Dell’s Social Innovation for Greater Good

As the world of responsible business continues to mature with increasing numbers of elements reinforcing their position within mainstream management practice, we see those organisations leading from the front pushing innovation as the future focus of development.

It is scarcely a  secret that I have the attention span of a goldfish when it come to the statistical detail in many projects and I am not by any means the stereotypical  ‘completer finisher’ profile type. Give me a problem requiring a solution and I’ll bombard you with variations on ways to overcome / circumnavigate the strangest of obstacles, and often with absurdly creative suggestions. I was probably an eccentric inventor or mad scientist in a previous life.

Over the past few years I’ve been fortunate to be invited to help out as a judge / mentor / adviser on a number of social innovation related initiatives including Microsoft’s Imagine Cup, Societe Generale’s Cititzen Act, Smaller Earth’s Your Big Year and Justmeans’ Social Innovation Awards. On each occasion I jumped at the chance to be immersed by waves of fresh ideas to make the world a better place.

By combining social benefit, competition, social media, corporate scale brand audiences and by proferring access to intellectual property companies such as those mentioned, and many more, demonstrate business can be a lasting force for good. The experience that the participants learn from can often be life changing. Exposure to such grand possibility allows individuals to adventure beyond their home town comfort zones and play their role as genuine global citizens.

Recently I’ve been watching Dell’s Social Innovation Challenge play out and I should reach out to some connections at Dell to find out more to spread the word about their future leaders early ideas to make the world a better place. Check out the 205 semi-finalists here to vote for your favourite and watch the introductory video a few questions down the page.

Below are a few questions posed via email to Michele Glaze (@MicheleatDell), Dell Giving Program Manager, Americas.

1.    How would you describe DSIC in a Twitter message?

  • Want to change the world? Start here. http://bit.ly/xUwYEv #DSIC2012
  • Working to give student social innovators the tools they need to change the world. #DSIC


2.    What project from previous years has had the most success so far / been the most sustainable?

“Almost all of the projects that have made their way into the Dell Social Innovation Challenge have had their own unique and inspiring twists on changing the world. Our 2008 winner, Husk Power Systems, has made some great progress since their concept was introduced to us four years ago. With a goal to “power to empower millions of people” the company uses rice husk to stimulate rural electrification. When Husk Power Systems came to us, they already had a great idea and process in place, they just needed the extra motivation and backing to get their product off the ground. Like many of the DSIC projects, we believed in the true mission of Husk Power Systems, and have been thrilled to watch the company grow and thrive as it does its part to change the approach to power in rural parts of the world.”

3.    Are there any stories of inspirational individual journeys because of DSIC?

“All of the individual journeys that lead our participants to the DSIC are inspiring, but we’d be remiss to not point out the personal story of Kennedy Odede (@KennedyOdede), the 2010 Dell Social Innovation Challenge Winner of Shining Hope for Communities. Born in Kibera, the largest slum in Kenya, Kennedy Odede saw his mother and sisters suffocated by poverty. Without the support of a father, Kennedy struggled to fill the void but was devastated by the abuse forced on his sisters. His determination to help himself and others break free from poverty and gender inequality drove him to form Shining Hope for Communities, grand prize winner of the 2010 Dell Social Innovation Challenge. His personal fortitude and commitment to changing his own community is inspirational. You can read more about Kennedy’s personal journey here as he overcame all odds to make a difference in the world around him.”

4.    How does Dell support projects that have potential but don’t quite fit the criteria or miss out on the big awards?

“We receive thousands of project ideas throughout the course of the challenge each year. Just because one project does not make it to finalists stage, doesn’t mean that we don’t recognize the enormous potential that idea could potentially have. We have instituted two different avenues that ensure worthy projects receive the adequate attention to get their project off the ground.

  • Mentorship program: Our mentorship program targets select top semi-finalist participants with promising project ideas that are not quite developed enough to make it to the finalists stage. Those semi-finalists participants are provided with their own mentor that will work with the team members with the goal of further building out and thinking through their project idea.
  • Community: Our new challenge website will offer participants and community members alike the tools and teachings they need to improve and advance their projects.  The site allows participants and the general public the opportunity to network with DSIC approved mentors in order to provide them with advice and additional information needed to move their projects forward – even without winning one of the top DSIC awards.”

5.    What business benefits has Dell seen as a result? Any surprising benefits?

“We certainly believe that we are seeing a positive return on our brand and reputation regarding our commitment to entrepreneurship.

Our nearly 500 employees who participate as judges and mentors also experience a great sense of pride and feel a strong sense of purpose and accomplishment.  They are humbled, yet filled with enthusiasm, as they engage with these young people who are changing the world.”

6.    What are the biggest lessons Dell have been learnt from DSIC? Anything taken internally?

“Not sure we’ve had specific lessons to call out, however we are learning a great deal. We have learned that there is a strong desire throughout the world for a community dedicated to social entrepreneurs. The engagement on the site with more than 50,000 registered profiles is amazing. We have also found that social entrepreneurship can blossom when there are tools, resources and an open community to provide learning and feedback.

Also, we have seen a great interest from the global university community with more than 100 university partners from around the world.”

7.    Does Dell have any plans to support/encourage older social innovators that have world experience and offer a different yet material perspective?

“As part of the Dell Challenge, we encourage that today. Of the 50,000 profiles we know a good number of them are non-students – individuals from all walks of life who care about social entrepreneurship.  They are engaging with the students by providing comments/feedback and voting for the projects.”

 

8.    What one dream do you have for the project?

“We really want to see this project take an even larger global approach and reach global audiences. Because of the expansion announced in 2011, this year’s challenge will present 27 awards, more than $140,000 in cash prizes and more than $500,000 worth of in-kind prizes. This expansion allows us to recognize the best projects from each stage of development, world region and social impact area. We want the Dell Social Innovation Challenge to be a source of inspiration for young, aspiring entrepreneurs and be more than just a challenge that happens once a year. We envision the Dell Social Innovation Challenge as a global network and community hub where everyone – entrepreneurs to the general public – can come together in the name of social change sharing ideas, aspirations, and common interests to change the world. ”

9.    How can we further stimulate social innovation and tangible action?

“At Dell, we really believe in enabling human potential through technology solutions. With a variety of our DSIC projects, the implementation of technology can really be the missing piece that can take their idea to the next level. We also believe in the power of community which is why we have spent our time and resources building out our program website, networking with different mentors and getting the word out to the general public. We want to be able to strike the perception that one person does not have the power to change the world – through networking opportunities, hard work, and the appropriate resources, real social change can happen. We want the Dell Social Innovation Challenge to be part of that journey.”

Impressive impact don’t you think? I can’t wait to see who wins. I only wish more companies would champion innovation so energetically through competitions of their own as part of their CSR approach.

For more information about Dell’s Social Innovation Challenge visit the webpage at www.dellchallenge.org

Disclosure: I’m a Dell (not Apple) user by choice, and owner of one donated laptop via the good people inside Dell’s CSR.

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