Written by Elinor Honigstein, Head of Partnerships, UK Israel Tech Hub, Social Innovation and Impact Entrepreneurship, HIL course participate.

Spending the last decade building communities and strategic partnerships around missions, products and services I care about, I’ve become intrigued by ways in which we can tackle society’s toughest challenges at scale. I joined Zinc VC, a social impact incubator in London and am now working at the UK Israel Tech Hub where I build tech partnerships between Israeli innovation and British businesses. 

Technology plays a key role in enabling social change by building communities and making products or services affordable and scalable. But concepts such as Impact Investing, Social Innovation, Tech for Good are complex and I was keen to learn more.

Joining the Social Innovation & Impact Entrepreneurship course at Haifa University led by Stav Bar-Shany, Dr Maayan Agmon and Prof Israel Doron was a great opportunity to gain more insight and meet like-minded people. Part of a new interdisciplinary programme focused on social innovation, the course is being offered not only to students within the university but also to professionals working in different sectors who are interested in social impact.

 One of the most exciting weeks in this course was the invitation to join Israel Impact Summit, an annual conference that attracts thousands of impact investment enthusiasts and innovation leaders. The Summit offered sessions on Impact philanthropy, technology innovation, public equity investment as well as international investment and financial performance. It also provided us with a great opportunity to apply our learning to the context of organisations and projects that operate at the intersection between innovation, impact and technology.

The impact investing market, estimated to be worth over $700 billion, is a fertile ground for tech entrepreneurs and investors who want to solve global problems while generating financial returns. How can innovation and tech be used to drive systemic change? How is impact defined and measured? How can Israeli companies access emerging and developing markets? I joined one of the summit’s sessions on Technology innovation for good – Catalysing business growth to try and answer some of these questions!

Technology innovation for good: Lessons Learned

During the session, we were presented with two case studies of technology implementation as a means to empower diverse communities in different challenge areas – agriculture and aging:

The first case study, delivered by Start Up Nation Central, focused on Israeli Agtech solutions that have created an efficient process of crops growth, harvest, packaging, storage and transportation in India with the aim of developing sustainable agriculture and improving farmers revenues. The second case study, delivered by TechForGood, focused on an Agetech solution aimed at reducing loneliness among the Jewish aging population in Ukraine (and beyond) through an online platform of workouts & educational classes.

Much has been learned during the session (and much that was already known has been brought into sharper focus), about a number of key factors that contribute to startups success in creating impact and scale up internationally:

1.Partnership with a local, committed partner is key to building a bridge between Israeli tech and the local market. Start Up Nation Central facilitated a collaboration between the tech companies and Syngenta Foundation as a way to access the market of smallholder farmers; TechForGood and the selected startup E2C, have partnered with JDC, a philanthropic humanitarian organisation, to access the Jewish ageing population in Ukraine.
In both cases, these collaborations have not only provided access to local market and knowledge, but also to philanthropic funds
which helped companies reach the proof of concept and mitigate risk.

2.Measuring a company’s Social Impact against its mission is a complex process. In the case of the Agriculture solutions, the ‘operational mission’ (i.e. range and scale of activities) is measured by the increase of % yield in the first year. The Agetech solution, which was in its early days, was able to measure mainly the number of attendees who have completed the online sessions. 

It was also mentioned that while the ‘hard numbers’ are important to assess impact, one must not miss out on the personal stories of the people who have benefited from the technology. In both cases, measuring the companies’ ‘aspirational visions’ of tackling wider sustainable goals- achieving sustainable agriculture and increasing wellbeing in society- is likely to be a long-term process which requires greater resources. 

3.The underlying assumption is that technological innovation coupled with a passion and intention to create positive change can provide that “win-win” of doing good and doing well. But For meaningful change to happen, Israeli companies operating in emerging and developing markets may need continuous support beyond access to market and piloting stage. Support by organisations such as Start Up Nation Central and TechForGood often needs to persist till the companies reach commercialisation and scale. 

Looking to the future

Drawing on this informative and inspiring session, we can learn that the ability of technology innovation to tackle global societal and environmental problems often depends on whether Impact entrepreneurs, funders and their organisations –

  • Work collaboratively with all stakeholders. Successful social innovation at scale requires partners from the public, private and social sectors to work together. In this sense, it is also important to bring new players into the Israeli ecosystem to ensure the sector keeps its cutting-edge and competitive advantage. 

  • Address a genuine need and make a credible commitment to Sustainable Development Goals. There is a strong business case for “impact-related” companies that are positioned to create a healthier planet and more equitable society, aligned with the UN Sustainable Development Goals. We should therefore increase companies’ credibility and performance by ensuring standardised metrics and impact-tracking.

  • Clearly articulate business models and growth trajectories including risk, return and impact. This can further drive investor, philanthropy and entrepreneurs’ interest in allocating their resources and capital to help generate social and environmental change.

  • Speak openly about challenges and how to resolve them, for example, unintended consequences, lack of adoption by the local market, difficulty to scale, conflicting interests of funders, entrepreneurs and beneficiaries. By focusing only on positive impact and leaving out negatives and trade-offs, companies may risk missing the opportunity of helping the ecosystem learn and grow.

The global shift to impact investing has brought multiple opportunities but also raised many questions about the ways in which companies that intend to create a measurable social and/or environmental impact- can generate financial returns. It is thanks to fruitful discussions and strong collaborations, as presented to us in the Israel Impact Summit, that we are able to disrupt and innovate in this space. 

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* The Israel Impact Summit is an annual conference catering the Impact ecosystem led by Tech for Good. This year the conference was held in partnership with the IFIE, philanthropic and impact organisations.

** The Israeli Forum for Impact Economy (IFIE), serves as the local National Advisory Board (NAB) as a member of the Global Steering Group (GSG), and is the bridge between Israel’s impact ecosystem and its various stakeholders, facilitating accelerated growth for positive change locally and globally. The IFIE strives to accelerate the Israeli impact economy that will deliver positive and measurable social and environmental impact alongside producing sustainable economic growth.

***Haifa Innovation Labs (HIL), is the University of Haifa’s program for innovation and entrepreneurship.  Launched in 2019, the program was established to instill and promote an entrepreneurial environment on campus and offer students a unique learning experience that combines academic excellence with practical hands-on experience. The program focuses on “Designing a Better World” through social innovation and impact entrepreneurship.

Elinor Honigstein

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