Thoughts on Collaborative Social Innovation

This is Pensaola Beach, awash with tar balls from the Deep Horizon Oil Spill.

Recently I ran across a phenomenal crowdsourcing initiative last week, Lego’s NXTLog Senior Solutions Challenge, which leverages robotic designs to create better living for the elderly. It was a brilliant blend of brand, cause and community that empowers customers to make a difference.

I could not help but wonder how can B Corps and nonprofits and general do-gooders leverage the power of new models like the collaborative economy to share and make great things happen?

Social good is no longer the domain of big donors or causes anymore, but we haven’t gotten much further than crowdfunding, social sharing, and participatory access to campaigns. There is a stiff arm between cause and community.

What if mission trips were something that anyone can take, regardless of faith? Or if you couldn’t participate in a full four week mission trip, could you offer a portion of your work to another person?

Can we build stronger volunteering platforms to allow people to intelligently make a difference when a crisis like the Oklahoma tornadoes or the Deep Horizon oil spill happens? In both of those instances individuals were turned away from making a difference because their unorganized presence created more rubbernecking than contribution. Right now it takes an organization like Crisis Commons to try and harness general volunteering and good will.

How about technology? Could people donate minutes or bandwidth to a region on a temporary basis? Or could a company share its Salesforce database with smaller nonprofit partners so they, too, might benefit from a top tier CRM solution?

You can see how collaborative model could offer significant progress to the cause space. Yet, here we are, playing the same game.

Perhaps it is time for more.

What do you think?


  • Hey Geoff. I think that as individuals we hold back from trying to make a difference because there is so much bureaucracy in organizing a cause or effort, that we have to jump through hoops and get discouraged.

    But…where is it written that we need to be part of something organized to make a difference? I can easily go next door to my elderly neighbours and hand them a hot and ready to serve meal. Or go across the street and offer to walk the dog or babysit. I can make my vacation a mission. There are tour companies who will co-ordinate your trip with a mission to build homes, a hospital, etc… How cool is that?

    I think the big issue is that people want to feel part of something bigger than them, and that usually comes with the big organizations. Volunteering is a big thing for me, and I mention it and My Passion Project (my cause of choice) in my blog. It’s not big…it’s not going to change the world…it’s not going to cure disease. But it will make the the quality of life a little better for some seniors. I’m one person doing my bit. No glory or fanfare.

    Without stepping on any toes, I would like to challenge everyone who reads this post to just go do something good that will make a difference in your community. If you are part of a corporation and have input, challenge the company to do something good AND NOT RECEIVE FREE ADVERTISING OR PR FROM IT.

    Thanks Geoff….you’ve planted a couple of new seeds for me, and now I have to do some thinking…

    • You know, I like to do one or two things a month anonymously without credit so that I can give on principle. It invariably is the most rewarding action I take every month. I wish more people could experience that.

      Great comment, Michelle. Thank you!

  • When it comes to social good, the payoff is in learning and growth. But getting people to become better requires good structure + stories that inspire.

    I think about it a lot in terms of design (esp. UX), where you have to add just enough structure to inspire but not so much that it constrains.

    • I agree. Great UX heps the process, as opposed to limiting it. Social good has so many intangible outcomes it’s amazing!

  • It is aways time for more collaboration.

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