Understanding and Supporting Social Innovation: Bringing the Future Forward

In 1985, Peter Drucker noted that ‘Today businesses, especially the large ones, simply will not survive in this period of rapid change and innovation unless they acquire entrepreneurial competence (Drucker, 1985, p. 132).  Thirty years on, many commentators would agree that this quote is still highly relevant today – the only thing that has changed is the rate of change.  This reflects the fundamental shifts which we are witnessing in economies, such as the UK, as a result of the economic recession of 2008/2009, demographic changes, technological developments and socio-cultural shifts. 

For example, demographic change is leading to greater age and cultural diversity within the workforce of the majority of businesses. For the first time, businesses will have staff from four different generations who have different motivations, values and expectations around working patterns and management and leadership styles.  People are having to work longer and cope with personal change, such as ageing, whilst at work rather than during retirement.  In turn, this creates a set of different learning and skills development needs and generates the need for innovative responses from businesses themselves, external providers of education and training and governments.

As a result, there is a growing interest in the concept of social innovation.  This can be defined as ‘new strategies, concepts and ideas that businesses and organisations can introduce to meet the social needs of different internal and external stakeholders’. However, the available evidence base suggests that there are a number of “need to know’s” in navigating the journey from idea to action in implementing social innovation at work.

SFEDI are leading an Erasmus Plus project (COOP-IN) which will develop a set of learning materials and resources to assist different groups of stakeholders in understanding and supporting social innovation.  The overall aim of the project is to raise awareness of the opportunities and challenges in implementing social innovation at work by developing a social innovation training kit including a digital education game, a self-assessment tool and other learning materials. In so doing, the project will work with vocational education trainers, business support agencies, mentors and coaches and networking organisations to encourage engagement with social innovation and facilitate use of resources to assist small and medium enterprises (SMEs) in moving from idea to action in introducing social innovation.  The project consists of seven partner organisations from the UK, Cyprus, Ireland, Hungary, Portugal and Spain.

Over the next 18 months, the project will be developing:

  • A social innovation training course for businesses and organisations and vocational and educational training (VET) professionals
  • A digital education game which will develop understanding of social innovation and the strategies for developing and introducing social innovations
  • A self-assessment tool for businesses and organisations to identify strengths and areas for development in managing social innovation

In addition, the project will be profiling businesses and organisations who have spotted opportunities for social innovation and who have successfully managed the journey to idea to action.

One such case study is Sharon MacArthur, the founder of Miss Menopause.  Sharon created Miss Menopause to fill the void of educational services needs by woman as they reach the menopause.  Although most women will tell you that they had “the chat” to teach them about what would happen to their bodies as they reached puberty, the same cannot be said for the menopause.  A recent survey estimated that only three per cent of companies across the UK in 2017 were educating their workforce about the symptoms the menopause may bring.

It is estimated that in 15 years’ time the number of women working full time will equal that of men. Coupling this with the pensionable age changes of 2010 mean that woman are working for longer than even before. Evidence suggests that the large majority of women experience some sort of menopause with the average for this being 51 in the UK. However, some symptoms may begin years before and can last for up to a decade after, and in some cases, mental health issues can arise due to the menopause too.

When asked about her own story regarding the menopause Sharon said “About 12 months ago I began to feel exhausted. I just didn’t feel like me. Thing I could do without thinking suddenly became really difficult. I couldn’t remember names, I was tired all of the time. I felt anxious about meeting people and didn’t want to go out. Then the disturbed sleep began, ordinarily I could sleep on a clothes line but now I seemed to wake up every hour, leaving me feeling totally drained. I took to Google to figure out what was happening to me. After hours of research it dawned on me I was probably going through peri menopause. Why had no one warned me? Surely, I was too young? Sadly, I found out I wasn’t”.

Sharon took to her friends and family to see who may have been going through the same thing, surprisingly the older woman said they “just got on with it” but they hadn’t worked at the time and friends of Sharon’s age did not seem to know anything about what to expect. From this experience Sharon created Miss Menopause and it was all based on the fact that everyone seems to be missing the menopause. Sharon is on a mission to educate and support organisations and their employees so it is OK to talk about the subject and support those woman who need it.

  • Miss Menopause provides three services in order to help raise awareness of issues related to the menopause and the taboo around talking about it at work:
  • Miss Menopause for Women is a service for working women allowing the opportunity for participants to share stories in a fun an engaging way, learn about what is menopause and what to expect, how to deal with the menopause and develop a plan for when the time comes.
  • Miss Menopause for Managers gives managers in businesses and organisations the opportunity to work through policies and case studies and develop a plan for how they will support team members going through menopause.
  • Miss Menopause for HR Professionals will develop understanding around the employment law and the implications for supporting women going through the Menopause.

If you are interested in learning more about the project please visit http://coopinproject.eu/en/.  If you are working with businesses and organisations to assist in understanding and supporting social innovation and you would like to explore ways of adding value to the project, please contact Leigh (leigh.sear@sfedi.co.uk)