Social Innovation Starts From Within

By Rob Acker | September 24, 2019 | Education, Grants and Philanthropy, Higher Education, Impact Labs, K-12 Education & Youth Development, Nonprofit, Pro Bono, Volunteering

Leaders from Oakland Unified School District, local nonprofits and Salesforce.org at a volunteering day at Presidio Middle School, September 2019
Leaders from Oakland Unified School District, local nonprofits and Salesforce.org at a volunteering day at Presidio Middle School, September 2019

Inspiration spurs ideas and ideas spur solutions. I am personally inspired by this community of nonprofits and education institutions that work everyday on the frontlines of change – and I am inspired to drive innovation for them. Innovation is not just about new ideas and methods, it’s about the new ways of thinking that lead to them. It’s also about new models and being open to change that can improve products and services. This innovation culture is central to Salesforce and our way of work. In fact, at Salesforce.org, I strive to make innovation a daily habit. Our most trailblazing products came from ideation and co-creation with customers, volunteers, interns and employees.

Excited students at a volunteering day with Salesforce at Presidio Middle School
Excited students at a volunteering day with Salesforce at Presidio Middle School

As the 2019 recipient of the Social Intrapreneur of the Year Award at the World Economic Forum, I have been reflecting on what makes innovation really tick at Salesforce. I think there are three reasons why this works:

The model matters. We “start with the why” at Salesforce.org, and that “why” is our belief that the business of business is to improve the state of the world. In order to fully realize that belief, we were set up first as a corporate foundation first and we evolved from there into a Social Enterprise. Most recently, we are now excited to be the Social Impact Center of Salesforce. This evolution from checkbook philanthropy to a self-sustaining business to now an in-house team dedicated to technology for good has driven our innovation mindset. In each step in this evolution, we kept our nonprofit and education customers and their markets as our compass. As the community evolved, so did we.

In fact, the best example of this is our Salesforce Advisor Link (SAL) product. Our education team worked with the community to create a solution that would help us address the fact that the college completion gap is as low as 20% among some student populations. One missing piece: A technology solution that could provide a holistic view of student data, inside and outside of the classroom, with the ability to track student progress in real time, and for faculty to collaborate and manage student interventions. Today, the University of Virginia’s Frank Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy is live with Salesforce Advisor Link, hosting more than 425 students and 13 advisors across 4 programs. According to the institution, Salesforce Advisor Link is an easy-to-use student friendly platform that streamlines advising appointments, and improves communication. In fact, they have booked nearly 2,000 student-advisor appointments in the first full year after launch!

Salesforce employees participating in a kit building activity, with kits to be donated to local Bay Area teachers.
Salesforce employees participating in a kit building activity, with kits to be donated to local Bay Area teachers.

The employee start-up culture is key. In many ways, Salesforce.org is a start-up within one of the world’s most innovative companies, and our clouds mimic that mindset. Salesforce employees and experts never stop innovating, even outside the workplace. Employees have volunteered over 4 million hours in communities around the world and many of these hours have been skills-based volunteering through our Pro Bono Program. Our employees volunteer their expertise to help customers make the most of their investment in Salesforce, which empowers the social sector to do even more good with our technology.

In fact, our internal management and tracking of volunteer hours – Volunteerforce – was the impetus behind one of our clouds – Philanthropy Cloud. Our volunteers wanted to know what was out there in the marketplace of causes and nonprofits that they could get involved with or donate to. We created an internal matching tool for employees to find out what opportunities were most aligned with their passions. So, Philanthropy Cloud was born in 2018 – a marketplace for employees to connect to causes while getting their workplace and companies involved.

The most valuable ideas are community-driven. We have over 40,000 customers who ideate with us in our Power of Us Hub online community. Listening to our community’s thinking has propelled us to test new boundaries and approaches when solving social problems. They are the experts and our job has been to provide a space to be creative, try new things, and adjust to the changing tides of the world we live in. In the business world, we take a gamble on untested ideas all the time; our sector should be no different.

We see this in action with Community Sprints. We’ve created a space for social impact organizations to come together and “hack” solutions. Our open source platforms like Nonprofit Success Pack and Education Data Architecture are prime for co-creation. Some of the best features in Nonprofit Cloud and Education Cloud came directly from these Sprints.

The best part about ideas is that there are always new ones. Working in a place that values ideas is the best spark for innovative thinking. It is my dream that Salesforce.org will always remain a lab for social good innovation – where ideas are always explored and technology is always built for the greater “why” – to improve the state of our world.

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