Social impact innovation: Strength in numbers

  • Posted on February 12, 2019
  • Estimated reading time 5 minutes
social impact innovation

The following blog post was written by Avanade alum Ellen Cowan.

There are several ways to accelerate social impact, not the least among them digital transformation with its four key pillars: engaging constituents; empowering workers; optimizing operations; and innovating to create new mission-aligned solutions, products and services. Despite the potential enormous impact of such transformation, progress is slow. Why?

To achieve transformation along any of these pillars, organizations must become not only tech-enabled, but rather truly digital. According to a report by the Stanford Social Innovation Review, “What Makes Nonprofit Digital Teams Successful Today,” most non-profits are struggling with digital programs - lacking required skills, having difficulty with organizational management adjustments, lagging on diversity and inclusion in teams, and lagging on campaign and engagement strategies. The good news is that nearly half of non-profits report proactive work to embrace “lean start-up” cultures and embrace data-driven, product-management approaches to platform development and innovation.

According to research conducted by NetHope, digital transformation requires investment in three key areas: people, process and technology. Non-profits have passionate, empathetic people, but do they have the right digital skills? Are they set up to innovate? Are processes efficient? Do they operate on an enterprise platform that offers security and scale?

Expanding the ecosystem
That’s where partnerships come into play. By exploring co-creation and co-innovation opportunities, we can find ways to help each other be more effective, focus on higher value work, and deliver greater social impact.

Sector transformation may include using digital for collaboration, connectivity (including digital-physical and IoT), increased transparency, new process models, and powerful and predictive insights (artificial intelligence, data science). Ideally, innovators who hold product (solution) vision and create proof points (PoCs or Pilots) can plug into enterprise-scale, connected platforms to enable global reach, on the ground impact and scale.  

Working together, ecosystem partners offer complimentary, supplemental digital skills, platform capability and reach and may help unlock funding via promise of greater impact. Putting our collective understanding and talent together, we can put forward solutions, not only at greater speed, but also capable of achieving human impact at scale.

Technology organizations are stepping up to actively help non-profit and social sector organizations. For instance, along with Microsoft Philanthropies, Avanade recently launched Technology for Social Good and became a founding partner of the NetHope Center for the Digital Non-profit, an organization that advises non-profits on the right technologies to operate in the digital world.

“Innovation is the turbo boost that creates mission acceleration.” - Jean-Louis Echochard, Innovation Lead, NetHope and CIO, Center for the Digital Non-Profit

Digital skills need to keep pace with the speed of technological advancements. For example, the use of mobile phones is spreading to even isolated communities, changing how education, information and aid are delivered. The use of mesh networks now facilitates using one-another's personal device to share data or extend connectivity within communities without requiring each phone to be directly connected to services. The dropping cost of entry to cloud computing, meanwhile, accelerates access to distributed computing power, data lakes, robotics, AI and advanced analytics.  On a much more basic level, digital technologies are changing the way NPO workers collaborate and exchange information, not only internally for operational efficiency, but externally, to reach that first mile and far beyond in the field.

Accelerating social impact innovation
One way to help NPOs achieve digital transformation, expand reach and launch new initiatives in an affordable way is with accelerators – in other words, pre-packaged, reusable technology solutions or intellectual property that is industry-aligned and can accelerate the pace of digital change and clarify a recommended roadmap for transformation.

For example, Avanade has partnered with a leading consultant in non-profit transformation to create apps and accelerators upon Microsoft’s common data model for non-profits, against which we will execute faster implementation of transformational technology. The common data model (CDM) and our accelerators are derived from applying industry knowledge non-profits use cases to arrive at more than a hundred common attributes against which to design a functional system to map to the organizational needs. The CDM simplifies data management and app development by unifying data into a known form and applying structural and semantic consistency across multiple apps and deployments. Once created, applying the CDM to our projects can save effort, streamline development and integration efforts, and enable faster analytics and a faster path to impact.

The use of accelerators and application of the CDM help digital transformation project teams keep the needs of the organization’s wide variety of stakeholders in mind.  At Avanade, our multi-pillar innovation approach maps together this kind of industry know-how and technology architecture expertise with product development strategy, human-centered design, proven agile delivery and scale, and the needed business development savvy to help mission-driven organizations bring forward scalable solutions for social good.

Are you ready to co-lead change?
Big strides have been made in the area of social impact innovation, yet there is still much to be done. On April 11, 2019, we will be hosting “Ready to Imagine,” a workshop at Avanade’s New York Innovation Center in New York City, featuring NetHope’s Jean-Louis Echochard and Threshold.world’s Dan Lammot. The workshop will be followed by a social impact co-innovation community open house, designed to connect innovators from corporations, non-profits, funders and other social-sector, mission-aligned organizations. Please contact innovation@avanade.com for more information.

Learn about Avanade’s Technology for Social Good and how we’re helping to create significant social impact through the power of technology.

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