There’s a great deal of buzz around the word “innovation”. But when you hear that word, is it describing a true transformational breakthrough?
Another work bandied about is “progress”. When you see that word, do you think “Amen! A genuine advancement is taking hold.”?
Perhaps not, these words seem to be diluted to describe anything and everything nowadays. So let’s look at three social enterprises that exemplify these words’ true meanings. Let’s see what happens when real innovation and progress occur side by side. What you will find are breakthroughs that teach and inspire genuine change.
Buffet’s billionaire father gave the bulk of his wealth to philanthropist Bill Gates and not to him, his eldest son. He never missed a beat though. He assessed his personal strengths and financial assets and explored ways he could use them to make a difference in the world around him.
A farmer in Decatur, Illinois, Howard naturally looked at the world’s problems through the lens of agriculture and zoomed in on finding new approaches to ending world hunger. How? His foundation runs the 40 Chances Program, which awards challenge grants to kick-start “the best ideas that seed sustainable, transformational change in accomplishing global food security. These programs will empower our next generation of leaders to develop market-based solutions to some of society’s most pressing challenges in the areas of poverty and hunger.”
The name 40 Chances refers to the arc of one’s adult years when we have opportunities to take action and have an impact. As explained on Buffet’s website: “Each of us has about 40 chances to accomplish our goals in life. This is a lesson Howard learned through his passion for farming. All farmers can expect to have about 40 growing seasons, giving them just 40 chances to improve on every harvest.”
In an interview with Bloomberg Markets, he describes the lessons he’s learned while striving to accomplish his own mission stating “What happens is that you can help maybe 500, 1,000, 5,000 people. And that’s great. But it doesn’t change anything. … So I started trying to figure out what else we could do. How do you change the underlying root problems? How do you reduce malnutrition? How do you get it so that people can feed themselves? … We’ve gone from the standard NGO model and that kind of project mentality where we thought we were having an impact, to realizing that that’s actually a false premise. What I’m most proud of is that we’ve learned to think bigger.”
The takeaway? Reinvention is an evolutionary process, and it’s okay that you stumble occasionally along the way.
Wait—the World Bank has innovation labs? Affirmative. They are investing in RMF. RMF selects and trains people to visit severely undernourished, poor villagers in India, to teach them about nutrition and hygienic practices concerning food handling.
As it turns out, thousands of children are not morbidly malnourished due to a lack of food, but because of ignorance about nutrition and proper food handling.
It took an organization like RMF—a small, locally based social enterprise more agile than bureaucratic government agencies when it comes to crafting a local, progressive breakthrough—to understand the root of the problem correctly and then fashion a revolutionary solution to create lasting change. And it took a global institution like the World Bank to develop a program to ensure that successful innovators like RMF would become sustainable themselves.
The takeaway? Fostering real behavioral change is not necessarily rocket science. Once you understand the root of the problem, you may find all it takes is altering your approach.
Water for People’s heroic and contemporary vision states: “We want to see communities break free from the cycle of poverty and spend time growing, learning, and thriving, instead of walking for water and fighting off illness.” The organization doesn’t stop at universal access to clean water and sanitary conditions; it offers water and sanitation as the change agents.
While many agencies work on getting clean drinking water and improved sanitation to regions without it, this enterprise sees developing and installing sanitation and clean water systems as means to an end, not as the end products themselves. Their approach includes involving “local community members, governments, and business owners, to find out how they live and what they need to feel healthy, safe, empowered, and successful.”
Water for People is currently working to aid over 4 million people across nine countries in Asia, Africa, and South America, in partnership with water associations based in the United States.
The takeaway? Sometimes the real change agent is the change itself. Social enterprise takes the steps to enable real change, creating lasting ripple effects. As Water for People says, “We don’t want to be around forever, but we want these systems and services to last for generations to come.”
Where can you endeavor to incite real change around you? What legacy of progress can you offer this world?