Next Generation Product Innovation: Tackling Inequalities
- Talya Bosch, Vice President, Social Ventures, Western Union
- Amanda Gardiner, Director, Partnerships, Pearson Inc.
- Derk Hendricksen, General Manager, EKOCENTER, The Coca-Cola Company
- Laura Gitman, Managing Director, Advisory Services, BSR (Moderator)
Companies increasingly recognize that tackling inequality presents opportunities for innovation, market growth, and employee engagement.
A lot of innovation can be enacted along the entire business value chain that has nothing to do with the product.
Engaging executives, building partnerships with NGOs, and strengthening the business case are all critical ingredients for business to tackle inequalities.
“We asked, ‘how do we design for social impact rather than it being a default?’ With this, we started to look at social problems as an opportunity for innovation.” —Talya Bosch, Western Union Company
“It is important not to forget the business in social business.” —Derk Hendricksen, The Coca-Cola Company
“Even with a great CEO, there are a lot of people between him and me that I need to convince that this is important. I hope that in the future there will be fewer people that I need to convince.” —Amanda Gardiner, Pearson Inc.
Laura Gitman opened the session by echoing the remarks of plenary speaker Darren Walker, CEO of the Ford Foundation, about the importance of inequality to functioning markets and asked the panelists to share how inequality impacts their businesses.
Talya Bosch shared Western Union’s view that this is central to the company’s existence, particularly considering that a large percentage of the company’s revenue results from consumer-to-consumer transactions. Their consumers include migrants who have left their homes in search of better opportunities and are sending money back to their families to improve their standard of living. For Pearson, a global education company, Amanda Gardiner said that education is a huge enabler of progress and explained how important it is for the company to serve the education needs of all children regardless of their family’s income level. Derk Hendricksen described Coca-Cola’s social enterprise incubator, EKOCENTER, as grounded in the belief that a business can only be as healthy as the health of the people it touches.
Gitman asked the panelists to speak to two aspects of innovation—first for their products, and the second for their access and use. Bosch shared how Western Union is making a more deliberate effort to design its products to tackle social problems and has engaged its executives and a diverse group of stakeholders to help them understand how the company can use social issues, such as women’s empowerment, as an opportunity for innovation. Hendricksen argued that a lot of innovation can be enacted across the business value chain that has nothing to do with the products. On a related note, he and the other speakers emphasized the important role of partnerships in achieving innovation in both products and processes.
All three speakers emphasized the importance and challenges of making the business case within their organizations. As described by Hendricksen, Coca-Cola sees social enterprise as the third leg of the strategy between charity and business. However, he emphasized the importance of not forgetting about the “enterprise” in “social enterprise.” He added that measuring the long-term business case is challenging, but he sees a lot of valuable efforts trying to quantify the business case of social benefits. Coca-Cola tends to view “appeal, access, and affordability” as critical metrics for success.
Gardiner shared Pearson’s commitment to report on all the education outcomes of its products by 2018, a significant shift from traditional metrics. Initial findings from this effort are raising important conversations within the company about areas for improvement and opportunities for innovation. The company also sees a strong business case in terms of market growth in places like India, where large numbers of people live in poverty and lack access to high-quality education.
During the Q&A, Robert Boyar of 3BL Partners asked what companies are doing specifically to tackle poverty in the United States. Gardiner responded by sharing how important the U.S. market is to the company and how Pearson is learning to use technology to advance education outcomes in schools, and she described some of the failures and successes the company has seen from its initial trials in Los Angeles.
Amanda Bowman of Emerging World asked about employee engagement and how the focus on inequality is helping develop talent and leaders. Hendricksen said that he has seen employees demonstrate tremendous enthusiasm and interest in the work. Unexpectedly, older generations are as excited as Millennials about EKOCENTER because it is giving them a new perspective of the company and the way it works. For Coca-Cola, it is also about investing in the business leaders of tomorrow.
Gitman closed the session by asking each speaker where they see this field headed, as BSR, among others, sees a growing need for greater business leadership to make the economy more inclusive. The speakers emphasized the importance of broader enterprise change rather than narrowly focused product change and a trend toward recognizing and accepting failure as part of learning and improving.
November 5, 2014