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What is corporate social innovation?

Published Date: 26 September 2018

Corporate social innovation (CSI) describes corporations who integrate social innovation into their corporate activities. Although a relatively new term, shared value companies are not new, although the recent influx in CSI is a sign of the growing strength of this field.

Corporations play a significant opportunity in 2018 and the next decade to be part of the solutions for both social and environmental problems today. They have the resources and operate at a scale that most other entities don't have to come up with real solutions for the problems 

Kriss Deigelmeir, Tides, USA

Why engage in corporate social innovation?

  • The growing complexity and accelerating pace of change in society demand a new role for business in the world;

  • Globalisation increases transparency and expectations of accountability;

  • Fast-paced social media means that there’s a brand risk for not contributing to society;

  • Societal norms and values are shifting for businesses, as customers & clients increasingly want companies to do well by doing good, particularly amongst the younger generation;

  • Employees have increased desire for meaning and purpose from work

  • Scarcity of resources coupled with a growing consciousness of our interconnectedness and the precarity of our social-economic-ecological systems means we need to creative about the future — and fast

Given these conditions, corporate social innovation is a pathway to long-term business growth, resilience and thriving.

It is a combination of both push and pull that drive corporate social innovation. 

Companies create long-term value through integrating a corporate social innovation strategy resulting in:

  • Brand value

  • Business growth

  • Workforce competitiveness

  • Innovation

  • Return on capital

Corporate social innovation can look different in different companies

See here for a series of brief interviews about corporate social innovation and the changing role of business from the SIX Wayfinder Istanbul

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What does CSI look like in practice? 

The MONDRAGON Corporation in the Basque Country (Spain)

The largest example of how a company can incorporate social transformation and innovation into the core of their work and in how they manage the organisation. Although they work in the field of robotics, the automotive sector, or in machine tools, their main driver is generating quality employment. As a cooperative, how they manage the company introduces a lot of democratic mechanisms and disruptive pay ratios. Even as an industrial company with over 100,000 employees, their pay ratio is one to seven (compared between seniority levels of staff). The same type of organisation in the US would have a pay ratio of 1 to 300, if not more. MONDRAGON Corporation has developed a highly successful and competitive way of transforming people’s lives for the better through shared ownership. 

Cisco (USA)

A technology and IT company, started donating their products to a local school. Unfortunately these products weren’t utilised and sat on a table. Cisco realised that they needed to provide training for the teachers and the students, not just products, if they actually want to be engaged in the tech sector, and needed to engage and  support this at a much larger scale. So they launched a whole initiative called the Cisco Networking Academy where Cisco donates its products around the world. Their employees participate in communities all over the world training teachers and students, providing education, technical training, and career mentorship. This global programme has grown from something really small with one school in California to a global movement in 180 countries. 

CEMEX (Mexico)

A cement company, realised they could play a pivotal role in the development of their country by supporting poorer people in building their homes out of stronger material with cement and building supplies. Better quality homes lead to better health and wellbeing. They’ve worked in these communities for many years and created a comprehensive model that includes their  building supplies, their technical assistance and microfinance so people can actually build a home in two years and not 10 and get a much better quality home. over time they've built over 10,000 homes that are impacting people's lives daily. This example proves that social innovation isn’t just about new technologies, but can be literally the building blocks of better communities.

Koc Holding 

Koc Holding integrate social innovation through a business strategy to trigger social change - either through internally through the corporate communications department or through the foundation. As xx of Koc Holding said  ‘your business strategy should touch people - otherwise it doesn’t have a useful effect. We have tried to put at least one business strategy to target social change’. These strategies have been supported through mindset change throughout the company; evidenced by the fact that the Head of Corporate Communications came from a nonprofit background. 

Zorlu Holding, Turkey 

Zorlu Holding believe that to have ‘a healthy company we need to have healthy society. In order to have a healthy society we have to find ways to solve problems of society. One of the key things that these problems are so complex and so inter cooperated with other problems, it's impossible for us as a single company to define and support only one problem. So, instead of trying to focus on just a single problem, I believe that as a company we have to find the mechanisms to support social innovation and social entrepreneurs. We have to define social innovation and find it in the right questions and find the right tools. These could be startups, these could be other players from the ecosystem and work with them and make their impact more and more. Zorlu Holding are also a member of the SIX Global Council.