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Shannon Schuyler

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We All Must Be Innovators

Posted: 06/06/11 03:18 PM ET

Social innovation; citizen philanthropy; social entrepreneur. A decade ago these terms did not exist. Today, they are driving how we communicate, innovate, and solve problems. While we all know the economic downturn reset the way we do business -- it also reset the way we view our civic duty and our approach to some of society's most intractable problems -- from healthcare and the environment to youth education. Simply put, it sparked a new beginning -- a new wave of innovation.

Today, social innovation has evolved to refer to not only innovations that have a social purpose, like microcredits, but also social processes around innovation -- like open source and crowd sourcing methods. The idea is to transform the status quo by tapping the ingenuity of everyday people and fostering cross-collaboration to develop an innovative answer to a problem.

Charles Best, for example, was a Bronx high school teacher. During his lunch break he conceptualized the idea of connecting donors directly with schools in need, and from there Donorschoose.org was born. A little more than a decade later he is considered one of the most successful social innovators in the country -- proving every citizen can be a change-maker.

Applying This Approach to Business

Social innovation is no longer limited to the social realm -- it is also an important tool in the business world. It is the responsibility of businesses today to build frameworks that foster the grassroots conversations and ideation and ultimately challenge the current structures and push the limits of our boundaries.

PwC created iPlace, an open online hub for all staff to submit ideas, recommendations, and innovations -- from operations and process to potential new business models. The result: a risk-free stage that everyone has the freedom to use to share ideas and advance new thinking.

Supporting Our People

The role of the corporation has also changed. Today, corporate responsibility not only refers to what a company does to give back, but also how we provide our employees with the tools and resources to take risks and act as catalysts of positive change in their communities. As we've seen technology and social media have revolutionized how we conduct business and search for ideas -- ideas today can come from anywhere and anyone -- not just the c-suite. We must all be innovators.

A large focus for PwC is contributing to the development of youth education programs, specifically in the areas of math and financial literacy. Through one of our flagship programs, Project Make [it] Count, the firm provides $500 in seed money to partners and staff to design and implement a small-scale service project in their community that will have a big impact.

All of our Project Make [it] Count grantees set out to make a difference with their service projects. Here are just a few of their inspiring stories. To me, our people are a great example of who we all can and should be -- a catalyst of change.

But these people are just the start. On June 6th, I will join hundreds of other business, government, nonprofit and investment leaders, including Nicholas Negroponte, founder & chairman of One Laptop Per Child, Barbara Bush, executive director of Global Health Corps, and Arianna Huffington, president and editor-in-chief of The Huffington Post Media Group, for the UN's Social Innovation Summit to discuss new models and best practices for solving social problems. Join us live here to watch the conversations and stay tuned for more insights and observations following the discussion.