5 Trends in Corporate Social Innovation


c/o Case Catalyst

Businesses are doing social innovation. But some of them are doing it without referencing the words social or innovation when developing their strategies and projects. From our vantage point in London, UK, we have seen the following five trends as big corporations begin experimenting with new ways of working towards a triple bottom line – and changing the systems in which they operate.

1. Pre-Competitive Collaboration 

Hyper-competitors are joining forces to change a system as a united front. Consider it a ‘coalition of the willing’.  For example, Nike, Adidas, Puma and 13 other highly competitive apparel companies came together to launch the Zero Discharge of Hazardous Chemicals project, focused on developing a shared roadmap on how to eliminate the discharge of hazardous chemicals from their linked value chains.

2. The Finance Frontier

Companies are increasingly seeing the financial system in which they operate as an area ripe for disruption. Puma has done this by publicly disclosing their EP&L statement (Environmental Profit and Loss), which values their use of natural capital across the supply chain. Unilever is pushing back on the financial status quo by refusing to provide quarterly earnings guidance to investors.

3. From Open Innovation to System Innovation

Truly disruptive innovation requires more than just changing the rules of the game. It requires new team formations, new stadiums, new equipment and new referees.  Doing this well will involve more than a wide-reaching ‘open innovation’ platform.  By working with stakeholders across the system, they can drive innovation within (and beyond) the system in which they operate.  For example, Nike has partnered with NASA, USAID and the US State Department to run LAUNCH, uncovering truly radical sustainable innovations in fabrics and materials.

4. Looking Back to Looking Forward

At key milestones – including 50-, 75- and 100-year anniversaries – companies are celebrating by projecting the impact of their company at the next milestone. SwissRe is celebrating their 150th birthday with an ‘Open Minds, Connecting Generations’ project to engage employees and stakeholders around what comes next.

5. The Rise of the Corporate Venture

My personal favourite trend of 2013 is the rise of Corporate Venture Capital units within companies. These internal Venture Capital teams are increasingly setting their sights on areas that have traditionally fallen into the social investment camp. At the recent Global Corporate Venturing Symposium, the discussion included investments in health care services, sustainable products, renewable energy and providing access to emerging economies.

Editor’s Note: Charmian Love and the Volans team aim to help a new form of capitalism find its wings, mobilizing breakthrough capitalists from across the business, government, investment and entrepreneurial spaces. They call it Breakthrough Capitalism and their team will be bringing together Canadian breakthrough capitalists at MaRS on November 7th where we hope a new trend begins!

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About Charmian Love

Charmian Love is the Co-Founder and Director of Volans. Volans drives market-based solutions to the future's greatest challenges.


  1. Social Enterprise Buzz did an article with innovation researcher at Stanford. Well worth a read: http://www.socialenterprisebuzz.com/2013/10/24/not-innovating-youre-not-alone-and-heres-how/

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