Last year, I spent a few months meeting and interviewing people, who are social innovators in Greece and beyond, strategy experts and learning/education professionals. Through that experience, through listening, studying different organizations and leaders, as well as from my personal experience working with social initiatives (esp. Education and Youth), here are 12 thoughts, which I think can be helpful to any social innovator, who is trying to answer these 2 key questions:
a. where to? and
So, here it goes.
- Define your social change theory as clearly as possible. Aim at a culture shift. Manifest that with every single project, brochure, speech, Facebook post.Culture shift means deep learning, manifested through everyday actions. Remind people constantly why you are here. People will join you for the vision, the new picture you are painting with them.
- Focus. It is very easy for an organization to be lost, as there is an abundance of data and opinions about what an organization should focus on and a bunch of social issues that need to be resolved. A strategic plan needs to be focused, which may be translated to just three (3) strategic priorities per 2 years, or maybe to just one (1). Keep things manageable.
- Do your homework. You need to fully understand the issue you are trying to solve and unless you come from the field, make sure you spend some serious amount of time talking with them and bring them in your team. Do proper research, clarify needs, discuss different strategic options and then move to implementation. However, you will never have all the information, so at some point, you will need to do a few assumptions. If your strategy is anything less than 80% facts and 20% assumptions, then, you may face some difficulties down the road.
- Pick your team wisely. Your team will shape the culture of everything that you will do, so make sure that their past experience, their vision and approach matches with the culture you want to manifest. Diversity is definitely key, but there needs to be a common point: we are all involved in a community oriented and human-centered organization that creates sustainable social results.
- Aim at a sustainable systemic change. The objective is not that you become part of the “big” system, because then you are serving it, instead of trying to disrupt it. Think and design a model where the impact of your work will be there after your intervention stops. Huge disclaimer here: since we are talking about social initiatives, ANY action done is naturally helping someone. Every action is important. What I am saying here is this: in your organizational daily management, it makes a difference if you do the little things AND at the same time work on a systemic solution, as this will a. influence the content of the little things and b. position them in a wider context, through which you will build experience and move closer to your overall vision.
- Build a scalable operating model. Most of the social initiatives start with 2 people, who are extremely passionate about what they want to achieve. They run the project on the side, but are soon found with a huge “monster”, if things go well, which they cannot manage. And usually, increasing staff is the tactic chosen, which for me is not the solution. Design an operating model, which will not “eat” your resources or keep your people constantly busy, but will expand the impact of their work in an efficient way.
- Have your exit strategy options. Social initiatives are not there to exist forever. They need to evolve into something else or stop existing, because at some point they need to have achieved the social change theory we talked about at the beginning. Work on a few scenarios from the beginning and decide on which one you will take.
- Work with the public sector and ALL the key stakeholders. Yes, you heard right. If your target group involves the public sector you cannot pretend it does not exist or treat it like the unwanted relative. If you want scale, system change and sustainable results, you will need to work with the public sector employees and authorities and any other key stakeholder in the area. You leave one of them out, your solution will never reach its full potential.
- Measure your impact. “Busy-ness” statistics and metrics are dead, long live impact measurement. Am I hitting the nail on the head? Am I solving the issue? Am I moving step by step closer to the culture shift I envision or am I just taking attendances and counting numbers of events? It is not an easy job to do, so my advice for now – as I will come back with another post on this – is to get educated, get advice and test by starting small. Start with a small project and move upwards. Quickly though, impact measurement influences directly everything that you do on a daily basis.
- Strategic planning is a formal, structured, participatory process, which improves performance and supports the daily operations of an organization, as it provides unity and focus. At the same time, strategic planning is not a set-to-stone 5-year process. It is forward looking; it is extrovert towards the society, the community and other primary stakeholders. There is a need for it to be flexible and organic to some degree, to be monitored and reviewed constantly from information taken from the field.
- Identify those people from the group you are trying to approach, who will be your change agents. Role modeling has never hurt anyone and story telling is an excellent way to showcase the shift you are achieving.
- Most important, my golden tip: Find a mentor, build your tribe, talk to a coach and colleagues, read, meditate, take care of your mind, body and soul and the organization will manifest that. Your organization’s journey is your own journey, too.
These are just a few thoughts I would like to offer you. I would love to hear from you on making this post richer with your views!