5 Reasons why Coaching helps Social Innovators


Article Originally published in The Guardian by Servane Mouazan.

Outcomes are not the only thing to focus on – building the capacity of individuals and organisations is important in bringing about change.

This is why looking at “social innovation coaching” is important, as it is a process that supports people involved in influencing people and planet for the better.

As the Centre for Social Innovation puts it: “A true social innovation is systems-changing – it permanently alters the perceptions, behaviours and structures that previously gave rise to these challenges.”

Social innovation is a process, an outcome and an impact at the same time. Whoever provides support to innovators is part of the mechanism that influences this systemic change.

From our work with 3700 women social entrepreneurs, I have found that competence, connectedness, confidence and chemistry are areas where support is most needed.

Coaching can help the social innovator understand impact from a different perspective, starting with how they are going to judge the progress of their personal development. Coaching looks at their values and how they influence the change they want to make in their life and in other people’s lives. And that is already a first step towards impact measurement.

1. Understanding the drivers

Social innovators-entrepreneurs need to understand their different roles and priorities as sellers/traders and as activists. They need to keep the vision alive, while separating themselves from the organisation they have set up – let the baby grow…

Coaching can help them have better conversations with new investors, with the general public, with stakeholders, who might not directly understand the social issue. They are often so passionate that it’s hard for them to listen to, and understand, the perspective of the other. The coaching dialogue is meant to increase understanding between a) the coach and the social innovator and b) the social innovator and its stakeholders.

2. Harnessing the power of networks

Exploring networks in which the innovators are involved, whether they are actor, leader, or just observer, gives light on the strategic mindset. Can we expand, refocus, shrink the number of networks?

Most successful social innovators see networking not only about giving and receiving but equally about passing on and working towards a common vision. So the coach will not only support the individual, but together the innovator and the coach explore the social issue they are embracing, in a specific networking environment. It’s about seeing a social issue as a malleable virtual person that has a history, many perspectives, and a bunch of gremlins, but that is also open to change.

3. Collaboration and open source thinking

You’d like to think that social innovators are involved in finding solutions to pressing issues by working together but many obstacles to that are: competition, branding issues, unhealthy management practices, scarce funding, intellectual property, to name just a few. Unfortunately, a lot of people are still reluctant to collaborate by fear of losing their USP.

Even if social innovators have multiple drivers and responsibilities, they are always hungry for systems that make them think differently.To boost this, active brainstorming with peers and outsiders gives great solutions. It’s about creating platforms where entrepreneurs connect, co-mentor each other and get access to new challengers, in order to grow learning and trust. Research into open source software communities, by Karim R Lakhani, an assistant professor at Harvard Business School, has shown that “broadcasting” or introducing problems to outsiders produces effective solutions.

4. Growing stimulation and leadership

Social Innovators get excited when they are close to other great social leaders and innovators and stimulating ideas. So coaching focuses on their ability to excite others and connect with a group of champions that needs a leader and a stimulator. A coach can encourage the maverick – or outsider – in them, to find their own voice, and come up with an idea they will formulate with their own words.

5. Advocating a strength-based approach

I often find successful social innovators seem to find answers in what works, in previous and new solutions, rather than in problems! Doom and gloom just contributes to cluttering their thinking.

Coaching social innovators works well with a strength-based and a solution-focused approach. They get the satisfaction of being intellectually challenged, and the excitement of moving forward, in a positive way.

Being part of the solution also boosts their sense of belonging, and rewards their desire to be useful and wanted.

The coach’s role is to support them into getting a positive reputation based on evidence and good practice, and to make them aware of all these processes so that they can repeat them.

Servane Mouazan is the founder and director of Ogunte, a social innovations development company focused on women-led social ventures. We add value to the investment and commissioning process by clarifying and assessing social enterprises’ proposals, providing relevant connections and helping entrepreneurs to articulate and track their social impact. Servane is a nominee for the Association for Coaching Honorary Award for Social Innovation 2011.

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