How to use the sustainable development goals as power to innovate?

We believe Corporate Social Entrepreneurship (CSE) is an essential driver for embracing outside-in innovation. We combine corporate entrepreneurship with societal challenges to help corporates move from a CSR (corporate social responsibility) to CSE strategy. The societal challenges we face are framed by the United Nations as the Global Goals for Sustainable Development. 2016 is going to be the year of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG’s). We believe this offers a great opportunity for corporates to innovate and unleash corporate social entrepreneurship. We would like to call out to companies  to use the current momentum around the SDG’s to take the next step in their CSR strategy and get started with CSE.

Sustainable Development Goals

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDG’s) are a set of 17 goals, which replaced the Millennium Development Goals in 2015. The definition of the SDG’s is much more inclusive to the societal challenges we are facing in the near future: by 2030 the world population will have grown 8.3 billion people, of which sixty percent will be living in cities. All these people require 50% more food, energy and fresh water. Therefore, there is a need for environmental and social innovation in our ever changing world. This results in a possibility for corporates to contribute to tackling the societal challenges we face today. One of the leading thoughts in defining the SDG’s is that businesses should be included when considering tackling societal issues.

At first instance the SDG’s might not be identified by corporates as new business opportunities. The SDG’s offer direction and ambition to explore new and relevant directions for the future, in a time in which the world is moving faster than ever and companies are challenged by their societal relevance. The SDG’s are about our future and what we want the world to look like. The goals can help you to create a sustainable business model and become more relevant to your stakeholders. This potential has also been identified by Corporate Citenzenship, who give three reasons why the SDG’s are an interesting business opportunity:

  1. Societal needs provide new market opportunities.
  2. SDG’s channel investments towards shared priorities, aligning with them results in cost-effectiveness and impact.
  3. SDG’s align (inter)national policy, aligning with them results in readiness for emerging policy, which can enhance license to operate and improve reputation.

These three reasons show how the SDG’s do not only challenge us to contribute to a better world but also that there is a solid business case to get involved with the SDG’s. The SDG’s have to potential to channel the recognition of new opportunities in favour of corporate social entrepreneurship, since the SDG’s increase the prevalence of societal issues and create a sense of urgency to collectively tackle these issues. In order to open up these opportunities for business development and create impact on the SDG’s, innovation is required. Since the SDG’s channel investment and align policy, means and incentives will most likely become more widely available, fuelling innovation and new business.

It’s happening!

Although the SDG’s are only a few months old, corporates are already finding ways to incorporate them in their Corporate Social Responsibility program. Examples of corporates involved in accommodating the development goals are Philips, FrieslandCampina, DSM, Unilever, Nestle, Nutreco, KPN, Vitens and ASN Bank (Unilever 2015; Philips 2015). However, what can be noted is that most initiatives are aligned towards developing countries. This fits well with the classical view of CSR.

We want to challenge companies to take the next step (from CSR to CSE) by using the SDG’s to define ambitious and inspirational innovation challenges. We believe that this does not only lead to new innovations and business opportunities, but that it offers an opportunity to build a future proof and entrepreneurial innovation community in your organization. The SDG’s offer direction and inspiration for the future which unleashes innovation power and entrepreneurship among employees. This allows you to use the full potential of your workforce to innovate and makes them happier and more motivated to work for your organization.

New opportunities

Business and Industry were one of the nine groups that provided input during the development process of the SDG’s. Therefore partnerships on different levels between businesses, NGO’s and governments can contribute to the accomplishment of the SDG’s. The SDG’s are thus representing needs of our society, which can be translated into business opportunities. A range of innovative products and services can fill this gap. If you want to contribute to the SDG’s it is essential to cooperate with others, since real impact can only be realized together. This offers new opportunities to work with partners from different sectors and backgrounds.

Fill the gap

Our Corporate Social Entrepreneurship approach can assist you and your company in filling this gap. In one of our previous articles we wrote about CSE and the need to define a call to action. The SDG’s help you connect to the issues we as a society face. The starting point for the call to action is on or more SDG’s, allowing you to gain a first mover advantage and build a future proof organization which creates value on different levels.

How to get started

As the goals might seem big and fuzzy, it is important to approach them in a structured way. Based on our spark, sprout, spin, scale process we have identified the following steps in order to use them in an effective way:

  1. Decide which goals are relevant to the future of your organization and/ or goals that you company can contribute to
  2. Deep dive into the challenge and identify which stakeholders are relevant in tackling the challenge
  3. Define a clear call to action based on the SDG(‘s) that are most relevant to you and define the outcome you want to achieve aligning to your company’s strategy and core-business
  4. Share your call to action among your employees and relevant partners, and mobilize outside entrepreneurs, to provide outside-in insights
  5. Design the main steps and activities to mobilize and activate your social intrapreneurs
  6. Build a community of social intrapreneurs and internal sponsors, so that the outcome of your efforts are backed by your organization and the results are put into practice
  7. Start exploring the opportunities and developing new concepts in a full CSE program

As Outside Inc. we support you by designing and executing a CSE program that fits to the goals you have set. Interested in how we can support you to use the innovation power of the SDG’s? Our CSE programs are a low threshold way to get started with the SDG’s: building a first community of social intrapreneurs and generate new business opportunities. Contact Isabelle Coppens for more information.