Opinion: How can business start to innovate for social good

26 August 2014

Julia Jackson, Transformation Leader at the Sustainable Business Network, looks at six things your business can do to create social value, and organisations that are leading the way.

Businesses internationally and locally are increasingly competing to deliver greater value to their stakeholders, and ultimately, their customers.  Using social innovation as a way of ensuring that value is created is growing in momentum. 

At the Sustainable Business Network (SBN) we believe that all organisations have a role to play in creating thriving communities.  ‘Communities’ are not only the geographical boundaries of where people do business, but they also include suppliers, products and services, community partners and employees.   Businesses that align the critical needs of our communities with their strategic goals and use that as a platform for innovation and growth can be stronger, more resilient and have a better brand reputation. 

SBN has therefore identified that this is a critical topic for our members to understand, in particular how businesses can implement and maintain strategies that ensure they are creating social value.  We have started a work stream that is looking into this area, focused around working with businesses to uncover the opportunities for social innovation through committing themselves to creating positive social value.  If you’d like to know how you can get involved please get in touch with us.

What do businesses with social value embedded into their operating policy look like?

There is no one model, as the way to do this depends on a business’s purpose, markets, products, employees and many other factors.  This is why it’s important for all organisations to consider what their role is in their community, who their stakeholders are and how they can deliver value for them.  This becomes the basis of how to create programmes that are valued and strategically aligned to the business. 

It’s also important to remember that creating social value doesn’t necessarily mean a business has to revolutionise its whole business model, but rather to figure out where it can have the most impact.  

What are some things that my business can do to start and who can we learn from?

1.   Have a strategy, purpose and values that recognise your role in creating strong communities.

Enspiral is a network of professionals who collaborate to ensure they do meaningful work.  Everything about their strategy, from their structure (flat organisational structure) to their funding model (a portion of profits goes towards projects for social impact) to the products and services that they develop, has been consciously structured to ensure positive social outcomes. 

2.  Make sure staff are happy, healthy, engaged and empowered.

Chorus New Zealand won the AON Hewitt Best Employer accreditation in 2014.  Read about how it has maintained this standard here.

3.   Create social impact through external programmes, collaborations and partnerships.

Hubbards Foods Ltd has identified the critical needs that exist in its community, and uses these criteria to make decisions about who it aligns with and what it provides for them, like the Big School Feed which provides breakfast for school children who wouldn’t otherwise receive it.

4.   Support social innovators to thrive through investing in those organisations.

Becoming more conscious about how you are investing your money is a primary vehicle for improving social problems in New Zealand.  Social bonds, which are currently being trialled by the Government, reward investors and ventures that generate improved social outcomes, by paying back investments after the agreed social/environmental outcomes have been achieved.

5.   Choose to purchase from organisations that are helping improve social and environmental problems.

Mt Eden Village Centre is a not for profit trust that is committed to creating a community in Mt Eden.  As part of this it has a commitment to only procuring with companies that are socially and environmentally responsible.  Learn more about its initiatives here.

6.   Create new organisations that exist to solve a social problem.

Te Whangai Trust operates a commercial plant nursery that trains people who are long-term unemployed, ex-offenders and at-risk young people to grow native plants that are sold, together with environmental services.  It has established a robust model to do this that returns social, environmental, cultural and financial benefits to its organisation and the community where it is based.

Want to learn more? Julia Jackson will be speaking about social value and business at Project NZ, the Sustainable Business Network’s 2014 conference, from 17-18 September at AUT University, Auckland. If you’d like to find out more about the Sustainable Business Network’s work stream on social value please contact us.

This blog first appeared on the Social Innovation 2014 website.