Can Innovation Change the World? Social Innovation Awards to Recognize Market Leaders

By Martin Smith

Since the Club of Rome was established in 1968, thousands of companies, industry associations, non-profit organizations and social enterprises have championed the cause of sustainable development and responsible enterprise.  To that end, many of the 5,000+ companies that now disclose on their social and environmental performance have moved CSR and Sustainability out of their foundations, community relations, and public relations departments and are embedding social and environmental management into business strategy.
The Social Innovation Awards, now in its third annual year, will recognize a growing group of companies and non-profit organizations that are pushing the boundaries of innovation within the realm of sustainability. 

This year’s application deadline is November 15th and award members will be showcased both online and at a global summit in London on March 1st entitled Redefining Value: Integrated Reporting and Measuring Sustainability.

For many market leaders, a lens towards social and environmental management is now a core component of innovation.  Many of the top companies in the world of CSR are embracing a collaborative and open innovation model of managing CSR in order to achieve rapid results. Open innovation is a paradigm that assumes that firms can and should use external ideas as well as internal ideas, and internal and external paths to markets, as they look at advance their products, services, and technology.

Embracing open innovation requires shedding a number of assumptions and traditional ways of doing business.  Rather than think that all the smart people in the world work for us, companies that embrace open innovation believe that smart people work inside and outside their companies.  Rather than believing they must discover ideas themselves, companies embracing open innovation believe they need not originate ideas and research to profit from them.

Innovation as a core component of sustainability is helping both small to medium enterprises and large multinationals.  Vestergaard Frandsen is a Danish company that, for 40 years, made uniforms for hotel workers and retailers. Now it makes textile-based, life-saving products, including ZeroFly, a durable plastic sheeting for sheltering refugees that also kills disease-spreading insects, and LifeStraw, a water filtration tool the size of paper-towel cylinder that serves thousands who are deprived of clean drinking water.

Con-way, a $4.3 billion freight transportation and logistics services company based in San Mateo, California has aggressively adopted an internal sustainability program to cut waste, reduce fuel consumption, recycle equipment and supplies, and procure goods and services from companies that have clearly stated, and measurable sustainability goals.

Both Conway and Vestergaard Frandsen were winners of Social Innovation Awards last year.

Innovation goes beyond simply redesigning products and eliminating waste.  Other market leaders are rethinking the entire way goods and services are created, marketed, and consumed.  Two other winners from last year’s Social Innovation Awards exemplify how global companies and non-profits are reimagining delivery models in a networked world.

Dispensary of Hope, a nonprofit social venture, crowd-sources medication to uninsured populations. The program is a partnership with three leading pharmaceutical companies, including Merck. The dispensary, founded in 2003, has so far filled more than 200,000 prescriptions for patients who otherwise couldn’t afford them.

Thomson-Reuters’ Market Lite provides short-messaging news and information service that tells BOP farmers in India the latest market and weather information, helping them to offset risk and plant/sell their crops more successfully.  By giving rural farmers real time information on commodity pricing, the program has increased average annual farmer salaries by over 25%, an important step towards reducing farmer suicide throughout India.

For more details on the 2011 Social Innovation Awards and to apply by November 15th, please visit

This post was written by Martin Smith, CEO and Founder of

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