Gin and tonic. Batman and Robin. Bert and Ernie. Central to the success and popularity of these duos is the fact that they work as a team. What would one be without the other?
The value of partnership and collaboration is something we think about a lot here at Forum for the Future, and we apply this approach to much of our work, through techniques such as collaborative futures and problem-solving coalitions.
Something quite extraordinary started in Mumbai in 2008. Two thousand families took part in a trial to see what happened when people washed their hands at key times, such as before mealtimes. The results were compelling: diarrhoea among children dropped by 25%; acute respiratory infections fell by 19%; eye infections were down by 46% - and 40% more children attended school every day.
More than two million kids a year die from diarrhoeal diseases worldwide, so this trial has the potential to impact a major cause of child mortality.
Lifebuoy, the soap brand behind the trial, then started to develop a hand-washing behaviour change campaign across India, called Help a Child Reach 5. The campaign worked with celebrities like Kajol, a popular film star and mother, and also teamed up with Population Services International, a leading health organization for implementing hand-washing programmes to target rural villages.
(This article first appeared as a guest blog by Sally Uren in the Huffington Post on 3 December, 2013)
The idea of sustainability has been around for a while and whilst many businesses are starting to realise the economic, social and environmental benefits of operating much more sustainably, we now need to go beyond incremental change. Only by influencing the nature of the systems in which they operate can businesses create a context in which they can innovate for long-term success.
Sarah Ellis, Head of Corporate Responsibility and Society at Sainsbury’s, shares some reflections on the supermarket’s journey towards its 2020 sustainability targets.
When we publically laid out our sustainability strategy two years ago in the form of 20 stretching targets for 2020, we were venturing into the unknown in many ways. After taking to the stage last week to share our progress with a range of stakeholders two years into our 20x20 Sustainability Plan, it seems, however, that we have strong support that the targets are indeed the right things to be working on, and the results have been significant so far. We were keen for discussion to be the most important part of the morning, rather than a one-sided conversation about our achievements, and I’m pleased to say we got great feedback, ideas and challenges from our audience.
What people want was the nub of the most exciting conversations at the recent Sustainable Brands London.
Let’s re-imagine our lives to the extent that what we want and how brands meet these needs are radically different — was the message of a short film on the future of the family by Dragon Rouge. It raised some hackles, and was bound to: Anything that questions fundamental assumptions about how society works — to the extent that McDonald’s (the epitome of multinational monotony) buys fresh produce grown by communities and transports them to local businesses to sell — will prompt scepticism. That’s the point: If you re-imagine the world, meanings shift.
“Is there a future where ‘branding’ is less prominent?” tweeted innovation expert Hugh Knowles of Forum for the Future during the event last week. I replied that a brand is a semiotic tool — a common reference point, a carrier of meaning; why not harness it?
Alex Newson, Curator at the Design Museum, took us on a lively tour of The Future is Here, and challenged us to envision ourselves as the consumers of Forum’s two ‘future products’ (hosted by the exhibition).
How would we use them? What would we like and what wouldn’t we like? What would happen if they merged with other technologies in the exhibition?
The finance system requires everyone else to mimic its quest for short-term maximisation, and no one knows what to do about it. That was, broadly, the conclusion I drew from this year's ABIS conference of sustainability and business academic.
“Resistance is futile”
A couple of weeks ago I was in the wooded grounds of Nyenrode Business School, in The Netherlands. I was at a conference of business school professors and practitioners on ‘sustainability and finance’, run by ABIS, the Association of Business in Society (formerly EABIS). The content was fascinating, and depressing, because it was basically story after story, research finding after research finding, of mainstream financing being part of the problem.
Why did it shift from buying to renting? Simple: when the council ran a pilot study it saw travel costs plunge from £1.3 million to £756,000 and the associated carbon emissions almost halve. In these tight times, the business case was obvious.
(This blogpost is the second in a four-part series on innovation for a sustainable future)
Visions of sustainable futures are great. The very process of building them can inspire collaboration on new levels and break down seemingly intractable barriers. But, as Thomas Edison very wisely pointed out:
"a vision without execution is, unfortunately, just hallucination"
We can hallucinate all we want but it isn’t going to bring about the change we need in the real world. We need to make our visions as real as possible right now; we need to build the future we want to live in, today; we need to build prototypes to create sustainable innovation.
Our Network event, held at the Future is Here exhibit at the Design Museum last month, explored one of the ways in which we help our partners to create innovation: by bringing visions to life with concepts.
‘The last mile’ is the term used by fixed line services – like cable, broadband etc – to describe the most difficult and costly, but also important part of their networks. Get it wrong and a provider will find it has a lot of unhappy customers to deal with.
These networks operate like tree structures, with thick trunks of superfast service making up the core of their operations, and then ever smaller and more constrained branches of service leading out to the ‘leaves’ of their customers. No matter how thick that trunk is or how mighty the overall operation, when it comes to delivering the goods and ensuring customer satisfaction, everything is ultimately determined by the speed of the smallest connection – that very last one that runs to their homes over ‘the last mile’.
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