Crowdsourcing – when the world is just a click away

Social business expert Tania Ellis explains the megatrend 'crowdsourcing' can make both business and the world a better place

If you don’t give back, no one will like you“. This is the motto of Crowdrise – an internet portal which, among other things, makes it possible for both organisations and individuals to start their own fundraising campaigns in support of a good cause.

Crowdrise is – alongside other “crowdfunding” initiatives such as Causes.com, MyGoodAct.com and BetterPlace.org – part of the “crowdsourcing” wave, which has made it easier for social entrepreneurs, NGOs and businesses to make a positive impact by outsourcing tasks to an online network of people all over the globe.

Therefore, it does not come as a surprise that social organisations such as Gawad Kalinga (which means ”Give Care”) are using the Crowdrise-portal to collect funds in support of their “Family Packs”, “Rehab Packs” and “Kitchen Packs”, that are currently being distributed to families in need in the Philippines in the wake of the devastating Typhoon Haiyan.

What may be a bit more surprising, however, is that large established organisations such as UNICEF and the Red Cross also have campaigns running on these platforms. They have realised that crowdfunding portals not only constitute an innovative and complementary fundraising channel, but that it also gives them a possibility to engage new target groups.

When businesses invite the world inside

In much the same way as in the charity sector, companies are also riding the crowdsourcing wave at an increasing rate by inviting people to contribute with innovative ideas and solutions to concrete problems and challenges.

The crowdsourcing trend will contribute to companies becoming more decentralized, transparent and inclusive

The international consumer goods producer Procter & Gamble is a textbook example of this. With their P&G Connect Develop platform, they have engaged over 1.5 million external scientists and engineers, resulting in the proportion of “external” innovations increasing from 15 per cent to 35 per cent, and an increase of P&G’s total productivity of almost 60 per cent.

Another example is pharmaceutical company Eli Lily, who initially started InnoCentive as an R&D programme, but today is an independent business due to its big success. As a result, InnoCentive does not only harbour solutions, but also sustainable ones on their portal, where over 300,000 “solvers” from 200 countries have solved over 1,650 challenges submitted by a multitude of companies, public institutions, and NGOs.

The world’s 4th largest company, General Electric (GE), is also part of the crowdsourcing wave. At Ecomagination Challenge, GE invites green entrepreneurs to pitch in with their innovative sustainable solutions. In return, GE promises to invest at least $200 million in promising start-ups and innovations aimed at making the energy sector more efficient.

Until now, the Ecomagination Challenge has resulted in 22 investments and commercial partnerships, one acquisition of a smaller company, and start-up capital for 10 innovators.

So, what does this crowdsourcing trend mean for the sustainability efforts of other companies?

As I see it, the crowdsourcing trend will contribute to companies becoming more decentralized, transparent and inclusive.

Labour, for example, can be organised more efficiently in the context of community than in the context of a corporation, and the online social media platforms operate like talent-finding search engines that match talent and knowledge with business needs and requirements.

It will also mean the end of the corporate expert, as traditional corporate innovation as part of a closed system is gradually replaced by open innovation systems. Instead, sharing problems and solutions openly and involving external partners will become the new business norm.

This, in turn, will open up for new possibilities within sustainable product innovation, ’shared value’ partnerships, efficient production, and last but not least open communication with both consumers and the broader public.

Tania Ellis is a Danish-British prize-winning author, speaker and business advisor, specialized in social business trends and strategies. For more social business trends, sign up to her newsletter to get free trend guide to “The 5 Markets of Change” or pre-order your own copy of the “Social Business Trends Report 2014” on her site here.

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