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Austin: A Social Innovation Capital

Our home Austin, Texas has been called “The New Silicon Valley” because of the plethora of tech companies that have chosen Austin as their home. Great blog stories hash out these differences through creative stories and mention how Austinites are “damn proud” of our city. And we are! The Austin social enterprise community has some striking similarities to the real Silicon Valley, yet Austin is distinctly different.

The wonderful part about this flattering comparison is that Austin truly is becoming a special landscape for not just technology, but for social innovation. In the twelve years since the publication of the first edition of the Stanford Social Innovation Review, social innovation has rocketed to the top of the global policy agenda. The World Bank, the G8 and the White House all have task forces dedicated to it; in US cities, entrepreneurs and innovative nonprofit leaders have caught on quickly to the power of combining mission and markets. Austin is no exception, with our Austin leadership calling for Austin to embrace social innovation to solve Austin’s biggest challenges.

austin-1Austin is touted for our unique focus on relationships and networking across sectors and organizations to share goals, vision and shared value. The stakeholder system is a critical part of our collective focus on solving issues, and this quality helps Austin make significant strides in fusing profit and purpose.

Because of this mentality, Austin is a perfect place for social entrepreneurs and social businesses to bring their ideas to fruition. Spaces like Capital Factory serve as the “center of gravity” for start-up companies and entrepreneurs. Organizations like VERB lead social innovation competitions to create impact on a global scale. In addition, integrating social impact strategies into corporate business is a growing conversation in a town where practices like Conscious Capitalism draw corporate leaders from all over the world to discuss conscious leadership. Basically, we like to be super connected! One example is the Austin Social Entrepreneurship network map, a dynamic project maintained by the UnLtd USA team, aimed at mapping the social entrepreneurs in Austin and the organizations that support them.

maxresdefaultAustin’s focus on social innovation goes hand-in-hand with the social impact conversation. As we’ve mentioned before, it’s not business as usual anymore. Consumers want to buy from businesses that put some good back in the world. Millennials, who’ll make up 75 percent of the global workforce by 2025, want to work at these businesses. At the same time, social technology gives consumers unprecedented power, voice and ability to organize themselves around shared values.

Companies that have a strong social impact strategy align their core services and products with social purpose. Austin’s growing social innovation ecosystem is full of companies that are doing just that. A perfect example of this is the unique and innovative social impact program that Austin-based BuildASign has developed. The Giving Program empowers people and organizations dedicated to strengthening communities by offering “in-kind” gifts such as discounts and donations of their products. To date, they’ve given over $650,000 in in-kind contributions to nonprofits across the U.S.

BuildASign also created the innovative community fast-pitch contest called Philanthropitch. This high-energy “shark tank style” event is a platform for local organizations to present a specific need that will dramatically grow their impact on the community. Nonprofits compete for capital, mentorship, resources and exposure opportunities. Through the Philanthropitch program, BuildASign has activated giving from stakeholders to contribute over $500,000 USD in two years to local organizations.

The first ever 11-city Philanthropitch contest will culminate in September 2015, at the Greenlights Mission Driven Social Innovation Conference in Austin, where the best and brightest social changemakers, mission investors, and community leaders will explore bold, new strategies and partnerships that have the power to solve complex social challenges.

As Austin is known as the “Live Music Capital of the World,” someday we hope to have the designation as the “Social Innovation Capital of the World.” As they say in Texas, come visit us ya’ll!

Maggie & Hector

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