Sometimes I am overwhelmed with admiration for those who have faced danger and summoned the courage to step forward and act. It is easy to see them as different from the rest of us. But some recent experiences have shifted my focus to what we have in common with that class of courageous heroes. No matter where we work, there are opportunities to connect the dots, to create our own style of courage.
Good examples help reveal what this might look like. The Skoll World Forum on Social Entrepreneurship is the capstone event for an ecosystem built from the Ebay success of Jeff Skoll. It is a good place to hang out with courage counterparts. In addition to this global community of social entrepreneurs, there were about 20 corporate representatives in attendance this year. But what a boon it would have been if there had been over a hundred.
The Oxford Jam, a fringe conference happening alongside Skoll, offers more opportunities to connect. I met a former hedge fund executive there who is investing her own assets to address the obesity epidemic. Her courage will rally others to innovate while she is also able to turn a profit.
Both Skoll and Oxford Jam offer a panoply of ways for companies to connect with social enterprises. Corporate leaders who make the decision to get to Skoll next year a priority will find a uniquely rich set of courage leaders with which to interact.
Another opportunity for exploring new styles of courage is Saving Lives at Birth: A Grand Challenge for Development. This Grand Challenge (issued by USAID, the Gates Foundation, Grand Challenges Canada, the Government of Norway and the World Bank) will fund efforts to combine technology, service delivery and/or demand innovations that can directly improve the lives of mothers and their newborns. Up to $15 million will be awarded in the next 6 months. This will include 25 awards of $250,000 that will test new innovations.
The collaborative conversations around Saving Lives at Birth has resulted in a broad range of proposals that reflect how multifaceted this sector is. One of the teams I am working with is led by the Royal College of Gynecologists and Obstetricians (RCOG) and also includes an Ashoka fellow and Movirtu, an ingenious company that enables low-end cell phones to be shared while still maintaining individual identity and custom information (funding will develop simple applications such as calculating gestation month and providing tailored advice).
The proposal from SMILE (Saving Mothers and Infant Lives with Education) leverages relationships with governments, health systems and community health workers (CHW) that RCOG has been building for over a decade in Africa. Combining these relationships with Movirtu’s technology will enable low-resource environments to become high-touch environments where lives are saved through tailored advice and learning. When scaled, this program expects 30% or greater improvements in outcomes.
Forward-thinking companies who have women as primary customers can participate in these outcomes by finding programs that feature innovations where their expertise could add value.
The Skoll World Forum and Saving Lives at Birth are just two examples where courageous investors—of both time and money—are visible and can play a part in the innovation networks of a corporation. The learning and innovation that flow from these connections can be transformative, and begins with a simple sense of how you and your organization can find new styles of courage in your own innovation spheres.