Innovation can be many things, but it is a change. A change meant to improve the human experience. You don’t have to intend to innovate specifically to innovate successfully. But, if you claim innovation as one of your guiding values and intentionally prioritize it, you can eliminate unnecessary steps and achieve your goals much faster.
Venture 2 Impact incorporated innovation from our humble beginnings. While in 2016, most people were focusing their volunteering efforts on straightforward projects with a clear outcome, such as building schools and digging wells, we chose to address more complex challenges with less direct solutions. We partner with local nonprofits in underserved communities worldwide and bring skilled volunteers who contribute their professional skills pro bono (valued around $300/hr) to solve specific challenges the nonprofits are facing. By identifying the problem and bringing volunteers with correlated skills to the community, we amplified the impact of a local organization’s work with far fewer resources than a less targeted approach would have required.
As none of us are likely to forget, 2020 and COVID-19 brought unique challenges to everyone, individual and organizational. With international travel and in-person volunteering impossible, V2I had to innovate quickly or risk becoming obsolete and overgrown.
By partnering with Salesforce’s Ignite team, we ran our first design sprint to come up with some innovative options to continue V2I’s work, despite all the restrictions of the pandemic.
The result? A tech- and business-focused virtual volunteering experience. V2I continues to connect with global nonprofits, but now we intentionally apply Design Thinking and Human Centered Design principles to our problem-solving method and tech solution design. Essentially, our projects involve multiple rounds of feedback directly from those individuals and communities who will be using or affected by the end result, to ensure that we are solving for and serving the local communities directly.
Innovation is a process, not a state – we will never arrive at innovation. A big part of innovation is learning; we always try to learn from ourselves and others to improve as much as possible. Through tracking core metrics and constant feedback from participants and community members, V2I is constantly enhancing innovative methods to provide the best possible outcomes to our partners.
Let’s look at some of our past and current projects and creations!
The Nova Scotia Gambia Association (NSGA) is a Canadian/Gambian charity looking for support in addressing the youth education and employment gap in the Gambia. Through our network of tech companies, we recruited skilled volunteers to virtually develop and implement a business and entrepreneurship training series for 18 Gambian youth, as well as provide mentorship opportunities. The goal was to provide them with an alternate way to generate income independent of completing secondary and post-secondary education. As a result of this training, all participants reported that they now harbor the foundational knowledge needed to take the next step in their business idea development.
Pathways to Education Canada is a charity providing youth in low-income communities with the resources and networks of support to graduate from high school and build the foundation for a successful future. Since they work with thousands of youth across Canada, collecting timely feedback on Pathways programs and initiatives can be challenging, leading to delayed responses to crises like the COVID-19 pandemic. Pathways wanted to reimagine how they collected product insights from youth to gain a deeper and more intimate understanding of youths’ day-to-day experiences and challenges in a time-sensitive manner. For about a year, V2I applied the Design Thinking process to this challenge, consulting with various Pathways staff and alumni in multiple iterations to develop and pilot an initial solution to this challenge.
An app designed to gauge student sentiment by asking 1-2 simple, prompted questions each day was designed and built by V2I skilled volunteers and piloted with a small group of Pathways students. Following the pilot, we gathered feedback from all participants and learned that, by using V2I’s skilled volunteers, Pathways had saved approximately $70,000 and over 150 hours of staff time. Not only that but if this innovation scales nationwide, it has the potential to impact tens of thousands of students from underserved communities.
Empowerment Square is a nonprofit in New York created by and for survivors of human trafficking. Female survivors of human trafficking and domestic violence often have limited employment options due to language barriers and safety concerns about being re-trafficked, so Empowerment Square wanted to build an online marketplace platform where survivors of trafficking could generate income in a safe and controlled environment.
In partnership with V2I and Microsoft skilled volunteers, we delivered a comprehensive training session about launching e-commerce platforms to Empowerment Square staff, volunteers, advisory members, and female survivors. Eventually, they plan to build Village Square, an online marketplace that will provide support and opportunities for female survivors of human trafficking.
In October 2022, the World Education Services (WES) Mariam Assefa Fund, as well as the Northpine Foundation and the Canadian Refugee Sponsorship Agreement Holders (SAH) Association, were looking for an experienced team to design and lead a design sprint with the goal being to develop innovative concepts that will increase private refugee sponsorship capacity. Venture 2 Impact designed and facilitated a 1-day intensive design sprint with diverse representatives from organizations across Canada, resulting in 3 potential concepts ready to pilot. Piloting of the top concept will begin later this year, with possible expansion across Canada based on a successful pilot.
Canada’s economic growth depends on immigration, but there are many bumps on the road to smooth economic integration and development, many of which were exacerbated by the pandemic. While skilled international professionals continue to arrive in Canada, Canadian employers often need to recognize the value of diverse, global talent and experience.
The World Education Services (WES) Mariam Assefa Fund is a philanthropic organization that supports catalytic and innovative efforts to build more inclusive economies for immigrant and refugee workers in the U.S. and Canada. WES funded a 2-year V2I project called Future Link, where we aim to increase the hiring and retention of refugees and immigrants in Canada’s tech sector, as well as increase tech employers’ positive attitudes and perceptions of newcomers to Canada.
We have partnered with Scale Without Borders to design and implement a two-pronged approach to this challenge, with a training aspect targeted towards skilled newcomers and an employer-focused aspect to support employers in increasing their diversity. Throughout multiple workshops and feedback sessions with skilled newcomers and Canadian tech employers, we have developed and refined potential concepts through design thinking techniques. The first of three iterations of the pilot is set to begin in March 2023, with feedback being gathered and integrated into the offering after each iteration.
Stay tuned for more updates on the progress of Future Link!
Innovation is seen as a catchy buzzword, but it is so much more. Now that we at V2I intentionally include innovation in all our practices, we grow and improve faster than before. Our dedication to innovation is further demonstrated by dedicating a full role to it in the new Innovation & Funding Specialist (IFS) position. The IFS is responsible for identifying and developing new ideas, processes, programs, and products for the organization, as well as leading the design thinking process for all of our projects and ensuring we remain human-centered.