27 November 2016

BUSINESS - Keeping Up With a Generation of Social Innovators

Many young innovators and entrepreneurs, such as those at the Under 30 Summit 2016, are concerned about issues of racial justice, feminism, gender equality and representation, Muslim representation, and human rights.

They are a generation of social innovators, blending politics with business in intentional, meaningful ways, and although they face significant pushback (as any glance into the comments section attests), this generation of social innovators isn’t about to drop their politics.

Why is social innovation, which, according to the Standford Graduate School of Business, “focuses attention on the ideas and solutions that create social value,” driving “the exchange of ideas and values, shifts in roles and relationships, and the integration of private capital with public and philanthropic support” such a big deal for these young entrepreneurs?

Why is social value, specifically, gaining such traction and shifting the focus away from purely financial or economic value?

Because it is impossible to ignore the impact of representation on the lives and interests of people growing up in a media-saturated, highly connected world.

Technology has changed everything about how people engage with brands and issues. Humans are social animals, and given new avenues of connection, humans will build new paths to each other.

Amani Al-Khatahtbeh, founder of MuslimGirl.net, says, “Growing up with a name as foreign sounding as mine was, through puberty, not really just an issue of branding, it was predominantly an issue of identity. Thus began a lifelong navigation of who I was and what name I would claim. I did what any Millennial would do – I started my own group. [It was a way] to eliminate stereotypes and to help in a very accessible and unintimidating way.”

MuslimGirl now has unprecedented mainstream media presence, with regular columns focusing on the Muslim experience in Forbes, Fortune Magazine, Refinery29, TeenVogue, and others.

Al-Khatahtbeh has also published a book, claiming the name that caused her so much alienation and pain as a child.

This is the personal motivation behind young entrepreneurs bringing their politics into their businesses.

What does this mean for marketers and businesses that are trying to keep up with the social innovation generation?

It means being aware of the diversity of your market base.

Recognizing traditional marketing, which doesn’t take into account the presence of women, LGBTQI, people of colour, and other marginalized groups, will no longer get the same traction.

It means placing value on values as much as revenue and profits - like the recent purchase of Allpaws by PetSmart where the value is pet adoption.

Consumers want social responsibility, and companies that meet this need will be able to find long-term customers despite this generation’s fickle consumer habits.

The integration of private enterprise with issues of social justice – whether along lines of racial, gender, class, or ability difference – is driving social innovation.

It’s political, and it brings personal politics into businesses and boardrooms in a much more visible, challenging way.

Keeping up with social innovation, and embracing the diversity that these young innovators are demanding, will open up pathways for marketers and businesses to access consumers who were previously alienated and ignored and consumers who share their values.

Social innovation is good for society, but it’s also good for business.

The next articles in this series will look at the technological advances that are making social innovation possible, and the business models that make them financially viable.

By Tiffany Sostar
Tiffany is a writer, editor, academic, and animal lover who came late to her appreciation of pets. At 18, a rescue pup named Tasha saved her from a depression and she hasn't looked back. She has worked as the canine behaviour program coordinator for the Calgary Humane Society, and was a dog trainer specializing in working with fearful and reactive dogs for many years. She doesn't have any pets right now, but makes up for it by giving her petsitting clients (and any dogs she comes across on her frequent coffee shop adventures) extra snuggles.

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