Raising a glass to people over products, collaboration over competiton

In the private and nonprofit sectors, a more human approach is called for: finding identity in how an organization can be useful to customers above the products they sell or the categories in which they compete.
Transformative scale and crafting solutions that aptly fit the problems they target has been garnering some attention over at the Stanford Social Innovation Review blog lately. Whole companies and organizations are repositioning themselves from the ground up with more effectiveness and relevance. It’s not just another layer of ironic artisanal façade, either. To paraphrase Peter Drucker, in the private and nonprofit sectors, a more human approach is called for: finding identity in how an organization can be useful to customers above the products they sell or the categories in which they compete.
A post by Scott D. Anthony on Innoblog back in January is founded on this idea of the need for a more humanist business landscape and welcomes it back, despite a few missteps in the ‘80s, in this decade. It’s essential if we are to see innovation continue, Anthony writes, as concentrating on the bottom line only, “hollows out a company’s competitive advantage, as it loses the capacity to invest in innovation that drives the perpetual reinvention so necessary in today’s world of temporary competitive advantage.”
But back to reaching transformative scale. It may not be the purpose of every company in West Michigan to solve world hunger, but they have a better chance if they work together.  It may not be within the scope of earnest fundraising efforts to direct every Michigander’s attention back to supporting our local nonprofits, but with the right business partners they can attract more than a few. And it may not be feasible for a single mind to provide free education for all, no matter how diverse the approach, but given the right pipeline and placement there’s hope.
It’s the next level in sustainable private or nonprofit growth—cooperation over competition. And that means working with others within our industries as much as without. We linked to a post at the SSRI blog last week—Gerald Chertavian’s post, “To Reach Transformative Scale, Transform the Conversation.”  In it, he references his company Year Up, which “empowers low-income young adults to go from poverty to professional careers in a single year.”
West Michigan may not have an analog of Year Up, but the obstacles to growth Chertavian experienced are invariably the same throughout many industries. Even with a product that has proven its value through social good, there are plateaus to the populations reached.
“For Year Up to reach transformative scale, we need to catalyze a broad employer movement for wider talent pipelines—one that goes far beyond our own enterprise’s growth,” Chertavian writes. “It’s a fundamentally different bet on impact than we’re used to. If we’re ultimately successful in our work, the vast majority of those who benefit from it will never have heard of us.”
Year Up has a strong cooperative spirit both inside and outside its own field, a trend West Michigan is also seeing more of. Organizations are reaching wider demographics through partnerships with others aimed at social innovation. This week being Beer Week in our region, we need look no further than our beer goggles allow—the cooperation within microbreweries and beer enthusiasts is rampant in our (now forever incumbent) Beer City USA, and that’s just what we’ve decided to start the month off with.
Beginning our social innovation coverage in May, Pat Evans and the team at Mitten Brewing Company are doing more for the community than just pulling taps. UIX Editor Matthew Russell spoke to brewing dudes at Mitten and Rockford Brewing Company about the sort of collaborative projects our local breweries are working on. Following that tall cold one, the work of John and Shawn Sterk Tol of MI Deals for Charity will be featured by the editor. The Tol’s are taking the ubiquitous “deal-a-day” idea, focusing it on Michigan, and kicking 10 percent of every deal to a charity or nonprofit within the state. Ending up the month, writer Marla Miller will highlight Chris Sain, Jr., author of “Dumb Athlete” and founder of Grand C.I.T.Y. Sports, Inc. Sain’s mission is to restore and refocus at-risk youth by emphasizing education through sports.
With attention and care, West Michigan will begin to experience a socially innovative spring of sorts, and truly humanist ideas like these ideas will be able to flourish.
Matthew Russell is the Project Editor for UIX Grand Rapids. Contact him at [email protected]
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