What we think

Innovation Lenses – Take a different perspective

24th November 2017 Posted by: Ethicore

by Rachael Clay

More systematic and effective innovation is desperately needed to deliver sustainable development.  The challenge is to move from doing what you’ve always done, to co-creating what progress could be. Increasingly innovation will demand a focus on local approaches to innovation. We’ve been looking through 3 different lenses to facilitate this – all with local communities and experiences at the heart:   the solution lens, the problem lens and the experience lens …

Innovation Lenses

Innovation approaches are often focused purely on the problem lens, identifying the problem to solve and innovating from there.  We have identified some useful tools to improve this approach.  However, the solution lens and experience lens can also be powerful.  The solution lens actively seeks out solutions that have been developed – the positive deviants.  The experience lens takes a human centred design approach and with walk throughs and immersive experiences helps you design from the users point of view.

We encourage you to try a different lens, or two when you approach innovation.  You won’t know what you will find until you look!

Have you set your Innovation ambition?

To find out more about problem definition: Julier J., Kimbell L. (2012) Problem Definition. p30. In: The Social Design Methods Menu click here.

More about positive deviance: Tuhus-Dubrow, R. (2010) The Power of Positive Deviants: A promising new tactic for changing communities from the inside. Boston Globe. November 29, 2009. Pascale, Sternin, & Sternin click here.

The Power of Positive Deviance: How Unlikely Innovators Solve the World’s Toughest Problems. Harvard Business Press click here.

Where’s the Ambition to Innovate?

16th November 2017 Posted by: Ethicore

by Rachael Clay

The INGO sector is immature in innovation terms, as demonstrated by the Bond Innovation Audit.  The vision to transform lives, systems and models are compelling organisations to innovate.  But often we’re missing a strategic, systematic approach which is driven by AMBITION.  Organisations need to define their innovation ambition first, then set out the formal structures, processes, roles, resources and incentives to deliver consistently, and communicate that ambition clearly.

Other sectors have led the way in creating the climate, capability and commitment to innovation.   H. Igor Ansoff developed the Innovation Ambition Matrix in 1957.   It describes the work to optimise existing ‘products’ in the CORE; expand into adjacent markets or incremental products in ADJACENT; and invent new products or create new markets in TRANSFORMATIONAL.  A diversified Industrial Company would have a ratio of 70% core, 20% adjacent and 10% transformational, according to Nagi and Tuff.  Leading consumer goods companies have ratios more like 80%, 18%, 2%. If we shift the language to ‘interventions’ instead of products, and ‘needs’ instead of customers, INGOs can develop an innovation portfolio that aligns with their strategic ambition.

Innovation Ambition for INGOs, Ethicore 2017

Image adapted from H. Igor Ansoff’s Innovation Ambition Matrix

Defining your innovation ambition will enable you to clearly assess the level of risk you are ready to take, balanced with the scale of impact you seek.  The first meaningful step is for the Board to discuss, ‘what is our innovation ambition?’  Innovation ambition pays back inversely.  The greatest return, but also risk and disruption, comes from transformational innovation.   Planning a portfolio of innovation focuses the minds on the kind of innovation required to create the transformations desired.

As new and complex partnerships are raising expectations and funders are demanding innovation and impact data, new entrants are disrupting the system.  The question remains whether the ‘incumbent INGOs’ have the ambition to be the necessary disruptor or whether they will end up as the disrupted? INGO’s need to rebalance the innovation portfolio for greater long-term rewards, extending and adapting to adjacent areas and truly transformational innovation.  

In the coming weeks, Ethicore will be sharing the Innovation Series, a set of blogs and infographics, to stimulate systematic and strategic innovation. From establishing the innovation process through to tools to support idea generation, please read and share to get innovation ambition on the agenda of our Boards.


Partnership trends transforming development

19th September 2017 Posted by: Ethicore

by Calvin Jennings

The development system is shifting and new structures of funding are accelerating the pace of change.  Partnership remains essential, but the scope, scale, and systems behind new partnership models and investments are reframing relationships between development actors.  There is a desire for transformational change and here we take a look at the top trends shaping this trajectory:

1. Private sector as development actors. Increasingly private sector actors are managing and implementing development programmes, either directly with partners on the ground or through NGO sub-contractors.  They have a strong, competitive delivery position with the adaptive management capabilities to innovate.  INGOs have distinct capabilities (e.g. accessing markets, working with communities and influencing structures), to deliver systems change where otherwise they may look uncompetitive.

2. Grants look more like contracts. Grants are increasingly replicating contracting characteristics, with a focus on service delivery and payment by results. From 2011/12 to 2013/14, contractors provided 71% more technical cooperation to the UK government, the fastest growing element of DFID’s bilateral development programme in that period. Partnering with the private sector can augment NGOs position and help to manage financial risk.

3. Donors drive consortia working. The SDGs focus on “new partnerships” has broadened the number of actors involved in the delivery of development. Donors accelerate this trend with a focus on public-private partnerships Morethan 300 multi-stakeholder partnerships are now registered with the UN Commission on Sustainable Development. This trend is set to continue to 2020.

4. Companies shift from philanthropy to business development.  In 2015, 71% of corporates considered most of their partnerships as strategic, up from 43% in 2010. More advanced companies are focusing their sustainable development initiatives on market, supply chain and product development.  Such investments promise mutual benefit as, for example, FMCG playersextend sourcing networks and target the bottom of the pyramid and the financial sector builds towards financial inclusion. This presents an opportunity for more sustainable and scalable activity, when business is accountable for the social impact it creates alongside business benefit.

5. Globalisation vs regionalisation. Funders, INGOs and corporates areincreasingly enabling investment and development at  regional and country levels.  Barclays shifted their significant global programmes to a market led model recently and other companies are following.  Funders and INGOs have been working to support South to South cooperation and localisation in development and humanitarian aid.  This reinforces the need for future funding and partnerships to build partnering capacity at a national and regional level, while maximising learning and collaboration globally.

7. Companies looking for solutions. The activist CEO is on the rise with visionary CEOs and institutional leaders leading on issues, often outpacing their company direction. As the political environment becomes more fractious, will business leaders continue to exert their ethical authority?  

As sectoral partnerships transition from philanthropy to business partnerships, a focus on delivering business agendas with social accountability will be critical. New and transformational partnerships and solutions will be required as these trends accelerate and reshape the development world,

Calvin has significant experience promoting social innovation within nonprofit organisations. As a research assistant at the University of Pennsylvania, he co-authored a refereed conference presentation and a forthcoming article on fostering socially innovative cultures.

Image: Tim Trad

Responses to a shifting global workforce

5th September 2017 Posted by: Ethicore

By Heather Browett

As we’ve been supporting corporate partners and NGOs on approaches to dignified work, one thing has struck us – the trajectory of trends which will shape the future global workforce. The sheer scale and scope of these forces mean leadership on inclusive training and improving equitable supply chain practice are prudent investments. A quick look at what’s driving it:

1. Automation of low skilled jobs: Up to 85% of jobs in developing countries could be at risk of automation within the next 20 years. Job losses to automation are likely to displace the lowest skilled and most disadvantaged workers. Supporting training to diversify the skills of workers can minimise unemployment through the transition.

2. Increasing number of homeworkers: It is estimated there are over 300 million homeworkers in developing countries are commonly lacking job security, fair pay and conditions. Transparency is marred as homeworkers can extend sourcing into second and third tiers, yet homeworkers remain ‘invisible’ to the system. Shifting sourcing to salaried employment will support homeworkers to be recognised and encourage fair remuneration and conditions for all in the supply chain.

3. Improvements in employee rights prompts movement towards the lowest cost labour: Improvement in minimum wage and conditions can move production to countries with a lower cost of labour (eg. Africa). We can see the commitment to minimum wage tested globally – whilelow minimum wage requirements increase competitiveness of acountry, they can keep low income workers in poverty. Upskilling existing workers and assessing conditions of new sourcing countries can mitigate.

4. Gender inequality remains in the labour market, most strikingly in emerging counties: Globally, unemployment rates, salaries and conditions are poorer for women, particularly so in emerging, middle-income countries. Creating inclusive policies and supporting women’srepresentation and rights at work is critical.

5. High levels of migration to urban areas: Increasing and rapid migration to urban areas continues to place pressure on infrastructure, services and job creation, particularly in developing countries in the Global South. High levels of competition for fewer salaried jobs is likely to cause higher unemployment and a shift to low-paid homeworker roles. Thinking about the additional pressure on services can offer aleadership opportunity for Corporates on health and wellbeing programmes.
Building a resilient and equitable global workforce is challenging, but as the shape and pace of change accelerates – the opportunity to influence the global workforce has never been greater.

How do you see the global workforce shifting? Share your thoughts with us.

Heather works to create sustainable environmental and social change. She has a particular interest in community-led environmental management, and has experience working with Australian Indigenous communities.


Be prepared for the future of partnership: A discussion with expert collaborators from Mars, Diageo, Oxfam and DfID.

22nd August 2017 Posted by: Ethicore

Future of Partnership

By Rachael Clay, Director, Ethicore

What do experienced collaborators advise we prepare for the future of partnerships? Kate Wylie (Global Sustainability Director at Mars), David Croft (Global Sustainability Development Director at Diageo), Laura Kelly (Head of Business Engagement Hub, DfID) and Alex Lankester (Head of Corporate Partnerships at Oxfam GB) joined me to discuss this on a panel at the Business Fights Poverty Conference in Oxford this July. One thing is for sure – the scale of investment and challenge to achieve the SDGs is such that significant collaboration will be required.

Here are seven snippets of advice from our panel to prepare for the future of partnerships:

  1. Collaboration is complex and requires clear negotiated terms of reference and contracts. For example, The Livelihoods Fund for Family Farming (from Mars and Danone) involves contracting between multiple partners (>18), to provide upfront finance and technical support to farmers through a 120m Euro Fund.
  2. Multiple partners need to be bound together in mutual accountability. This requires trust, respect, transparency and a healthy helping of honesty. Our experienced collaborators advise partners to be clear about expectations, what you can and cannot deliver and to ‘out’ the problems.
  3. Bring your biggest and best assets to solve the fundamental challenges. For example, marketing budgets and know-how in business are immense and can positively influence social norms. Oxfam are working with Unilever’s Surf to lighten the load of women’s unpaid care work.
  4. Develop horizontal linkages between supply chains. Business can look at connections between their supply chains to help build sustainability for farmers, avoiding dependence on a single product. David described Diageo’s work with 6.5k smallholder farmers in Ethiopia , developing seed propogation routes in response to fragile livelihoods.
  5. Develop new partners to solve bigger problems. The Farmer Income Lab from Mars was launched to respond to the harsh reality that farmer incomes would need to quadruple to thrive and engage the next generation. This open source approach is a dramatically different route which aims to inspire at scale.
  6. Hold companies to account for their social impact. David calls for a policy environment that supports inclusive growth, joint investments in infrastructure, along with the responsibility to deliver and demonstrate social value. Laura is developing an iterative approach at DfiD’s Business Partnerships Facility to balance this agenda with the push for a Global Britain. The debate will continue about protection of society, public investment as well as corporate interest.
  7. Be positive and transparent about the impact of partnerships. Investors, shareholders and tax payers in partner countries need to see the positive benefits of partnership to maintain momentum for funding and initiatives. Kate Wylie made a plea for a consistent way of measuring social impact to reduce the burden on farmers.

The Business Fights Poverty Conference was held in Oxford on Monday 10 July, 2017.

Rachael Clay set up Ethicore in 2008 to help organisations have a bigger impact through insight, engagement and partnership.  She has over twenty years experience working with business, NGOs and institutions.  Rachael is expert in research, stakeholder engagement, facilitation, strategy and partnership.