Evaluating businesses with regard to social innovation

“Without a sense of purpose, no company, either public or private, can achieve its full potential. It will ultimately lose the support of key stakeholders. It will give in to short-term pressures to distribute earnings, and, in the process, waive investments in employee development, innovation, and capital expenditures that are necessary for long-term growth. […] Companies must ask themselves: What role do we play in the community? How are we managing our impact on the environment? Are we committed enough to promote diversity in the workplace? Are we adapting to technological change? […]”.

This is an excerpt of the letter that BlackRock, an international asset management colossus, recently sent to the CEOs of its associated companies: words that set out new responsibilities for the businesses, driving them straight to consider their context from a different perspective and to do more for the common good.

An increasing number of companies are turning to start-ups and social enterprises for innovation initiatives. The percentage of start-ups that deal with social topics is on the rise: it currently amounts to about 3-4%, but in certain countries such as the USA, they reach up to 10%.

Source: Global Entrepreneurship Monito

Therefore, a business which also transforms itself into a social player, whose role goes beyond producing goods and providing services. In this way, opening the business to the environment in which it operates becomes a fundamental key, strengthening new relationships, collaborations, partnerships able to effectively and convincingly meet the community’s underlying, emerging or widespread needs. On one hand, this relationship allows businesses to understand the most significant domains and measures to bolster their level of sustainability; on the other hand, its allows them to build on the talent surrounding them, both inside and outside of the company.

In the light of what has been said, is it possible to humanize those businesses that offer themselves as social innovators?

A growing number of social innovations originate from those who have a strong desire to find an alternative pathway to build their future in a fairer society and in a healthier environment. Many organizations are beginning to innovate through the open exchange of skills with their system of reference, opening up to the outside and developing relationships and dialogues with the various types of stakeholders involved in the “Open Innovation” processes. Although businesses, until now, have developed new ideas internally, tomorrow it will be the innovation produced outside the company that will seek out businesses that can drastically augment their potential, thus giving life to new forms of participation, capable of accommodating demands originating from communities and the territories.

snam fondazione (Logo)

The role of business foundations

Intercepting the most promising ideas, mobilising financial and human resources and building relationships to increase the ability to design and execute them are practices too often limited by the company management philosophies: these are the tasks entrusted to business foundations, an instrument that can play a key role in supporting social innovation. Business foundations act in various domains, attempting to provide effective and diversified answers depending on their mission. Although at the end of the 90s, during the first survey of Italian foundations1, the concept of a business foundations was non-existent, or almost so, with very few exceptions2, business foundations are now taking on increasing importance. The macro-objectives which compel an undertaking to establish a foundation include ethical objectives, pursuing its philanthropic and personal goals, personal objectives, driven by the momentum of key personnel within the company, and strategic objectives, able to create a competitive advantage for the company itself.

In 2017, Snam also established its own corporate Foundation, created to offer access to its expertise and ability to achieve, which, over the course of the Company’s history, had contributed to the innovation, progress and social development of the Country. In particular, the Snam Foundation aims to encourage the civil, cultural and economic development in priority areas of public interest, through the development, adoption, promotion and dissemination of innovative, effective and supportive practices. In particular, consistent with Snam’s presence across the territory, the Foundation pursues and promotes the restoration of vulnerable areas, also by protecting and taking care of the panoramic heritage and environment, as well as supporting and developing every variety of cultural activity.

Between 2011 and 2014, Corporate Foundations allocated approximately €45 mln to guarantee support for projects focused on supporting young Italians looking for a job, often acting as a network among them to pursue common objectives.

Source: “Fondazioni di impresa per i giovani: come far crescere il vivaio”, 2015.

The Foundation will therefore promote broad-based partnerships with all players of the various communities and territories where it will operate, favouring in its interventions those partnerships with social enterprises and private entities which are engaged, in a stable and primary way, in a business activity of general interest.

Social enterprises, which by their nature, stably and primarily conduct economic activities of social utility, are in fact subjects capable of ensuring the effectiveness and sustainability and their engagement in the Snam Foundation projects can guarantee continuity of results and the ability to implement broad-based programmes. The Snam Foundation initiatives will therefore have the following characteristics: alignment with the strategy and the territories in which Snam operates, focus on vulnerable areas and subjects, innovation, partnerships and the generation of new business.

Commitment to the growth of the territories and communities

To facilitate the engagement between the social world and Snam, the Foundation launched the “Treasures – Supportive Lands in Inclusive Networks” initiative. In continuity with the Orti nella Rete [Gardens in the Network] project, some lands close by the Snam installations are made available to local communities, with an eye to making valuable use of the company’s assets, experience and local skill and strengthening its relations with the territory.

Within this context, at the beginning of December 2017, the Snam Foundation and Confagricoltura signed a partnership protocol to promote, develop, and implement social-agricultural projects. The agreement originated from a common will to encourage the dissemination of innovative and supportive practices in the agricultural field, in vulnerable areas or areas of public interest, observing and enhancing the territory and environment.

More than 155 projects from all over Italy with innovative ideas to respond to the most diverse social needs.

There were four winners who implemented projects regarding:

  • Artificial Intelligence
  • Marketing of local and organic produce/products
  • Barrier-free travel
  • Orientation tools for the non-profit world
Landscape with trees (Image)

The agreement calls for organising one or more competitions addressed to social workers, mainly in the agricultural sector, focused on awarding projects capable of connecting aspects of inclusion, social impact on local communities, and sustainability, with innovation and experimentation. In this way Snam’s land, made accessible, will become platforms to promote innovation and the dissemination of the circular economy principles, the re-use and exploitation of waste, the study of increasingly efficient and environmentally friendly production and consumption models.

The winners will be awarded with the concession, under a free loan, to the unused land owned by Snam for a period of ten years, and economic support to carry out projects.

The Snam Foundation will also fund participation in the on-line Master’s in Social Agriculture, organised by Tor Vergata University, for the representatives of the winning projects.

In 2017, the Snam Foundation, together with other important Italian Foundations, promoted “Welfare che impresa!”, a contest that seeks to favour the outpouring of project ideas of young people under the age of 35 on issues related to social welfare for communities, which are capable of fostering social cohesion, development and to act as a network.

Through this initiative, the Snam Foundation intends to stimulate entrepreneurship of start-ups that are committed to finding innovative and sustainable solutions to society’s complex challenges, and proposes itself as a social innovator and catalyst of ideas and projects focused on people and territories.

Out of the 155 projects submitted in this second edition of “Welfare che impresa!”, a figure that demonstrates the growing interest in new services able to help improve the Country’s social fabric, the 14 finalists participated in a two-day training workshop, promoted by the foundations, during which participants could acquire useful skills and information to improve their design skills.

Among the four winning project ideas, Foundation Snam gave an award to “Tripmetoo”, a Salerno start-up operating in the tourist sector. It is a web-based reservation platform allowing travellers to customise their travel experience based on their different preferences and allows industry operators to enhance their offer, placing it in the Tripmetoo network. The jury also decided to award a special prize to the “AGRIshelter” project: a temporary home for emergency situations, built with local resources and natural materials; its building and innovative technology guarantees environmental, economic and social sustainability.

The Snam Foundation’s participation in “Welfare, che impresa!” was an important step towards the affirmation of a company growing increasingly closer to the territory, capable of being a driving force for development of the community and the Country and to facilitate the growth and the culture of entrepreneurship when confronting social challenges.

The “open innovation” follows indirect paths to capitalise on the collective intelligence both inside and outside the company. This is influencing the actual business conditions, where opportunities to build relationships, to interact, and to share among those working every day in the organisation are in increasing demand. For this very reason, the companies propose more and more opportunities to meet, as well as more “open” and informal working spaces.

Innovation, people and corporate culture

ALL lean (Logo)

In the transformation processes that enterprises are implementing to prepare themselves for future challenges, employees are increasingly demanded to play an active role in promoting change.

A pathway which Snam also followed during the year; with the slogan “The future is in our hands” it called upon employees to propose new ideas regarding certain key issues for Snam’s managerial evolution.

In particular:

  • Snam’s role in the energy transition
  • Employer Branding & Attraction
  • Corporate Values
  • Leadership and careers
  • New ways of working

The ambitious All Lean project also establishes the goal of minimising time waste in order to gain more free time tobe used for higher value-added activities. A key point of the change process has been the active engagement of everyone in the company, called upon to propose ideas and identify the aspects of inefficiency, freely expressing their opinions and customising their working environment.

This interaction with people resulted in an extremely innovative approach, capable of breaking existing paradigms and envisioning a corporate reality open to all. The initiatives implemented within the purview of the All Lean programme include: the passage from 175 procedures to 30 simple rules, halving selection times of ideal candidates and reducing accreditation times for private sector vendors by 75%.

Lean programme’s goals

Identify wastes throughout the Company (Icon)

Identify wastes throughout the Company

Make the processes more effective (Icon)

Make the processes more effective

Involve people (Icon)

Involve people

Create a collaborative environment (Icon)

Create a collaborative environment

Promote the continuous improvement culture (Icon)

Promote the continuous improvement culture

1 Survey conducted by the Agnelli Foundation.

2 The Olivetti Foundation and the Agnelli Foundation, for example.

to pagetop