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Why innovation is important to social enterprises


Monday, 17th June 2019 at 5:01 pm
Gabrielle Martinovich
There is an opportunity for social enterprises to play a more proactive role in creating innovative solutions to some of the world’s most wicked problems, write Janet Sernack and Gabrielle Martinovich from ImagineNation, as part of a four-part series about rejuvenating to survive and thrive for social benefit.


Monday, 17th June 2019
at 5:01 pm
Gabrielle Martinovich
Janet Sernack


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Why innovation is important to social enterprises
Monday, 17th June 2019 at 5:01 pm

There is an opportunity for social enterprises to play a more proactive role in creating innovative solutions to some of the world’s most wicked problems, write Janet Sernack and Gabrielle Martinovich from ImagineNation, as part of a four-part series about rejuvenating to survive and thrive for social benefit.

In the previous article we discussed the risks of not innovating, in this article we consider the business case for social enterprises.

While we face unprecedented global political, social and environmental unrest, governments tend to lack the political will, expertise and resources to fully address the range of social, community and civic problems, and businesses tend to only act if they see a market opportunity and commercial advantage.  

This creates an opportunity for social entrepreneurs and purpose-led social enterprises to play a larger, more proactive role in creating sustainable and innovative solutions to some of these problems.

Cultivating curiosity, imagination and creativity to invent innovative solutions has the potential to transform some of these possibilities into commercially viable innovations in the markets and communities that need them most.

So why is innovation important to the NFP sector’s survival and growth?

Making sense of innovation in your own context is challenging. At ImagineNation™ we define innovation as change that adds value. At its simplest it’s about making change happen – strategically and systemically, through bridging the gap between people and technology to add value to the quality of people’s lives.

A report by Bridgespan and the Rockefeller Foundation suggests that: “In a buzzword-driven era, many non-profits may have lost sight of what innovation really means and why it should be coveted. Innovation is a break from practice large or small, that leads to significant positive social impact.”

Currently there is a lot of noise about innovation, what it means and why it is important to industries and organisations in Australia. Yet few organisations know or can recognise the difference between improvement, invention and innovation. Whilst all three are crucial to success, not innovating creates the highest risk for a purpose-led organisation’s survival.

In the case of Guide Dogs Victoria, CEO Karen Hayes transformed this trusted brand in response to the National Disability Insurance Scheme’s shift to a self-directed care model.

Hayes says she had to change the organisation “into a values-based organisation with a plan everyone understands, so we are all moving in the right direction together”.

Her vision was to move to a more sustainable model where Guide Dogs Victoria could maintain its core values and at the same time reinvent its business model in order to be able to be self-funding.

Why disrupt your business?

Internally, it means disrupting your current thinking to make way for fresh thinking, perceiving and looking at things differently, to ultimately do things differently.

Externally, it means looking at your world with fresh eyes to sense and connect the patterns and trends converging, diverging and accelerating in the external environment and impacting your business, and your clients.

Strategically, it requires planning a focused response to how these patterns and trends are impacting your business and your clients.

Commercially, it requires disrupting your current business models and habitual ways of generating funds, as well as experimenting with working collaboratively to create new products, services and/or markets.

Solving wicked problems

If we take a look at the global refugee crisis, most of us are aware that it is a wicked problem that requires fresh thinking.

The UNHCR’s annual Global Trends report shows an average of one person is displaced every two seconds, with developing countries most affected. The study found 68.5 million people had been driven from their homes across the world at the end of 2017, more people than the population of Thailand.

This has resulted in the need to redefine how we perceive and define “refugees” and what it means to be a refugee by using new design thinking methodologies to find relevant and viable solutions.

UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi says: “We are at a watershed, where success in managing forced displacement globally requires a new and far more comprehensive approach so that countries and communities aren’t left dealing with this alone.”

While we have yet to experience the deeper social, political and economic impact on major cities and global centres of such massive and still constant population disruptions, creative approaches to the complex range of consequences have yet to arise.

Similar patterns and trends are constantly emerging nationally and globally, requiring NFPs to think and act differently. Developing true social entrepreneurship and the need to be able to assess and develop these leadership skills within organisations is paramount.

If you change nothing, nothing changes

As we are now living in a digitised and interconnected world, it’s crucial to focus your attention on enhancing adaptability, creativity and inventiveness in your organisation.

For your organisation to survive and thrive, it means having a stronger focus on your clients by re-examining what it means to be human and to stay true to your clients.

As new jobs and roles are created, requiring radically new mindsets and skills, we will also see new service possibilities emerge that transform organisations and deliver positive outcomes.

Through working collectively with people, clients, ecosystems and technology, innovation can evolve as a way of doing business.

Taking the first steps

If you are willing and strategically brave, you can take the first steps in systemically disrupting your organisation:

  1. Cultivate curiosity by questioning and challenging assumptions and the status quo.
  2. Develop capacity and capability to lead and empower your people to take the initiative.
  3. Build diverse teams with different backgrounds and skill sets for more perspective and greater collaboration across boundaries and industries.
  4. Apply design thinking, and structures and processes for generating, testing, and rolling out new concepts and commercially viable business models.
  5. Invest time and money in upskilling your workforce to make it happen.

About the authors: Janet Sernack is the founder and CEO of ImagineNation, a global network of future thinking innovation leaders in innovation consulting, culture, leadership and team development, and coaching for individuals, teams and organisations. As a Fellow of the Institute of Managers and Leaders, and as an ICF PCC executive coach, she is acknowledged as a global thought leader on the people side of innovation. She presents free monthly webinars, blogs regularly, and presents an online ICF CCE Coach for Innovators Certified Program.

Gabrielle Martinovich works with businesses experiencing significant growth, change and complexity to define their strategy and connect with their people, partners and customers to deliver authentic dialogue and strong partnerships. She is a graduate and member of the Australian Institute of Company Directors and board chair of the Women’s and Girls’ Emergency Centre.

See also:

Creating positive and valuable change through innovation


Gabrielle Martinovich  |  @ProBonoNews

Gabrielle Martinovich is an innovation strategist and facilitator at ImagineNation.

Janet Sernack  |  @ProBonoNews

Janet Sernack is the founder and CEO of ImagineNation.


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