Lewis Initiative, Babson College

Interactions Further Innovation | Cheryl Kiser

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.


“I know a lot of people like to talk about social innovation as breakthrough innovations. I don’t think we need any more breakthrough innovations. I think the world has so much innovation both in technology, social innovation in many sectors, it’s not the innovation that we need, its the breakthrough interactions we need.”

Listen to this podcast interview with the leading voice on the role of business in society – Cheryl Kiser from the Lewis Institute at Babson College also heads the social innovation lab.

Co-create for Sustainability

Khemka Forum Podcast Series: Transcript of the podcast with Cheryl Kiser

Interviewer: Shivraj Parshad, The PRactice



Shivraj: Cheryl Kiser, thank very much for speaking to the Khemka Forum on Social Entrepreneurship.

Cheryl Kiser: Thank you for having me. I am delighted to be here.

Shivraj: Now Cheryl, you represent a very interesting idea, the intersection of public policy, the corporate or private sector and communities coming together to really work for a social cause. So how has the journey been coming all the way here bringing all these stakeholders together?

Cheryl Kiser: Well it has been a journey and I have been at Babson for two years at the Babson Social Innovation lab and the Lewis Institute for Social Innovation and before that I spent almost 14 years at the Boston College Centre for Corporate Citizenship, but always throughout my life I have been somebody who has been a community activist in the truest sense and i have always believed that when you are the intersection between business, community, academia and policy, that when you are at that intersection you are able to mobilise and activate people to do things that they normally don’t do. And what was very interesting for me over the last couple of years, when I have looked at the corporate sector and the programs that are most successful in trying to engage community and solve social problems, the programs, the corporate programs that work the best were those that really used the methodology whereby they came with a mindset, willing to learn, listen and get out of their comfort zone or whatever they thought they knew and willing to be open and curious and listen to all the stakeholders in order to create impact.

Shivraj: I am going to jump into something I read about you very interestingly, you called it the Uncommon Table that the coming together of these three sectors that you talked about to really make an impact in the area of education, so tell us a little bit about Uncommon Table and why you would call it that?

Cheryl Kiser: Well the Uncommon Table came about three years ago when I was at the Boston college centre for corporate citizenship and the majority of the corporate members who were the Fortune 500 at the time were all giving us a tremendous amount of their philanthropic dollars in trying to solve the educational crisis in America and they all had given millions and millions of dollars. Their investments were exponentially going up, the impact and the issue were exponentially doing down. They weren’t getting the impact they wanted. So they said, what can the centre do? And we decided to convene people and we said leave your brands and belief systems at the door, we are going to come for a gathering and we’ve got to solve this, but you can’t come with your perspective of what you think is the right solution. If you think policy is the right solution, if you think that stem education is the right solution, or whatever you think is the right solution, check it at the door, walk through the door and we are going to create an uncommon table. We are going to look at a common outcome we want to create and we are not coming as adversarial perspectives, we are coming to try to do something, no matter how large or small, how can powerful corporate executives, running corporate foundations come together with multiple parties to try to address this issue. And it was very interesting because we have many common tables where we sit around talking to the same people but they loved the notion, because the corporations were not talking to multiple stakeholders, they were talking to the same people and so the outcomes were the same, which were very very low outcomes. So the uncommon table is the notion that we try to bring together people that you normally both the usual but the unusual suspects who have an innovative and a different perspective that can move the issue in a way that can never have been moved before. So that’s what the uncommon table is, it’s a methodology in curating seemingly random collisions and usual and unusual suspects to move an issue for greater social and commercial impact.

Shivraj: And clearly Cheryl you seem so passionate about this methodology, you hold it so dear. For people listening to this podcast, especially in geographies like India, what are the key takeaways from the uncommon table?

Cheryl Kiser: I absolutely see it as a methodology for emerging markets and I think that it would actually work better in emerging markets, because I think the mindsets are not so formed in terms of adversarial perspectives and are really conscious in believing that something has to be solved. One of the things that comes out of the uncommon table is really really powerful dots connecting in ways that you would never connect to people before, and sometimes it’s just some people seeing a perspective and saying ‘gee’ we are addressing this piece of it, you’re addressing this piece of it, how do we collaborate differently. And you know a lot of people like to talk about social innovation as breakthrough innovations. I don’t think we need any more breakthrough innovations. I think the world has so much innovation both in technology, social innovation in many sectors, it’s not the innovation that we need, its the breakthrough interactions we need and that we don’t have, we are not good as a society whether we are in developing economies or in a developed economy, we are not good at breakthrough interaction and that is the core competency which is so important to relationships, to furthering an issue and in creating mutual deals if you will and connections to make something powerful happen for the greater good. So the takeaways for me are, understand your mindset, drop your mindset aside for a minute and be willing to go outside your comfort zone to look at possibilities you might not have looked at before. In the world of social innovation and particularly in the world of catalysing change we all want to hold dearly to our belief systems because we believe it’s right, it comes from a very good place, we have experience and that’s all true, but in the world of change and activating at a large size scale in countries like India, we got to understand our current comfortable mindset and be willing to go into the learning mindset so that something different can happen to activate change at a large scale.

Shivraj: You talk of commercial and social investment or impact. India is a very young country and I gather you are planning to bring in the idea and somewhat incubating it within academia itself?

Cheryl Kiser: Yes, I think that India has an enormous opportunity as I have spoken to people to start right out of the box to create commercial and social value in all that you are creating and that is why I am saying you know in mindsets in some places like in the United States we are trying to remediate our way into trying to look into social issues in a different way. I think in developing economies all issues are social and commercial and I think you have an advantage to be able to think of these things hand in glove and not sequentially but very authentically how do we create social and commercial value in a hybrid value chain.

Shivraj: And finally Cheryl your last few words for young social entrepreneurs who are starting out, listening to this podcast, perhaps even taking some pointers from you?

Cheryl Kiser: Well one of the things that I found is the most important for young people to understand is that you are going to make impact in your lives and you are going to make huge social impact in your lives. It is important to understand how to support yourself as an individual to live into that change that you want to be. So a lot of times I find social entrepreneurs really spend a lot of times outside themselves because they are so passionate about trying to solve an issue, I encourage all young people to look inside yourselves and develop personal practices that support you in your spiritual, physical and emotional development, because social innovation and entrepreneurship is not for the faint of heart it taps into you a lot and in order to sustain the passion and influence you must develop personal practices to allow you to be grounded to be the influence you want to be.

Shivraj: Cheryl Kiser, thank very much for speaking to the Khemka Forum on Social Entrepreneurship.

Cheryl Kiser: Oh! Thank you so much for inviting me to speak to you and I wish you a happy day.


Views expressed here are solely that of the person interviewed and may not represent the views of The Nand & Jeet Khemka Foundation.