Of Innovation and Bushel Baskets

Innovation is as hot a topic as ever in today's business dialogue. It's truly a global conversation: in the US, innovation is a chief concern of individual companies and CEOs; the stuff of business books.

Innovation is as hot a topic as ever in today's business dialogue. It's truly a global conversation: in the US, innovation is a chief concern of individual companies and CEOs; the stuff of business books. In Europe, it's about economic development; in Asia it is about the next wave in economic leadership and prosperity; and in emerging markets, it's about a path to indigenous global brands.

We're quick to assume innovation belongs in the realm of science or technology. But innovation can, and does, apply to business model, industry architecture, even management. And innovation is becoming part of the language of the social sector as well. From the life-altering innovations of a nonprofit social enterprise called KickStart to the breakthrough of Muhammad Yunus' Grameen Bank, to the critical insight behind Mercy Corps' engagements at the community level, there's growing recognition in the NGO and social sectors that bold, fresh approaches are required both to drive real change and to engage world community members. Out of this, a new conversation is emerging about Social Innovation, which we think of as the marriage of innovation and social impact.

Social innovation applies to the private sector as well. For example, the innovations driving GSK's global vaccines business are indeed amazing science. But just as important is the breakthrough work the company is doing with both its pricing model and NGO partnerships to get its vaccines into markets where previous approaches just wouldn't work. In a globalizing world, as the McKinsey Quarterly recently put it, social issues become strategic. Where social impact meets business strategy: that's where social innovation takes place.

Like all innovations, social innovations make for great storytelling: they have the power to drive business and social impact as well as compel employees and build community. As communicators in the world community, we should be bringing these stories to light. The world needs to hear them.

Marianne Allison, chief innovation office, Waggener Edstrom Worldwide

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