Impact investing for social good through new innovation- a growing momentum?

A growing group of investors around the world are increasingly seeking to make investments that generate social and environmental value as well as financial return. Sound impossible?

Well, no actually. There is a growing recognition of the need for effective solutions to social and environmental challenges that have increasingly real threat and growing inequalities.

Impact investing or more often housed under the broader heading of “Impact Economy” is about finding the ways to combine investors, philanthropists, entrepreneurs and business executives along with governments in finding new and different ways to explore the changing economic and social landscape. Through this emerging newer type of investing there is potentially that the promise of new jobs and profits, mixed in with improved social impact, can be derived from new innovation activities. It needs this convergence and seems to be gathering in pace and broader recognition.

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Can innovation lead us to economic recovery?

After some recent #innochat debates (www.innochat.com)  around innovation including the future of Nations, of the US, and of innovation itself and how it needs an organizing framework to work more efficiently,  I wanted to dig a little deeper, to get my own head around all of this. We do have real problems in the world and we need to find solutions but something strange is happening and I was not sure I understood it. So I’ve been on a little investigative journey that is beginning to make some good sense, well at least to me.

A host of financial contagion has been heaped upon us progressively in recent years.

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Renewing Innovation through the Social Innovation Agenda

The challenges are growing in their social dimension across Europe, the United States and a host of other countries, both developed and developing, that are needing new fresh responses. Social demands will inevitably increase as nations are being confronted with budgetary constraints, increased deficits and mounting debts to resolve. Social needs will become more pressing and innovation, social innovation, will increasingly explore opportunities to extract ‘more from less’. Innovation can play an increasing part in resolving social challenges that are increasingly confronting us.

Starting a new movement on social innovation in Europe

Recently I became a member of www.socialinnovationeurope.eu . I certainly  feel this is going to offer something exciting and vibrant. It is a growing community of thinkers, creators and innovators with the knowledge and skills to change the way we face Europe’s most pressing issues. Contributors to the site will take a strong hand in shaping the direction of social innovation across Europe, breaking down silos and raising a unified voice. I need to find my own part in this, as there are multiple ways for contribution, which I’m still presently figuring out.

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How can we decouple growth and consumption through innovation?

Some weeks back the International Herald Tribune (June 7th, 2011) offered a view by Chandran Nair, the CEO of Global Institute for Tomorrow, under the title “Can the planet support more Americas? Then this week an article “Over-innovation makes US firms suck at Sustainability because they are too innovative” by Jens Martin Skibsted and Rasmus Bech Hansen (http://bit.ly/oGDObX). Each makes me stop and come back to my deepening view we have to decouple growth and consumption through innovation.

This is not an easy subject but let me lay out some opening views and thoughts. Why bother? Well I really do believe we need to radically change our approaches through the use of applying innovation in new ways.

These two articles added further to my personal concerns that we do need to (quickly) come out of the denial we seem to have in all societies. Innovation needs to be radically applied in new ways that alter the present mindsets of politicians, economists and business people who feel that the only path is continued consumption and growth. This approach is simply not sustainable and we need to find a radical alternative that still offers all of us progress but in a radically altered world.

The two articles in summary first

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Learning to absorb new knowledge for innovation

In a blog I wrote in November last year entitled “Moving-towards-a-more-distributed-innovation-model”( http://bit.ly/b38ixv)  I outlined some thoughts on the flow of knowledge in a distributed innovation model and discussed the Absorptive Capacities more from an internal organizational perspective.

Increasingly we are looking outside for new knowledge that needs internally managing.

As organizations seek increasingly outside their own walls, the appreciation of how they are managing knowledge, learning and interpreting this is becoming a critical aspect of open innovation to be successful. There is a growing need to absorb, integrate and apply this in new and novel ways for accelerating the innovation performance.  The more we seek, the more the knowledge increases in complexity as markets are rapidly changing. The more we are relying on knowledge flowing into the organization the more we have to strength our inter-dependence and collaboration efforts to extract the knowledge we are acquiring for it potential value. Are organizations recognizing the value of structuring their knowledge flows? Do they have the right learning mechanisms to accelerate and exploit new potentials from this knowledge?

Organizations tend to be set up for incremental learning.

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The importance of managing our intangible capital is the key for today’s innovating business.

Today, we are valuing organizations in completely different ways than some years back. In the past we were valuing organizations purely on their tangible assets, the ‘hard’ (easier to) quantify assets, shown on the balance sheets as the basis for the value of the organization. Today that is not the case; it is more the off-balance sheet bound up in networks, relationships, connections and the ability to manage the fluidity that is occurring constantly around us, and the organizations ability to respond appropriately in seeking out improved, new value through better innovative offerings .

Intangibles are providing the new value system equation to focus upon

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The forming of new structures- the business ecosystem of innovation federations

At present we are seemingly in a state of flux, we are learning to move from linear innovation models into more dynamic ones that are increasingly forming around innovation ecosystems.

Our whole understanding of innovation is changing; we are evaluating and changing our existing focus from closed (internal orientation) into open (external orientation) thinking for accelerating and improving our innovation performances.

Regretfully we are not yet fully equipped to manage within these new innovation ecosystems. We need to give the factors an increasing focus and lead into a better emerging theory of leading or good practice.

Measuring innovation in different ways is becoming important

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Looking beyond that certain innovation bleakness is hard.

I was appalled to read a summary of a recent report that nearly 50 metropolitan regions in the USA- or more than one in seven- are unlikely to bring back their regions to job levels lost in the recession until after 2020. Yes you read it right- 2020, nearly nine further years, well beyond this Presidents further term of office, if he gets re-elected.

The report commissioned by the U.S Conference of Mayors are equally predicting 363 metropolitan areas would not generate enough jobs to get back to pre-recession peaks until 2014, based on current world economics. When you add in that metropolitan regions account for 86 per cent of all jobs you realize how stark this is. So we are entering that twilight zone for millions that have a number of lost years ahead of them to face a difficult, uncertain future.

The issue is not just the economic job loss but the types of job lost are just not easily going to be replaced. Many are simply gone, moved somewhere else in the world or just vanished forever. The level of re-skilling that needs to take place to move old-line factory jobs into technology related, advanced manufacturing for protecting added value areas or service sectors is simply massive.

Can innovation as is often suggested simply take up the slack? I think it is uinlikely. We need to think different, we need to think radically and innovation plays its delivery part in this.

Across the pond in the UK and much of Europe I suspect it is no different

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