How Business Leaders Can Work With Social Entrepreneurs to Change Education

Special Focus : Can Social Enterprise Lead Innovation in Education?
World of Work March 07, 2016

The most successful initiatives in education have not been cooked up in a corporate lab. The best innovative ideas come from the people who have truly lived education in school & classroom and came up with a creative solution to make a positive change in their daily workflow. 

Such innovation is born out of personal frustration and an entrepreneur’s decision not to accept the status quo. 

Take Edmodo for example, one of the biggest EdTech products in the market today. It was created by two IT employees in a US school who were asked by their Board to prevent students from visiting Facebook on school computers. Their answer was a social network solely fit for educational purposes. 

This network currently has more than 51 million users and counting. 

The success of Edmodo comes from the logic in how it was created. Their solution, simple as it was, proved scalable. 

Social entrepreneurs often start in a similar matter. They seek to change the difficult individual situation they are in with a simple, elegant solution, without having a profit perspective in mind. 

Very often they have little to no means to make it work and therefore need to be very resourceful to provide their environment with a sustainable solution.

One of my personal favorites of such innovation is the Argentinian VideoLibros a simple concept of videos for deaf children in which they read to each other in sign language. The videos not only improve the young pupil’s capacity and confidence to express him/herself with the appropriate signs, it also increases his/her curiosity to read more. 

The ability to have a lasting impact in such a way, also known as frugal innovation, has proven to be extremely effective and is embraced by many innovation experts in this world. 

In this respect I would answer yes – Social Entrepreneurs can definitely lead innovation in education. 

Their close proximity to the problem and their pure motive to change a situation for the better are a winning formula to come up with a clever innovative educational idea. 

But leadership also implies the rollout of the concept once proven. If you want your idea to reach scale you need to be able to realize its growth and mass adoption. This can be trickier for social entrepreneurs because of the simple fact that financial resources are needed for the concept to travel.

In addition you need to take into account the fact that we are dealing with innovation in the Education Sector – very big but noisy – and known for its slow moving pace in adopting change. 

To simplify, the social enterprise needs cash to have a real effect.

This is where corporate innovation comes in. A big corporation with an interest in the social entrepreneur and its market facilitates the budget for the innovative solution to scale. 

This can be either through investment, the corporation becomes co-owner of the solution (think of the corporate venture capital funds out there) or through a complimentary partnership beneficial to both parties (think of corporate CSR or Innovation programs). 

So to my idea the best form of innovation in education can be realized through a great marriage of frugal innovation and corporate innovation. 

The social enterprise comes up with the idea and the corporation helps it to scale. 

So who is the true innovation leader in this game? Frugal or Corporate? 

The famous US scholar Warren G. Bennis claimed that: “Leadership is the capacity to create vision into reality.” 

I could not agree more.