How to move to more Social Innovation? Some reflections….

Author: Thomas Osburg, Director Europe Corporate Affairs, Intel Corp. and Board Director of CSR Europe and EABIS

Social Innovation is currently being discussed around the world. If we trust Google as an indicator for quantitative relevance, the search term Social Innovation produces 388M hits, while the term CSR only results in 323M hits. Leading Business schools, like Insead or Stanford, have Centres for Social Innovation for many years now. But what is Social Innovation really? Is it a new concept? Is it a new label for current CSR activities (like CSR 3.0)? Why is it getting much stronger on the European Agenda for companies? And how can it relate to Enterprise 2020? There are still a lot of questions and at least the same amount of uncertainty among firms how to deal with it.

There are countless definitions around the globe on Social Innovation and they partially differ substantially from each other. But that should not be too worrying, because Social Innovation should be considered more of a mindset and strategic direction rather than a definition. Social Innovation holds great potential to transform economies, to fuel innovation and to improve the lives of people around the world. At Intel, we have three different areas that we focus on: one is around social entrepreneurship, and really creating social enterprises. The second is developing technology solutions to tackle social challenges. And the third concerns partnering and creating an enabling ecosystem under which social innovation can flourish.

This last point – partnering and creating an enabling environment for Social Innovation – is key for me; as such an approach can be supported by all companies within CSR Europe and under the Enterprise 2020 Initiative, regardless of size, country or industry. The main role for companies to support smart, sustainable and inclusive growth lies in enabling solutions within a large eco-system.

A lot of projects and initiatives are already happening and successfully put in place across Europe. More than we can count. While this is really encouraging to see, we need to move on at the same time from adding project after project to a real change and paradigm shift. Within a cross-sectorial partnership model (Private, Public, NGO), companies are in a key position to foster the change toward business models that both create economic and social impact. This is not about philanthropic efforts; it is all about sustainable growth of the firm.

One key focus area to support Social Innovation can be seen in a stronger engagement of companies in Capacity Building, in Education (from curricula for primary and secondary school levels up to engagement with leading thinkers in Business schools) and in showcasing responsible Business behaviour, i.e. as highlighted in the SEA-Awards. Intel recently has launched the EBS-Intel Summer School, which is not a stand-alone event but integrated into a worldwide approach with lots of other strategic initiatives that have as a goal to foster Business models that combine economic and social impact.

Most Companies are not social entrepreneurs as such and most likely will not be in the future. The CSR concept has moved on from voluntary contributions beyond the core business to an integral part of all business processes in the last years. If we think longer term, fostering and implementing true Social Innovations with a clear impact for both the company and society is the logical next step and maybe the ultimate proof of a company’s responsible business operations with value creation for all.


For more examples of company initiatives in the field of social innovation, check out CSR Europe’s best practice solution database

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  1. Posted August 22, 2012 at 5:18 pm | Permalink

    I read with interest on the “social innovation” especially regarding Thomas’ focus on an “enabling ecosystem” and “capacity building”. I wonder where disability fits into these key terms? It would be wonderful to see a dialogue around disability and a more visible face in an “enabling ecosystem” – not just for human rights aspects but also for successful business and a stronger economy.

    • christine
      Posted August 27, 2012 at 8:40 am | Permalink

      Dear Bernard,

      Thank you for your comment, it is intersting that you make the link to disability. Indeed, this is an area that CSR Europe feels strongly about and under the umbrella of Enterprise 2020 we are pleased to present a collaborative project on CSR and Disability:

      If you have any questions or would like to know more about the project, please do not hestiate to get in touch with me at

      Kind regards,

      Christine Stewart

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