The term “breaking down the silos,” is commonly used in business to illustrate how a task can avoid or reduce duplication of effort.

By taking two teams, for example, that might compete on a project and instead get them to work together and collaborate, the hope is that you’ll get a better output; one that incorporates the best ideas from every employee throughout the company.

Role of business in shaping a better tomorrow

Solutions to the world’s most pressing problems and exciting opportunities are global, interconnected and interdependent. Business’ resources dwarf those of the philanthropic and public sectors combined. All require leaders with vision and capacity to build systems for change across industries and borders. Yet alone, now and in the future, no one of these sectors can put together the social entrepreneurial ecosystems necessary for major innovation and change to work at scale. As global citizens, we must work together to unleash the great potential of the business world in creating social change. How?

1. Break the siloes: intrapreneur, meet entrepreneur!

“While there is a Western business stereotype that celebrates the heroic efforts of the intrepid business entrepreneur” says David Grayson, “a successful social intrapreneur must learn to work in, and then help to create, “ensembles” of like-minded individuals with complementary skills and ideas in order to succeed.” Social entrepreneurs are innovating to create opportunities for low income people. Meanwhile, and increasingly, corporate employees, or ‘intrapreneurs’ are pioneering business innovations with a social impact.  The combination of both can and will be incredibly powerful. We learnt of some silo-busting intra-entre partnerships at this year’s Skoll World Forum:

Kickstart and Citi. Kickstart, a social enterprise that makes low-cost irrigation equipment, has partnered with Citi Group, which provides a line of credit to help Kickstart survive the lumpiness of donor cash infusion.

Embrace and GE. Embrace makes low-cost incubators for premature infants that operate without electricity. They partnered with GE originally to scale up the distribution of their product and give their work more ‘credibility’ in the marketplace.

Root Capital and Starbucks. Root Capital is working with Starbucks to provide financing and capacity support to coffee farmers to help strengthen Starbucks supply chain. They also are working as part of a global consortium of coffee companies and development agencies to address the leaf rust epidemic hitting coffee farmers in Latin America.

2. Convene business leaders: The B Team

While we do not yet have a World Economic Forum or a Davos dedicated specifically to social change; the power, ambition, rigour and relentlessness of the leading few is inciting a movement amongst socially conscious business leaders.  The B Team, co-created by Richard Branson and Virgin Unite, brings together an initial 14 leaders from major corporations around the world, including Unilever, Natura, Celtel, Tata and Kering, in an attempt to demonstrate that long-term business success can be built only by prioritising people and planet alongside profit.

In an interview with Guardian Sustainable Business, Branson says he hopes the B Team will succeed where others have failed by harnessing the energy of a small group of respected leaders who have access to heads of state and other key opinion formers. But rather than go it alone, the B Team is forging partnerships with other organisations such as the World Business Council for Sustainable Development and Ashoka.

3. Co-creation that matters: Danone Ecosystem Fund

Danone chose to go beyond corporate social responsibility by implementing innovative business models that generate social and environmental value in a sustainable way. Danone seeks to address critical issues related to the corporation’s expertise and goals—issues like malnutrition, access to water, sustainable resources management, and sustainable supply and value chains. The Danone Ecosystem Fund is one of these platforms: it supports the partners of Danone’s “ecosystem” (small agricultural producers, small suppliers, proximity distributors) to effect powerful social changes—and reinforces the company at the same time.

The Ecosystem approach promotes open source knowledge in terms of business models and project management: good practices, practical tips, and decision-making tools are being formalised and shared within the business community. Danone’s Guide to Co-creation, is an accessible online tool for anyone to learn more about public/private partnerships and to facilitate co-creation implementation through a structured process.

4. Disrupt the status quo: Open Data, for good

Giant consumer corporations such as Tesco have some of the largest data banks in the world, and this has enormous positive potential. Rufus Pollock, and Ashoka Fellow who runs the Open Knowledge Foundation, is catalysing a global movement that opens raw data sources to larger populations of people.

By democratizing access to data, the Open Knowledge Foundation is creating a global change in transparency, citizen empowerment, social justice, and accountability for policy makers, companies, and those in positions of power. Currently, data is being used to predict and prompt purchasing.

However the potential of this data to map trends and create positive social change is enormous. OKFN has the infrastructure, skills and knowledge to guide companies to use their consumer databanks to bring about positive social change as well as creating a genuine boost to their bottom line.

The stage is set. Business-social collaborations which activate the power of partnerships in creating real social change will be the only way to survive in an age of conscious consumerism. Ashoka’s network is working to define a compelling value proposition for social impact across the business – not just for CMOs, CFOs and CEOs but for all stakeholders. With this in place, social innovation within powerful brands and global corporation will not be sidelined, but core to the longevity and triple bottom line. Article by Felicity McLean, Communications and Framework Change Manager at Ashoka.