Intentional Innovation

The following is an excerpt from “Intentional Innovation: How Getting More Systematic about Innovation Could Improve Philanthropy and Increase Social Impact,” a W.K. Kellogg Foundation report. Leadership & Trends is one of four programme tracks for concurrent sessions for WINGSForum 2014: The Power of Networks.


By Gabriel Kasper and Stephanie Clohesy

Innovation is everywhere. From the advertisements on TV to the design of the iPod in your pocket to the social services delivered on the streets of Delhi, people and organizations are always creating new ideas, services, and products and adapting old ones to fit their changing circumstances. This is especially true in the social sector, where the old adage “necessity is the mother of invention” drives NGOs, social entrepreneurs, and others to creatively experiment with new solutions to pressing local problems and intractable global challenges.

So why is it more important than ever for philanthropy and the social sector to take a fresh look at innovation? It isn’t just about chasing the latest fad, or about innovation for its own sake. It’s about finding new ways to make a difference in the world.

The convergence of a number of dynamic forces—new and emerging technologies, new ways of connecting people and organizing work, and new ideas from around the world and across sectors—is creating exciting opportunities for breakthroughs in how public problems are solved. It is now possible to do old things in new ways, and to try completely new things that weren’t possible before.

As these forces accelerate the pace of change in the social sector, there is also a very real danger that by just continuing to do philanthropy the way we do it today, our efforts will no longer match the emerging realities of tomorrow. There is a need to identify and pioneer innovations in practice that will fit the challenges and opportunities of the future.

But not enough funders have a clear sense of what innovation really means, or how to intentionally and consistently make it happen.

The inspirational flashes of creativity that we typically associate with innovation have led to many great advances in almost every aspect of our lives. But in practice, these flashes are unpredictable and often difficult for an organization to manage. Potentially great innovations are routinely squandered or lost because they don’t fit, aren’t noticed, can’t scale, or are too overwhelming to absorb.

A growing body of literature and practice now suggests that innovation does not have to be such an uncontrollable force. Instead, it can be a rational management process with its own distinct set of processes, practices, and tools. In fact, research shows that this type of systematic innovation in an organization typically yields much more productive, scalable, and sustainable ideas over time.

Download the W.K. Kellogg Foundation report from the WINGS Knowledge Center.

Leadership & Trends is one of four programme tracks for concurrent sessions for WINGSForum 2014: The Power of Networks. Follow on Twitter with #WFnetworks. For event details and to register, visit the WINGSForum website.

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