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Product, Service & Design Innovation
How to Implement Social Innovation in Large Organizations

One the final sessions at SB ’15 London saw Mandar Apte, chemical engineer and program manager of Shell's GameChanger program on social innovation, facilitate an interactive workshop about how to drive social innovation from inside large organisations and how this could empower the employees and create shared value - for business and society.

Apte started by demonstrating the power of the relationship economy. He drove home the idea that in this world of open innovation, it is important to build relationships.

“An idea can come from anywhere, and whether you recognize that as a brilliant innovation depends on your state of mind. Engage with everyone - you never know how you can help each other,” he said.

Eric Cornelissen, the Swellflex Shell GameChanger, was visiting a toyshop in San Francisco when he saw a toy that swells to six times its original volume once it is immersed in water. This inspired him to use swellables (elastomers) for oil well applications. (See? Ideas can come from anywhere.)

The Shell GameChanger program

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The Shell GameChanger program, started in 1996, looks for innovators with radical ideas that may be perceived as “too risky” or “too weird,” but could be worth investing in. This open innovation incubator helps develop such “revolutionary disruptive ideas” and bring them to life.

Apte developed the social GameChanger program after receiving the AshokaLeague of Intrapreneurs’ award for ‘EMPOWER,’ a program where over 2,000 Shell employees experienced capacity building for innovation through the practice of meditation.

Can Meditation Lead to Innovation?

“Radical innovation is about mindset,” Apte said. He developed the innovation learning programme to improve the culture of innovation using meditation techniques.

Social intrapreneurs are changemakers, people who can see beyond the way the company functions and creates value, and can see new opportunities to scale social impact within and through their position in the larger organisation.

Who Are the Radical Innovators?

The social GameChanger programme moves beyond social philanthropy and CSR into innovations that are at the business and society interface, helping organizations to increase revenue or decrease costs, HBR professor Michael Porter calls this “Creating Shared Value.”

Apte also shared the 4 criteria needed for Shell GameChanger to sponsor ideas are:

  1. Novelty – Is the idea is revolutionary or evolutionary?
  2. Doable Plan - Help the proponent to create an experimental plan to design the proof of the concept.
  3. Potential Value – What is the highest level of benefit that can be reached should the concept be proven to work?
  4. Why Shell - How does this idea relate to Shell’s core business? Is there a business case for Shell to invest in this concept?

The VSee telemedicine platform is an example of a project that received funding from the social GameChanger programme. VSee connects Western doctors to consult with patients in remote locations in the world through a low-bandwidth video teleconferencing technology. The technology was deployed on a few offshore production rigs in Nigeria where Shell has operations - an example of creating shared or transformational value for the company and the community.

Apte asserted that for a company to invest in social innovation it should be integrated into its core business model: It needs to be bold and innovate continuously to keep the business at the forefront of evolution and impact or risk obsolescence. Both the core business and the novel innovation programs should be integrated into the business model.

“Innovation takes threats and turns them into opportunities.” – Robert C. Wolcott


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