Ashoka. Note that the deadline for ideas is April 10th.  The winner will receive coaching, media attention and a prize of € 20,000. On the very short term, in Barcelona you can participate in the Do you want to be ready? program of Ship2B. Furthermore, keep an eye on the Momentum Project.



  1. says

    Hi Lija, thanx very much for this expose. And of course for the link to our website.
    Hope to speak to you soon.
    Have a super weekend!

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