Dive into Corporate Social Innovation

What classifies as CSI may more easily be broken down along a spectrum. While some corporations and impact investors are examining the Blended Value work of Jed Emerson, or Mark Kramer and Michael Porter’s work on Shared Value, others are looking to push the boundaries even further.

The Shared Value concept was introduced in our Impact Investing and Social Finance section, and it marks an important turning point for business and for many social entrepreneurs. There is literally billions of dollars now being invested in new companies and enterprises that value social or environmental impact along with their bottom line.

From the 2011 Social Finance Forum held at MaRS, watch Antony Bugg-Levine from the US-based, Nonprofit Finance Fund articulate how impact investing can contribute to creating sustainable value in Canadian society.

Corporate engagement has moved a long way since 2011 in some exciting ways. As Canadian corporate social innovation consultant, Coro Strandberg writes in her introduction to the Social Value Business Guide, “In response to people’s changing expectations, the world’s most innovative companies are building social value right into their core business strategies, not only to address poverty and other problems in their communities, but also to improve workplace relations, gain market advantages and grow profits faster.”

Working towards the system transformation end of the spectrum are those companies willing to devote time, energy and capacity towards a lab approach. These projects can take months or even years. Great examples of labs where corporations are deeply committed are the Sustainable Food Lab or the Finance Innovation Lab.

At the farthest end of the spectrum are those corporations that are willing to participate in what John Elkington of Volans calls: Breakthrough Capitalism. Still in its infancy and working on developing their program, the Breakthrough participants admit in their progress report that their business case is still weak however:

“…‘Change-as-Usual’ CSR and ‘sustainability’ approaches are flawed—and ultimately doomed—where they do not link out to efforts to transform economics, valuation and accounting, which represent the DNA of modern capitalism. Key to this critique is the argument that the efficient market theory, which has become virtually all-pervasive, is flawed, even bankrupt. Tomorrow’s leaders will need to both draw on and co-create new political, social and economic frameworks better suited to the emerging agendas.”

In 2014, SiG and KPMG teamed up with Volans to produce the first Canadian-focused report, Breaking Through: How Corporate Social Innovation Creates Business Opportunity. This area of focus will continue to be of interest to SiG and its partners are we try to shift to more cross-sector, multi-actor partnerships.

As you’ll find, the report contains interviews, case studies and further explanation of what CSI means and the great opportunity it presents in meeting our collective social and environmental challenges together.

Note: A complete list of all SiG educational resources can be found in our publicly-available document library. We hope you’ve found this curated introductory pathway to learning corporate social innovation helpful.

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