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Social innovation accelerates necessary progress by aligning a mission with an entrepreneurial spirit and disruption-centric ideation.

“We need social entrepreneurs to help us find new avenues toward social improvement as we enter the next century,” wrote J. Gregory Dees in his 2001 article, The Meaning of “Social Entrepreneurship.” In his forward-looking writings and teachings, Dees emphasizes the role that social entrepreneurs play as change agents — recognizing and relentlessly pursuing new opportunities to serve their mission; engage in a process of continuous innovation, adaptation, and learning; act boldly without being limited by resources currently in hand; and exhibit heightened accountability to the constituencies served and for the outcomes created.

Ideation accelerates as social entrepreneurs dream up new ways to address the most pressing issues that face us and our planet today. 10 of the most successful social companies identified in Investopedia’s article include high profile, recognizable names like TOMS, Seventh Generation, charity: water, and the Malala Fund. These companies have tackled everything from biodegradable cleaning products to safe drinking water, education, and one-for-one footwear. New companies that have sprung up or gained traction this year have offered solutions around providing quality healthcare, managing waste reduction, elevating marketplace platforms, empowering social and environmental sustainability, and more.

Each need presents an opportunity for a company to fundamentally change its industry’s way of doing business and to meet community problems with ingenuity. Bold action is necessary as there is vast potential to evaluate, shake up, and press forward on important issues because disruption naturally goes hand-in-hand with social innovation and entrepreneurialism. “Crazy ideas are not necessarily bad ideas,” says Christian Johnson, Co-Founder of Seed Consulting Group for the Forbes Nonprofit Council.

Disruption-centric ideation is important for social entrepreneurs. According to Johnson, the following six steps are pivotal to an ideation process framework:

  • Step 1: Focus on a strategic area. A disruptive social enterprise should advance a cause by identifying a key area that aligns with the entrepreneur’s passions, skills, and network.
  • Step 2: Identify and understand the problem. Research is needed to gather a full perspective of the problem.
  • Step 3: Define disruptive impact outcomes (DIOs). Smooth the process by breaking the vision down into smaller pieces, so that changes can be categorized as desired outcomes.
  • Step 4: Ideate to achieve DIOs. Develop concepts using ideation exercises like the sticky note exercise (to visualize all of the parts in motion), generative design using AI software, hackathon, or a sponsored global prize.
  • Step 5: Prototype, Test and Validate. In the case of a device or technology, create a minimum viable product that performs the basic functionality needed for testing. A pilot is the most effective way to test a service or program.
  • Step 6: Protect your property. Develop a strategy to protect intellectual property (IP).

“It’s not good enough now to say you’re a great company. It’s not acceptable. I don’t think a CEO can get away with saying, ‘I run a great company.’ My thought would be, ‘Great, what you want? Do you want a medal? Do you want a pat on the back?’” said Mark Cuddigan, CEO of Ella’s Kitchen, on a recent episode of the Grow Ensemble podcast. “Your responsibility if you’re running a great company is to inspire other companies to follow your lead. We’re in a whole world of trouble, literally, with global warming. We’re not going to get out of it by people being selfish or looking after themselves. We need to help other companies and we need to inspire other companies.”

By putting a special focus on the greater good and centralizing a social mission, the 2020 social entrepreneur can use innovation and their expertise to move the needle and find solutions around social, cultural, environmental issues. Entrepreneurs can accelerate this process by focusing on their social mission’s area, performing insightful research, defining disruptive impact outcomes, testing, and validating.