Category Archives: innovation

CSR or Real Innovation

Yesterday Dan Schulman, Group President of Enterprise Growth at American Express opened SOCAP’s third day in San Francisco by talking about the company’s work to address the issues of financial inclusion for the underserved.  

 Globally 2.5 billion are excluded from traditional financial systems. One third don’t have access to bank accounts resulting in precious time and money wasted to seek out facilities simply to access cash from their own hard earned paychecks. With 2-4% taken as a service fee in addition to interest and other fees, the figure that the underserved pay was $89 billion in the U.S. alone last year.

Since the market’s collapse in 2008, financial platforms incorporating both technology and addressing inherent lifestyle challenges have been a burgeoning industry for entrepreneurs.   Backed by the Omidyar Network, Mango now has a presence in 6 countries that empowers underbanked adults by offering a complete set of online and offline services that are convenient, low-cost support lifestyle decisions that affect financial decisions.

Given the market opportunit ,the question is whether American Express’s launch this summer of the documentary “Spent: Looking for Change” produced by Davis Guggenheim and the announcement of American Express’s Financial Innovation Lab, are just CSR window-dressing or indeed reflective of a deep brand pivot within the company. For American Express, a brand that has long stood for exclusivity, this type of shift to inclusivity would be significant. But there are reasons to believe, despite the absence of a non-binding legal framework that requires both social and financial value to shareholders, that this indeed is a deep company-wide pivot.

The primary reason is that the Great Recession showed us that the status quo of our financial eco-system was essentially destroying the customer base.   The second is that the hallmark of a great brand is demonstrating a leadership position in driving marketplace change. And the third is that American Express was founded some 160 years ago as a freight-forwarding business. Hardly a brand for the high-minded but certainly demonstrative of a company that knows how to read the market and succeed.

Great brands will pave the way for sustainable business-based solutions to our growing social challenges and there is every reason to believe that American Express has been gearing up to lead real marketplace change.


circle of planningA not-so new term is emerging again as an efficient driver of external change. The concept of  intrapreneurship was first introduced in 1976 by a writer for the Economist who described future dynamic corporations as ones who would have internal competitive mechanisms.  By 1986, John Naisbett was defining this as a method for identifying new markets and opportunities and Steve Jobs cited the development of the MacIntosh as an intrapreneurial venture.

Fast forward to our issues of today and social intrepreneurship stands to reason as a critical driver of real impact by taking an inside-out approach.   As Josh Cleveland points out on nuPOLIS about the research he conducted for Making Your Impact at Work, the opportunity to create impact is tremendous.  “Social intrapreneurs have access to the social, intellectual, and financial capital of existing firms that can be leveraged in the pursuit of their social endeavor”, he writes.

Oftentimes social entrepreneurship requires a cultural shift which requires leadership and education.  Social intrapreneurs have the credibility to drive this change which inherently  influences thousands of touchpoints as it travels through the channels of interdepartmental and partner implementation.  Not only do social intrereneurs become ambassadors of change but they create lasting (sustainable) opportunities by opening up the dialogue for the intellectual and operational development of change.

Social entrepreneurship is getting all the buzz these days but social intrapreneurship might just be the stealth agent that advances our global progress on innovating social change.

Open Source Innovation

ideo-human-centered-design-toolkitThis is pretty cool.  IDEO and the Gates Foundation put their heads together and came up with a toolkit to help communities problem solve.  Using what IDEO calls “human centered” tools, this “how to” guide works acts like a consulting team in a box.  Only better.  It acknowledges the challenges of developing ideas when the meeting of minds requires the crossing of a language bridge.  The toolkit is free – downloadable in .pdfs.  And its been tested, in its early development phases  with IDE in Cambodia and Ethiopia, with Heifer International in Kenya and in its current format by Vision Spring in India among others.   The beauty of an open source format though is that development and testing is never done.  Feedback from designers using the four-part toolkit around the world is coming in and IDEO has plans to incorporate the input to enhance the next round.

the carbon authority: part one

carbon-neutralIn a swath of green fury, there is a whole new market emerging which most consumers have heard of but for the most part, have no clue if it will ever become relevant to their daily lives.   To some degree none of us know what role our march toward a carbon neutral economy will play in our not-too-distant future yet there are signals locally and globally that the carbon market may ultimately play a significant role in our daily choices.  The question is  – who will guide us in the adoption of practices that will truly help us understand this market.

To a certain degree, it is probably too early to ask this question.  The early days of the mobile phone industry were governed by industry wide regulation, distribution and demand.  Demand drove consumers to purchase despite mass confusion over cost protocol and brand authorities didn’t emerge until the market had stabilized and penetrated the most sought after consumer – the teen.  It took us over a decade to begin to feel like we understood how to evaluate “Rollover minutes” against “Nights and Weekends Free” against “myFaves” (although one could argue we still don’t know why we’re locked into two year contracts).

So, it’s likely that we are ten even twenty years before we truly begin to understand what the outcomes of all the debate in Washington and abroad is about as it relates to understanding our role in neutralizing the carbon in our atmosphere.  This is an operational challenge that will be driven by regulation not demand.   Yet there seems to be market activity that signals this evasive concept-commodity could and actually is being productized at a mass consumer level.

Many airlines now offer individuals the opportunity to purchase carbon offsets at the point of their ticket purchase and online calculators such as Terrapass provide individuals and businesses the opportunity to purchase carbon credits to offset their output.  Termed “offsets” these credits are the product of a  financial mechanism created to regulate carbon output and including organizations naturally protecting sequestered carbon.  Most of us have begun to hear the term “offset” but will readily admit we have no idea what it really means, let alone starting to dig deeper to know what “standard” the carbon has been verified against to determine its true value.

The interesting question is,  who will emerge to be the (brand) authority in this new market?  What business and in what tier of the consumer eco-system will emerge to establish credibility and drive the standard to which we will make our assessments? And what industry can we look to previously that might shed some light on where this new market might be going?

100 Change-Makers

change-listI came across a blog recently that I hope to see replicated one day by Fast Company, Good, or another change-inspiring publication.  Instead of the Fortune 500, Forbes 100 or even BusinessWeek’s 100 Best Global Brands (thank you Interbrand), Duke Stump of The Northstar Manifesto has created The Real 100.  This list is created of companies and individuals “defined by their ability to spark a revolution of new thought and possibility.”  This list is truly a personal one (I love the fact that Eddy Vedder is on it!), but it covers rich territory.   From B Corporation, to Better Place to Van Jones to Paul Hawken – it addresses thinkers and companies committed to implementing real structural change.

To the next publishers of this list, I would submit that Duke’s list (self-admittedly) leaves out some major players who I hope to see added to the glorified, branded, newly-titled 100 Change-Makers list:

1) The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.  With a $U.S. 35.1 billion dollar endowment, the scale of this foundation’s giving and thinking is fueling major reform in global health, education, poverty reduction and access to technology to spark a revolution in philanthrocapitalism.

2) The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Malaria and Tuberculosis. Conceived as a public-private partnership financing programs to end these three diseases, it has committed $U.S. 11.4 billion to 550 programs in 136 countries.   As a financier, its role cannot be underestimated in bringing government, science, companies, the health community and its partner organizations together in a collaborative effort to effect the end of these diseases as we know them.

3) Global Giving.  Much has been credited to the for-profit micro-finance efforts of Kiva.  It definitely belongs on the Change-Makers list.  But so does Global Giving.  With a division set up to advise companies on their employee giving, GG is set up to strategically integrate a turn-key giving portal aligned with a well-suited non-profit endeavor that speaks to companies’ cultural ethics and values.  The much bally-hoo’d Wal*Mart PSP set the stage for this endeavor but Global Giving is the mechanism  to mass deliver increased CSR at the employee level.

4) (RED).  Many will disagree with me here.  (RED) has suffered and struggled.  But (RED) was the first brand to attempt to merge the world of consumerism and social responsibility.  It has suffered the way many pioneering concepts do.   But, it was the first model of its kind and it deserves credit for the revenue its generated on behalf of AIDS (US$ 120 million so far).  (RED) has hit some bumps in the road but I’m looking forward to its next steps.

25 things…an innovation tool

25-thingsHow many articles have you read about “leveraging social media”  yet how much real implementation have you seen?  Researchers, companies pay attention.  Memes provide very specific opportunities to participate in social media phenomena.   And The 25 Random Things about [insert your product or service here] sweeping FaceBook – among others – is a no brainer to both implement and learn from.

People love to talk about themselves.  They also love to talk about the things they love (and hate for that matter).   Using FB or Ning or any other social network to initiate research on your product using this format has tremendous potential because it: 1) requires a long list…this means patterns will emerge; 2) it also means that people will be forced to think beyond the top well-published “issues”, they’ll be forced to think about the emotions and situations which cause them to love or hate – this leads to real usable insightful information;   and 3) besides yet another reason to publish a personal opinion, who doesn’t love participating in the trendiest thing out there?

Now, 25 Random Things about Me…….