This week I had the pleasure to be a panelist on SAP Radio. The Moderator was Bonnie D. Graham, Global Thought Leadership Media Director and the Creator / Producer / Host of SAP Game-Changers Radio. Other panelists included Karin Underwood, a first-year MBA student at the Stanford Graduate School of Business where she is a co-president of the Social Innovation Club and winner of the Impact Design Immersion Fellowship. She represented the views of the next generation of business leaders. Also, Katie Morgan Booth who leads Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) for SAP North America, joined us to give her perspective from a large 10,000 employee technology and information company.
The question we were to address was “Can doing good using social innovation be good for your company’s bottom line?”
I pointed out the growing social challenges due to the increase in world population, mega cities, climate change, and dwindling resources, which provides an opportunity for corporations to develop new markets, enable new consumers, and create an environment that will enable social innovation and business growth.
Karin, the MBA student from Stanford, said that the notion that young people entering the workforce want to earn a lot of money and return it later is broken for many of her classmates. They want to find a way to do big, impactful things in the world early in their careers, and businesses have a huge opportunity to show their commitment. The nature of work has changed, and employees are voting with their feet. When businesses focus on only maximizing profits for their shareholders, they are making short-term choices that can hurt their ability to attract top-quality talent and to create economic value and returns for society in the long-term.
Katie, the CSR Director from SAP, was concerned about the pace and scale at which innovation was accelerating and was concerned with its impact on people, organizations, and communities. We need to prevent people from being left behind. Inclusive education and workforce readiness programs are crucial to economic, social & environmental sustainability, as well as future innovation. We have the responsibility to meet people where they are and provide them with the hard- and soft-skills needed to secure employment in a digital workplace. We need responsive solutions and coordination from all parts of society – governments, citizens and private industry alike – to re-envision an educational system based on lifelong learning that can fully prepare workers for the jobs of the future. In CSR we have the unique opportunity to get our employees out into their communities, take them outside their comfort zones, and show them how others live, and the challenges that others face. When they see this, it often gives them a push to go further and deeper to learn about social issues and try to improve them. Many people take that spirit and challenge the status quo within our company, within their own jobs and products they work on. The more someone can be challenged the more they build empathy to other’s experiences, and that is what is necessary to move the world forward.
I can relate to Katie’s comments on CSR. Although I work on Hitachi’s Social Innovation Strategy and the different technologies that can drive innovation and create sustainable social change as well as business outcomes; it is important to keep myself grounded in what this means for individuals as well as the general society. This last weekend, I participated in a Relay for Life in my home town of Morgan Hill, just 30 miles south of where I work in Silicon Valley. Relay for Life is a volunteer fund raising event for the American Cancer Society. Teams are formed to walk in a 24 hour relay, around the local community park. I joined my daughter Elizabeth's team. Each team has a tent where they do fund raising events, like raffles, or sell different crafts that the teams have made. and distribute educational material about the different forms and treatments for cancer. More importantly it is a time to share and support each other. The teams are formed by neighbors, friends and families who come together to honor the memory of a cancer victim, support a cancer patient or to celebrate a survivor. We had the opportunity to hear firsthand, from cancer survivors and care givers, like the young mother who was first diagnosed with cancer 9 years ago, went into remission, but recently learned that the cancer had returned. Hearing these individual stories from the people in our community, adds urgency to everything we do.
The conclusion of our panel was that Social Innovation will be good for a company’s bottom line and if companies are to attract the new generation of innovative business leaders, they must focus their business strategies on more than maximizing profit. Social Innovation should also be a personal goal for each of us to build a healthier, safer, sustainable world for everyone.