Social businesses need to constantly innovate to provide better and more affordable products and services to their customers. Having access to information on technological innovations from a variety of fields can only be helpful in this endeavor. Through its “empowering people. Award” the Siemens Stiftung is in the process of creating a database of technological innovations that are appropriate for a developing country context. After screening and vetting by a panel of experts, the top innovations will be made available for the wider public.
Such an innovation database is beneficial to social (and other) businesses in different ways:
New products: Social businesses fulfill previously unmet needs of low income consumers. In the process of doing so, additional needs are often discovered. A solar lamp supplier might discover a demand for energy related products, such as durable radios. As the distribution network is already in place, it now becomes easier to supply additional products. A database of technological innovations can help social businesses in identifying innovative and proven products to supply to their existing clients.
New production processes: Delivering services or goods affordably means constantly trying to make production processes more efficient. A low-income housing provider will need to find ways to reduce building costs. Access to innovations such as building materials from Tetra-Pak waste, which are low-cost and provide great insulation, allow for important improvements and savings.
New client interaction mechanisms: Ranging from customer surveys to receiving payments, clients are challenging to interact with: They are geographically disbursed and often can only pay in small installments. Having the appropriate technological solutions for engaging with clients is essential. Remote customer surveys through SMS platforms; mobile phone based repayment systems that active and de-active products; GPS tracking the location of clients; these and other innovations have the potentially to significantly improve the interaction between social businesses and their customers.
New support equipment: Basic equipment is needed to deliver products and services. A waste management business needs overalls, boots, handcarts and much more to provide a good service. Having access to information about the newest innovations can make the day-to-day operations easier. A stronger and lighter handcart not only lasts longer, hence reducing costs, but also provides ergonomic advantages to handcart drivers.