By Maura Dilley
Conferences that explore emerging thought leadership are an enjoyable place for a cultural ethnographer. We understand the world through common language, metaphors and reference points. When you’re making something new, like social innovation, you invite an intellectual struggle to organize ideas in our collective mind. Results being the occasional euphoria of a new idea, as well as the confusion of speaking at crossed purposes. The spectrum of self-identified social innovators on parade at the Social Innovation Summit Silicon Valley 2014 gives up much for study.
Understanding the spectrum of self-identified social innovators
First, we have “social innovation natives” like Kiva, Code for America and DonorsChoose.org. In my mind, these organizations define social innovation; they are dedicated to designing products, services and, indeed, companies that fundamentally improve society by re-designing its operating systems. Social innovation is their modus operandi. And there “social innovation re-modelers” — companies, foundations and philanthropists very large and somewhat small, drawn to identify with social innovation for a variety of curious reasons. Parsing these out was an entertaining exercise.
By Julie Noblitt
“For a seed to achieve its greatest expression, it must come completely undone. The shell cracks, its insides come out, and everything changes. To someone who doesn’t understand growth, it would look like complete destruction.” – Cynthia Occelli
One of the most soul-satisfying things about attending the Social Innovation Summit is the number of people you meet there who have taken great ideas for social change and translated them into action. Nowhere is the impact of social change more important than in the educational sector, and the summit, held on Nov. 19-20 in Silicon Valley, did not disappoint on this score. The incredible line-up of speakers, included the founders of such innovative educational initiatives as Nirvan Mullick’s Caine’s Arcade, Steve Mesler’s Classroom Champions and Kimberly Bryant’s Black Girls Code — to name just a few.
But one talk brought the audience to its feet for a standing ovation, and it was the one I came to the summit to see: Stephen Ritz’s rapid-fire, exhiliarating tour of how the Green Bronx Machine has helped empower and transform the lives of school children in the historically poorest congressional district in the nation, the South Bronx in New York City. How does he do this? By teaching his students how to become urban farmers.
By Maura Dilley
About six months ago, Patagonia, a global leader in sustainable apparel, dissolved its sustainability department. This is a development Rick Ridgeway, vice president of environmental affairs, is very proud of. Patagonia, the iconic outdoor apparel company founded by Yvon Chouinard in 1973, has lead the apparel industry’s exploration of sustainable design, production and end-of-life for textiles. The company’s path is hard won, lit by metrics and guided by sages of social innovation.
By Devon Bertram
Last week’s International Society of Sustainability Professionals (ISSP) annual conference, held in Denver, Colorado, was an opportunity for more than 200 sustainability professionals to come together. They not only shared their stories and insights from their experiences, but also learned from leaders in their fields about trends in the industry, updates on existing tools and frameworks, new resources, lessons learned, and thoughts of the future.
As a first-time ISSP conference attendee, I was struck both by the intimate nature of the conference and the opportunity to connect with the range of attendees, as well as the valuable content of the sessions and varied format that enabled an engaging and dynamic experience. While there was a wide offering of session topics, a few themes took hold:
- We are in a time of both urgency and opportunity: While we can still be hopeful (and, in my opinion, must be to move forward with grace and support), action needs to happen now in both small incremental steps and even more so, broad and grand changes.
- Sustainability reporting is being embraced by more and more companies and organizations as a means of sharing metrics and their story: Each are finding ways to make it relevant and valuable to their work, and their customers.
- Collaboration and partnerships are essential to navigate the challenges that businesses and industries are and will be facing: Expertise gathered from various sectors can support a systems thinking approach and present more informed and appropriate solutions.
Supporting these themes comes the Sustainability Accounting Standards Board (SASB). While SASB did not hold a focused panel or workshop, its integration and mention throughout a handful of sessions demonstrates its budding presence and relevance in the sustainability field, both today and in the future.
By Maura Dilley
“Aging is the adults version of the birds and the bees, we need to talk about it.” — Rob Lowe
Rob Lowe, a seemly ageless Hollywood actor, was a keynote speaker at this year’s Social Innovation Summit in Silicon Valley. He was speaking (and sparkling) as a brand ambassador for Genworth, a leading provider of long-term care insurance, attempting to bring the subject of an aging America out of taboo and into the limelight. Rob wants you, me and Ann Perkins to get our house in order for retirement while we’re young and healthy. Good message, but what more needs to be said about aging, social innovation and the business of our near, gray future?
I caught up with Janice Luvera, global brand leader for Genworth, and Dr. Edward Schneider, dean emeritus and [rofessor at the University of Southern California’s Leonard Davis School of Gerontology, to dig deeper.
Aging by the numbers
- 10,000 baby boomers will turn 65 every day between now and 2030 – nearly seven every minute.
- The Department of Health and Human Services projects that the U.S. population older than 85 will more than double by 2040.
- Americans older than 40 are more likely to plan for their death than plan for their long-term care needs. While two-thirds have discussed funeral arrangements with loved ones, fewer than half have talked about their preferences for the care they might need as they age.
By Felicity Carus
But Paul Dickinson, founder and executive chairman of CDP, is disappointed by the apparel giant’s refusal to participate in the nonprofit’s voluntary Global Water Report launched yesterday. Exxon participated in the CDP’s last annual carbon report, while Nike did not make its data public for the water report.
The water report was conducted on behalf of 503 investors, such as Bank of America, CalPRS, Deutsche Bank and JP Morgan Chase & Co, with $60 trillion in assets under management.
“It’s a bizarre company like Exxon or Nike who will ignore a legitimate question for their shareholders,” he tells me. “The question is: If they are not answerable to their shareholders, then who are they answerable to? Are they rogue companies?”
By Felicity Carus
Today was not so much the march of the change-makers, but the march of the brewer, the banker and the sustainable shoemaker at Sustainable Brands London 2014.
Michael Dickstein, director of global sustainable development at Heineken International, showed the power of music in the company’s ‘Dance More, Drink Less’ responsible drinking campaign. But not all brands have access to Armin Van Buuren to encourage customers to “drink slow.”
He then showed a teaser for next year’s campaign that seemed to set a target of 100 percent sustainably sourced barley and hops by 2020. That’s a long time to wait for a green beer.
Financial service companies are thin on the ground at Sustainable Brands London. But all the financial wrongdoing of the banking sector was left to be represented by David Wheldon of Barclays, who surely has the most interesting job title in the corporate social responsibility (CSR) space: head of brand, reputation and citizenship.
Jo Confino, executive editor at the Guardian, gave Wheldon a tough welcome: “Let’s be honest about this, the Bank of England produced a new report saying that wrongdoing in the banking industry was still embedded in the culture. Barclays has put aside another £500 million for its rigging and wrongdoing and generally appalling behaviour being one of the institutions that has driven us a society to the point of bankruptcy.”
“Jo’s introduction, let’s face it, is absolutely right. For around 30 years, the financial services industry has made a woeful mistake of not putting the people that it serves at the center of what it does. The consequence of that is a lot of things that need fixing,” said Wheldon in reply.
By Felicity Carus
The day before the Sustainable Brands 2014 conference in London opened, the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) published its first major report since 2007. At 1,552 pages long, the Synthesis Report is indigestible to all but the most die-hard climate activist, policy wonk or scientist. But its central message boils down to this: We must quit fossil fuels altogether by 2100 or face catastrophe.
This is not news people want to hear; not even sustainability professionals who have flown in from Hong Kong or Israel want to hear it. So, how can we expect the man or woman zooming past the Lancaster Hotel next to Hyde Park to get out of their cars and onto the bus, particularly when it’s raining in London?
The fact is that climate catastrophe is not even news at all. Sure, the world is a different place since the last IPCC report came out in 2007: The U.S. has a climate-changing president; the financial crisis took a chunk of money out of everyone’s pocket; and the momentum for action at the Copenhagen in 2009 has run out of steam despite the frenetic pace of adoption for solar and wind.
But the storytellers — the journalists, the brand strategists and sustainability marketers in this particular sustainability narrative – have failed to connect consumers enough to inspire engagement with this crisis on any significant scale to make a real impact.
Today’s workshop led by Daianna Karaian, senior brand strategist at Futerra, examined effective storytelling because “the connection with brands and consumers was often broken.”
“We look at our customers through market research or reams of data – that’s massively important, but at the end of the day it’s even more important to remember that our customers are real people, just like us.”
By Deborah Fleischer
At the AASHE conference, three different speakers evoked Ronald Heifetz’s concept of adaptive challenges — problems that can’t be solved with a simple, technical fix. If ever there was an adaptive challenge, climate change is one of them: It will require systemic change at a large scale, collaborative conservations and engagement of many sectors to solve.
At the opening ceremony of the conference, Dr. John Anderson, president of Millersville University, announced MomentUs, a new cross-sector climate solution, and the launch of Solution Generation, a new initiative to engage higher education in climate solutions. Read on for an overview of MomentUs and Solution Generation.
By Deborah Fleischer
The Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE) conference got off with a bang on Sunday, with pre-conference workshops and a keynote by Annie Leonard, of the Story of Stuff acclaim, who is now Executive Director of Greenpeace (more on Annie’s comments tomorrow). More than 2,000 sustainability professionals and higher education leaders have gathered in Portland around the AASHE mission to “inspire and catalyze higher education to lead the global sustainability transformation.”
I joined over 30 sustainability leaders for Disruptive Sustainability, an inspiring pre-conference workshop led by Leith Sharp, director of executive education for sustainability leadership at Harvard University’s Center for Health and the Global Environment. A key theme that ran through Sharp’s and Leonard’s comments: We need to go beyond slowing down and ‘doing less bad’ to real transformation. And the key to getting there, according to these two women leaders, is to adopt a new, more engaging and more collaborative leadership style. Both share a hopeful, positive vision for the future. “A better world is possible and inevitable,” said Leonard. Both stress that change is hard. And both offered concrete tips and tools, targeted to higher education but also applicable to business.
By Cindy Mehallow
Commitments made at the Clinton Global Initiative (CGI) annual meeting tend to respond to pressing global needs, and this year’s event was no exception. Five of the initiatives announced at the CGI’s 10th annual meeting will help Jordan and other Mideast nations cope with the ongoing Syrian refugee crisis.
The crisis in Syria, now in its fourth year, has laid a heavy burden on Jordan and its neighbors. A key U.S. ally, Jordan welcomes Syrian refugees who daily stream across its northern border. About 1.3 million Syrians now live in Jordan, including about 630,000 of whom are registered as refugees. More than 120,000 live in the refugee camp Zaatari, which is now the fourth largest city in Jordan and the second biggest refugee camp in the world. The burden this places on Jordan’s infrastructure and services is almost crippling.
“We will always do the right thing. We punch above our weight. But how much can we do by ourselves?” asked King Abdullah II of Jordan. “We are asking the international community to watch our backs.”
The new commitments announced at the CGI are intended to do just that.
By Cindy Mehallow
What makes the efforts of Clinton Global Initiative (GCI) members so successful? CGI members include foundations, corporations and NGOs that have made tangible progress in tackling some of the world’s most pressing problems. From 2005 through 2013, CGI community members have made 2,872 Commitments to Action that have affected the lives of 430 million people across 180 countries. Their efforts have helped rebuild Haiti, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, fight food insecurity, and promote education and economic opportunity for women and girls — to name a few of their initiatives.
So, how do they achieve these results? Listening to presenters during the recent CGI annual meeting in New York, I paid more attention to how they drove change than to what they accomplished.
As the meeting progressed, several themes began to emerge. Many of the ideas and principles described by presenters echoed success factors I’ve observed firsthand through my work with sustainability reporting clients and my pro-bono work on the municipal level. Even though I’d heard much of this advice before, it was a valuable reminder of some essential principles.
Here is a distillation of their wisdom for assessing your own corporate social responsibility (CSR) and sustainability efforts.
By Julian Fishman
I had the pleasure of hearing some of the Bay Area’s most innovative social entrepreneurs share their stories and peer into the future at the recent Idea People: Thinking for Good event held at the SFJazz Center in San Francisco.
The event was curated by Five Thot, a forward thinking design and event organization that encourages people to imagine the world as it could be, rather than as it is today. As a shout-out to Five Thot, here are five themes that will help big thinkers and dreamers get their ideas off the ground:
1. Problem + Passion = Opportunity
The vast majority of the entrepreneurs on show took an unconventional path to arrive at the helm of their social enterprise. IndoSole’s founder, Kyle Parsons, spent his teens working in a recycling center with the occasional surfing trip to Bali. Kiva’s founder Matt Flannery was inspired by Mohamed Yunus to search for a more impactful job and found himself giving up the corporate world for microfinance in Uganda. Lauren Walters (pictured), founder of 2 Degrees Food, witnessed first-hand the extreme malnourishment of Rwandan children at a time when Tom’s Shoes’ ‘one for one’ business model was starting to gain traction.
By Annika Hoeltje
The Social Innovation Summit in NYC brings together organizations that aim to scale their social impact, such as the two large bakery chains Greyston Bakery and Panera Bread. Both are utilizing their core competencies in order to drive positive social change and community development. Greyston Bakery provides jobs and training opportunities for people, who haven’t been given a chance before, and Panera Bread addresses the problem of food insecurity in their community cafes.
Greyston Bakery creates apprenticeships for people who might otherwise not get the opportunity, so that they can move forward on their path to self-sufficiency. The certified B Corporation provides integrated training programs for individuals such as Dion Drew. After leaving jail in 2008 it was very hard for Dion to find a job that paid a salary he could survive on or that would enable him to start a family. Greyston Bakery took him on as an apprentice. During his yearlong apprenticeship he learned patience, self-discipline and a new attitude. He successfully completed the training program and was later promoted to the position of Lead Operator in the Research and Development Department. Dion finally had the means to support a family and his first child, a daughter, was born in 2010. The training program provided structure, taught him applicable hands on skills, and let him contribute to the making of high quality products.
Greyston Bakery shows how vocational training can open up opportunities for people that want to turn their lives around. This is a great example of how a company can tackle one of America’s most pressing social challenges, while operating a profitable business.
Another example for creating social impact is Panera Bread. Panera founder and CEO Ron Shaich believes that everyone deserves a dignifying dining experience in an uplifting environment regardless of their means. According to Shaich, one out of six people in the U.S. live in food insecure homes. At the Social Innovation Summit, he explained how this unique purpose guides the organization’s new initative, Panera Cares: At Panera Cares cafes guests will find the same menu of freshly baked goods, but no set prices. Instead they pay what they can into a donation box based on the honor system.
By Lina Constantinovici
At the Global Philanthropy Forum last week, MacArthur Foundation and MasterCard Foundation shared insights from the funder collaborative launched in 2012 that seeks to increase secondary education access and improve learning outcomes for marginalized populations.
The Partnership to Strengthen Innovation and Practice in Secondary Education (PSIPSE) has issued $24 million in grants to 40 projects in seven countries: Kenya, Uganda, Nigeria, Tanzania, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Rwanda and India. Project durations are one to three years. In addition to the two foundations, several other partners have joined to support the initiative – Intel, Human Dignity Foundation, Comic Relief and Dubai Cares.
This month, PSIPSE announced its third Request for Proposals from NGOs focused on delivering secondary education programs. Proposals can be submitted at www.macfound.org/PSIPSE.