The Traits of Socially Innovative Companies

APR15_17_000041780198In the course of our research, we have found that some human capital-intensive industries are more inherently receptive to social innovation than others. Accounting and consulting firms are often highly responsive to the social demands of their employees. For example, interns at PricewaterhouseCoopers championed a social audit practice. We also found that the professionals we spoke with at Accenture, in offices on three continents, consistently lauded the firm for its willingness to support innovations, from Accenture Development Partnerships to professional programs for First Peoples in Canada and support for call centers in native communities. This fits with the idea that much innovation is driven by a war for talent. Businesses that require professionals with skills in high demand are virtually required to embrace the preferences of the next generation.

Firms with a strong brand to protect are also often social innovators receptive to intrapreneurs. Nike faced consumer backlash in the 1990s when malign labor practices by some of its suppliers became widely known. Perhaps most notable was a story in Life magazine that included a photo of a Pakistani child sewing Nike-branded soccer balls, titled “Six cents an hour.” Protests and calls for boycotts put Nike in the center of battles around globalization.

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