Innovation has really been at the fore of business and society, with a keen focus on what’s new and what’s next. We have seen the emergence of the "internet of things", 4th industrial revolution, blockchain and other disruptive innovations that have taken that exciting leap forward into uncharted territory.
Sometimes it’s about that incremental step forward that makes old ideas new again and repurposes the familiar into the unexpected. Innovation—whether small or incremental, large or disruptive—is about change. For most of us the idea of “innovation” is laced with positive and desirable assumptions about something that will be shinier, faster, cooler, better than whatever we have. For some, innovation also comes with questions about whether we really need so much that is “new”—and if the new things are so great, then how do we help everyone to get them?
A decade ago I founded Property Point, a business incubator developing small business and integrating them into corporate supply changes. The programme addressed the pain points that small businesses experience of not being able to access corporate supply chains. To date, the programme has yielded exceptional impact. It has created market access of close to R 1 billion, on average businesses in the programme have experienced an increase of 43% in their annual revenue growth and have created over 2000 sustainable jobs. What is key to the success of Property Point is that it was conceptualised as a social innovation using the social innovation framework below.
Framework for Social Innovation
The school of thought that I come from focuses the innovation process on really understanding who you are trying to innovate for. You need an intimate understanding of what are the pain points that you are trying to solve and ensure that you are engaging effectively with your “user” to gain insights. It’s a multidisciplinary process bringing together positive deviance, design thinking, ethnography, business strategy marketing and prototyping. Innovation is a non-linear process but the following framework would be able to provide innovators with the building blocks for a viable innovation whether social or commercial.
To create extraordinary innovations, you have to meet ordinary people. During this phase, the aim is to understand what pain points you are trying to solve for. Utilizing ethnography and design anthropology principles would allow you to have a deeper immersion experience observing behaviour, listening and asking questions. Your innovation should ideally collate with the insights that you are gaining from the collect phase.
Allow the insights to tell you a story. During the create phase it’s a process of making sense of the data you have gathered. Data tells the stories of the users that you are trying to innovate for, the key would be to identify if there are any patterns that are forming. It is critical that you don’t have preconceived ideas of what the solutions should be but that insights inform ideation process. Create is a very reiterative process and it also allows you to co-create with your user. During this phase, you will also be able to start prototyping and gaining additional inputs.
Is your value proposition viable? Whether your innovation is a commercial venture or a social innovation there needs to be a feasible and viable business model. The value proposition should also be speaking to solving the initial pain point. Your investor's pitch will also be crafted during this phase.
Through it all, I have learned that innovation is not a game for its own sake but a way to change the world for the better, for all of us. How we embrace and promote intentional innovation will be critical to our ability to grow our impact on the issues we care about most. Social innovation endeavours to solve complex social pain points, positively impact communities and empower the disenfranchised.
Shawn Theunissen is an executive and the head of Corporate Social Responsibility at Growthpoint Properties. In 2008 he founded Property Point, an enterprise and supplier development programme in the property industry, which focuses on the holistic development of small, medium and micro enterprises (SMMEs) and the creation of market linkages within the private sector. In 2011 he founded Entrepreneurship To The Point an information and leadership development programme for entrepreneurs which host monthly events.
He serves on the boards of Social Enterprise Academy Africa, ED Council of South Africa, Property Sector Charter Council and on the advisory committee for Nation Builder.
Shawn obtained his Master’s Degree in concept-making and people-centric innovation from 180 Academy in Denmark. The title of his thesis was “Innovation Strategies for economic development programmes” in which he explored the use of open innovation to drive small business improvement. He has a Bachelor of Commerce Degree from the University of Johannesburg, South Africa and has completed the Senior Executive Programme Africa at Harvard Business School. He has been a facilitator and guest speaker at various business schools and business forums in South Africa and abroad.