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A Leader’s Secret Sauce: Social Sector Innovation Management

Thursday, 20th November 2014 at 10:26 am
Xavier Smerdon
National Manager, Social Sector Banking at Westpac, Lali Wiratunga, explores some key themes that boards, leaders and their teams should consider for innovation management in the Social Sector.

Thursday, 20th November 2014
at 10:26 am
Xavier Smerdon



A Leader’s Secret Sauce: Social Sector Innovation Management
Thursday, 20th November 2014 at 10:26 am

National Manager, Social Sector Banking at Westpac, Lali Wiratunga, explores some key themes that boards, leaders and their teams should consider for innovation management in the Social Sector.

Westpac was delighted to celebrate the 2014 Westpac Community Leaders Awards last week. These awards recognise inspirational leaders who provide their leadership excellence, capabilities and commitment to the Social Sector.

The leaders represented the diversity of the sector: Intrepid Founders, Social Innovators, Employment Partners, Community Builders, Life Savers, Local Champions, Storytellers and Change Makers.

  Community Leaders Award Recipients 2014

All the leaders share a common vision to bring people together to make communities stronger. They look beyond what is happening now, and sees what is possible. They have drive, community spirit and use innovation for purpose.

Innovation in the hands of these inspiring leaders is a tool to create opportunities for a different business or a different service that has a positive impact on others.

Co-founder and former CEO of Apple, Steve Jobs once said “innovation distinguishes between a leader and a follower”.

There is increasingly a need for social innovation in the Social Sector and indeed all sectors of the economy. Innovation in whatever form it takes – business model, product or process – can help discovery of opportunities that exist now or will emerge in the near term.

So what should Social Sector organisations’ Boards, Leaders and their teams consider for innovation management?

1.       What are the attributes of a skilled innovation manager?

  •          They are good at bringing the creative ideas of others to market
  •          Demonstrates sound judgement about what creative ideas will work
  •          Can manage a creative process from ideation to fruition
  •          Can manage the innovation journey – commencing with effective brainstorming
  •          Can estimate and articulate how potential ideas will work in the marketplace

2. So what are the central aspects of innovation?

First, it starts with the customer and/or beneficiary and understanding the marketplace for your services or products. This includes knowledge of:

  •          What is going to resonate with your beneficiary, partner or donor and why?
  •          If you’re a social enterprise – what is going to sell and why?
  •          What are your customers and beneficiaries needs?
  •          What features are most attractive to them?
  •          What are the needs of your future customers?


Second, once you have a bank of creative ideas for new products and services, selecting those that are going to have the greatest chance of success in the marketplace.

Third, taking the idea from concept through ideation to a successful launch as a service or product.

3.       Making Innovation core to the DNA of your organisation

Innovation can be a key mechanism to underpin your organisation’s growth and renewal – and therefore ability to serve its social mission.  In the social sector, high performing innovators manage a juggling act of capabilities, and can consistently bring new high quality products, services or programs to the market or beneficiaries faster, more frequently and at a lower cost to serve than alternative providers.

These leading innovators encourage a culture of innovation from all parts of the organisation not just program delivery or research departments.

Some suggested further readings:

Christensen, C.M. (2003) The innovator’s dilemma: The revolutionary book that will change the way you do business. New York: Harper Collins

Innovation Process Model, from the Australian National Audit Office

Creativity in Community, from Volunteering Queensland

Eight Business Model Innovations for NFPs

More information:

To find out more about the Westpac Community Leaders Awards 2014 finalists and award recipients see: www.westpac.com.au/CLA2014

To find out more about Westpac Social Sector Banking see: www.westpac.com.au/socialsector or to ask a question, please email socialsectorbanking@westpac.com.au

Xavier Smerdon  |  Journalist  |  @XavierSmerdon

Xavier Smerdon is a journalist specialising in the Not for Profit sector. He writes breaking and investigative news articles.

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