Innovation is often given complex definitions. We prefer the simple one: ‘new ideas that work.’
- Geoff Mulgan, Social Silicon Valleys: A Manifesto for Social Innovation, Young Foundation (Spring 2006).
This is a great definition of innovation, but suffers from the problem of survivorship bias. We only know later whether the idea works. What happens to all the innovative work that leads to dead-ends and failures? These look just as innovative in their early stages, and often help spur innovation by helping map out the topology of what works and what doesn't.
Furthermore, those of us who invest in startups have no clue whether the innovation will work when we invest. This is just as relevant in Hazon's innovative programs in the non-profit sector as it is in Sigma's venture capital portfolio. This is not to say that the engineering itself is untested. Often it is clear that the gizmo works, but we have no idea if it solves the problem: do people like it, use it, adopt it... does it scale, cause other problems, create more complexity... and does it really solve the problem? All of those things are only ascertained after a fair amount of capital is invested in packaging and promotion, and a fair amount of time is spent as well.
With this in mind, here are a couple of interesting items to read about innovation in the non-profit sector.
First, an easy read from Jumpstart on the Huffington Post, Philanthropy's New Ice Age: Will Social Innovation Survive the Freeze?, including a quote from Hazon's own Nigel Savage.
Second, check out the Intentional Innovation in Philanthropy report from the W. K. Kellogg Foundation. There is an exec summary as well as the full report.