Vienna, UN: Innovation that creates impact

Why did I travel all the way to the UN in Vienna? What can be learned about social innovation by visiting the UN? And why is it necessary to examine the principles of SDGs in order to change the world? About the connection between innovation and sustainability

Why did I travel all the way to the UNOV (United Nations Office in Vienna)? What can we learn about social innovation by visiting the UN? And why is examining the principles of SDG’s necessary if we want to change the world? Here is a brief overview on the connection between innovation and sustainability

One of buildinn’s activities is building communities within organizations, including innovation communities. Organizational innovation communities foster innovation that has an impact on the organization. But do they also affect the world? 

Although a commercial organization’s impact will predominantly be economic, innovation can also have a social and environmental impact. 

Closely involved with this issue recently, I attended a very relevant international conference held by the UN in Vienna. 

This is a venue where everything happens, and people from across the world gather to share knowledge (and formulate the future nuclear agreement in the rooms next door). It allowed me a closer look at the relationship between innovation and sustainability and how it creates impact – a field I have been working in for 15 years.

So, who needs sustainable innovation?

Impact: where does it start, and how do you define an impactful social innovation? 

The UN has delineated an organizing framework, initially called the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and later, the 17 Sustainable Development Goals, also known as the 17 SDGs (they were approved by the Israeli government in 2019). 

These 17 goals allow us to focus on critical global issues deserving our attention.

If a solution you propose promotes one of the 17 goals, you are on the right path. However, If the innovation you are promoting makes no reference to the 17 goals or contradicts their principles, there is a good chance it will cause more harm than good.

What are the 17 SDGs

The 17 Sustainable Development Goals are a framework on which organizations should focus their efforts.

Why only “should”?

Because innovation and sustainability do not always go hand-in-hand. It is actually possible for an organization to develop its next product (innovation) and incorporate principles of sustainability into its activities (sustainability) without recognizing the link between the two. But an organization which can develop a product or process that is simultaneously innovative and sustainable creates greater value for its customers and itself.

Ultimately, the ability to measure the scope of innovation in products and processes relative to the three profit lines – economic, social, and environmental – facilitates improved risk management and value creation process over time, and allows developing properly planned processes during the design phase.

Goals are great, but how do you create true impact? 76 examples

The exciting UNOV conference was led by the Zero Project Organization. It focused mostly on accessibility encouraging a world without barriers. 35 countries presented 76 innovative projects demonstrating the connection between innovation and sustainability.

I recommend reading the report reviewing the 76 innovative projects and familiarizing with the ones  that succeeded in promoting the link between innovation and sustainability. 

What kind of projects are included in the report? How about a wheelchair operated by eyeglasses, or digital health solutions designed for people living in third-world countries. 

Clearly, being able to adopt the UN 17 SDG’s makes it possible to promote more than one principle. Both examples above encompass lessened inequality (Principle 10) and the promotion of good health (Principle 3).

The Israeli Angle – It is possible!

So, off I headed to the UNOV, not only to listen, but to share a completely evolutionary global venture I lead together with the Israel Accessibility Organization named possible!! 

This venture examines future technologies in ten different sectors, connecting innovation promoted by large corporations (such as Microsoft, Google and others) to the knowledge accumulated by people with disabilities around the globe.

Our goal is to ensure that accessibility becomes integral to innovation rather than an afterthought.

Our visit to the UN included a conversation broadcast live worldwide with Michael Pemback, CEO of the Zero Project Organization. We discussed our venture and its ability to change the world, explaining that its main goal is to flip the concept of accessibility  from actions taken at the end of a process to actions incorporated right from the beginning. Not only does the organization earn recognition as kind and responsible, but more importantly, it prevents missing 20% of the world population. Covering this 20% in retrospective is always going to require far greater investments than getting right from the very beginning.

Mr. Yuval Wagner, Chairman of Accessibility Israel (in the photo) and my partner in this journey, says: “Once it becomes evident that innovation and accessibility go hand in hand, we can make a significant impact. Until then, it is our responsibility to convince others of only one thing – that it is possible”. 

And we believe it is!

Two Lessens to be learned

Finally, there are two lessons that can be learned here:

A CEO who wishes to encourage top-down innovation should stop viewing sustainability as a framework for examining the organization’s past conduct, and instead view it as a framework for promoting future products and processes that will solve global problems.

Secondly, anyone who is a member of an organizational innovation community and works to promote innovation in that field, should examine the extent to which the venture can create a global impact, and not just be innovative.

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