Today’s headlines are flooded with news of high poverty and unemployment rates, failing schools and political gridlock. But American innovation has painted a bright spot in an otherwise grim picture with the help of community leaders, social innovators and entrepreneurs.
Though chances of making it big in social innovation are far and few between, the sheer amount of ambition to drive national progress gives Americans a renewed sense of hope and something to look forward to, according to social innovation expert Kim Syman.
Syman is a managing partner at New Profit, where she focuses on innovative and high impact social enterprise strategies.
“What’s notable today is that we are now seeing pathways from small-scale progress exemplified to full-scale impact with the potential to meet the huge needs that still exist among our fellow citizens,” Syman said.
By focusing on seven key principles, Syman writes in Fast Company, social enterprises can unlock the key to success:
Growing Smart 
Scaling has historically been the primary concern of growing nonprofits, but Syman contends that organizations are now leveraging distribution partnerships to obtain a greater reach. Health Leads, which focuses on health systems, and Single Stop USA, which helps low-income families with social services, have both used partnerships to grow their strategies.
Embracing Data 
Data is undoubtedly reshaping policy and strategy across both public and private sectors, becoming one of the single most important drivers in successful social enterprise. The Family Independence Initiative’s model embraces data to help its clients set goals and track their progress out of poverty.
Empowering Constituents 
“Power to the people” is just as relevant in today’s cultural landscape. By empowering constituents, social innovators and community leaders are engaging people to be a part of shaping the change they seek. For example, LIFT is an anti-poverty organization that uses its recipients as advocates.
Harnessing Technology 
Aside from data, using technology to connect and create has increasingly become more important to nonprofits. By using platforms, software and other modes of technology, social enterprise can play a greater role in the digital world. Y Combinator, a tech incubator that supports social startups, is one example of harnessing technology for the greater good.
Creating Marketplace Demand 
More innovators are understanding the need to create a demand (and a market) for a problem they wish to solve. “This encourages the market to nurture and catalyze solutions that work, to create new pathways to social innovation financing, and to grow previously untapped opportunities that drive social impact,” Syman said.
Nurturing Ecosystems 
Cross-collaboration has become an important tool in today’s social innovation sector. By combining stakeholders such as lawmakers, philanthropists and business leaders, social enterprise can leverage more resources and strategies to address a problem and find a solution that works for everyone.
Driving Policy Innovation 
While part of social innovation is to work around political gridlock, creating policy at the local, state and federal level can lead to finding new ways of solving problems in some of our social programs. The bipartisan Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act is currently in Congress and could lead to better outcome-oriented approaches, according to Syman.
These seven principles will not drive progress alone, but injected with more optimism and commitment, social innovation has the potential to pave the way for a better and brighter America.
For more on Syman’s pathway to social innovation success, check out her Op-Ed here.
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