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Want to Do Social Good? You Need These Eight Competencies to Be a Social Innovator

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A hand is open toward a city.

Ninety-four percent of young people, as of 2016, want to use their skills to benefit a cause. People in the workforce want to give back – either to become entrepreneurs who improve the world or to join the kinds of companies that do social good. Even corporate behemoths are catching onto this trend.

It takes innovation and astute strategies to solve problems that communities face around the globe, which is why Professor and Social Enterprise (SE) Program Director Robert Tomasko and the SE program faculty created a framework to help guide future entrepreneurs who want to accomplish social good.

“The Eight Competencies of the Social Innovator is a collective product of our faculty’s work. We came up with these eight competencies to show what a successful person who goes into social entrepreneurship has mastered,” says Tomasko. “They are the common thread that runs through our curriculum.”

Curious to know what it takes to become a successful social innovator? Here are the competencies, along with why each is important:

Know Thyself

Understanding your motivations and values leads to successful social entrepreneurship. Don’t start with placing an identity on yourself, asking “if I want to be a social innovator, what does that mean I should do?” Instead, focus on the kinds of causes to which you’re already dedicated – the ones that social innovation could help you fulfill.

Apprentice with a Problem

To help solve a problem in the world, you need to fully understand it. You could either have experienced the problem you want to tackle yourself or partner with someone who’s already experienced it. The more you research this problem, the more equipped you are to come up with a successful fix.

“Fall in love with the problem, not your solution to it,” says Tomasko. “Immerse yourself in the problem. Probably the best way to do so is through co-creation – working with people who are experiencing the problem – to come up with a solution.”

Plan with the Big Picture in Mind

This competency goes along with immersion in a problem. Thoroughly planning around an issue means that you need to learn the intricacies of the community you want to help. In what kind of landscape is this community set? Who are the stakeholders that would be affected by your innovation? The more you can clearly visualize how scenarios would play out in a specific region and amongst specific people, the better.

Radically Collaborate

Don’t be a “heropreneur.” In other words, avoid making a solution about you, work with others, and encourage members of your team to share ideas.

“It’s seductive, the idea of being a heropreneur,” says Tomasko. “It’s an ego-driven way of doing things and saying ‘it’s all about ‘me.’ We’ve made such a big thing of ‘become the next Steve Jobs.’ But Steve Jobs didn’t do it alone. You can do more and more effectively if you collaborate and get more viewpoints in.”

Fearlessly Cross Boundaries

A smart social innovator doesn’t brainstorm and implement ideas in a silo. Research how other organizations work on the same problem and discover how you can improve or build on those current solutions. Be aware of what’s already been done and what’s currently being implemented.

Embrace Action; Experiment

The ability to make quick and smart decisions is crucial. A successful social innovator is flexible enough to discover new goals as ideas start to become implemented and then to take swift action based on observations.

“The social innovation approach is messy. It means trying things out, experimenting. We’re going to invent a solution, have a rough prototype, try it out, fix its rough edges, and build interest in making it work with the people who are affected by it,” says Tomasko

Win Hearts and Minds

A social innovator can rally support when he or she paints a clear picture of the problem they’re trying to solve and shows how their solution can work. Powerful storytelling is key.

“There’s something about a story and the way narratives work…if you can convey what you’re doing in the frame of a story, it’s a lot more likely someone’s going to remember it and connect with it. Stories are sticky; bullet points are boring.” says Tomasko “And maybe, even more importantly, if you’re trying to gain support to make something happen, they’ll rally for your cause.”

Reflect, Evaluate, & Scale Impact

Set the right targets and metrics, and learn from experiences. As with any entrepreneurial efforts, being able to accurately evaluate results helps you take next steps, whether that means scaling impact, pivoting approaches, or recalibrating your original assumptions.