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Social Innovation

Pioneering new ideas to meet pressing social challenges

For many funders and nonprofits seeking to solve complex and pressing social problems, there is a need to innovate: to seek out and experiment with new ideas that have the potential to create breakthrough change. But philanthropists and social sector leaders aren’t often clear about what innovation really means for them and their organizations, much less how to intentionally and consistently make it happen.

What we offer

The convergence of dynamic forces—such as new and emerging technologies, new ways of connecting people and organizing work, and new ideas from around the world and across sectors—is creating exciting opportunities for breakthroughs in how public problems are solved.

Monitor Institute by Deloitte helps funders and social entrepreneurs make sense of leading-edge innovation theory and practice, translating recent advances in commercial innovation strategy for social sector success.

Particular areas of focus include:

  • Funding breakthrough ideas. Deliberately finding and funding transformative ideas involves different processes, systems, and structures than more traditional grantmaking (as detailed in our Stanford Social Innovation Review cover story on the “Re-emerging Art of Funding Innovation”). We help philanthropic institutions and individuals interested in funding breakthrough social innovation develop more intentional approaches for sourcing, selecting, supporting, measuring, and scaling breakthrough ideas.
  • Challenging existing orthodoxies to develop new approaches. Every organization has its share of orthodoxies—deeply held assumptions about “how things are done” that may or may not still be true, but that often go unstated and unchallenged and can become blind spots over time. We work with funders and nonprofits to identify unproductive orthodoxies, challenging these calcified practices and processes when necessary and creatively re-imagining new and more effective ways of accomplishing organizational goals.
  • Crafting innovation portfolios. For some nonprofits and social entrepreneurs, creating innovative ideas is the easy part, but managing them is the challenge. More often than not, this web of ideas turns into a frustratingly chaotic array of products and innovations that aren’t always well aligned with an organization’s mission and theory of change. We work with social sector leaders to help make sense of their existing innovation portfolios, rationalize their investment in new offerings and services, and set up new efforts for success.

Issue to impact: The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Pioneer Portfolio

The issue

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) established its Pioneer Portfolio to intentionally find and nurture breakthrough innovations in health and healthcare. Despite eight years of successful activity, Pioneer recognized that it had the potential to do even more, and asked Monitor Institute by Deloitte to help it refresh its strategy, developing a new approach for the unit that drew on participatory, outside-in strategic planning approaches and incorporated the cutting edge of innovation theory and practice.

Our impact

Over the course of six months, we engaged collaboratively with the Pioneer team to identify the successful elements of their approach to date and spur their thinking with new ideas and approaches from the field. By clarifying and understanding “bright spots” in existing practices and learning from “adjacent spaces” like the DARPA and corporate innovation units, we helped the Pioneer team to articulate a more deliberate strategy for RWJF’s Pioneer Portfolio that positioned the portfolio for sustained breakthrough impact. Through our collaborative process, we were able to engage the team at every step along the way, creating ownership of the new strategy and confidence in the new direction. Moreover, they were armed with a stronger ability to explain to the rest of the Foundation how they work, how they think about failure—a critically important part of innovation—and how they find new ideas, leading to stronger relationships with the rest of the Foundation and the broader field.