Classy - Allison Guass-avatar1
Allison Gauss
6 min
exciting social innovations

The Most Exciting Social Innovations Driving the Sector

The social impact sector constantly evolves and develops new solutions to the world’s toughest problems. That’s why it was so exciting to bring together 1,000 of the world’s most innovative nonprofit professionals, social entrepreneurs, and social sector leaders at the 2016 Collaborative + Classy Awards. During the three-day event, people from all backgrounds and cause sectors shared their work, discussed their challenges, and learned from each other.

While there were inspiring conversations happening onstage, in the lounges, and at happy hours, we also asked attendees to use post-it notes to tell us about the most exciting trends, ideas, or innovations in their cause sector.

social innovations board

Along with adding some colorful fun to the scene, the dozens of answers our guests gave were full of inspiration and insight. From very specific causes to the social sector at large, we discovered what innovations are paving the way for progress.

Here are just a few of the exciting innovations and breakthroughs our attendees shared!

“Zero impact food production!”

zero impact food post-it note

One of the opening keynote speakers was Caleb Harper, who shared how his lab at MIT was changing the way humans grow and consume food. His revolutionary food computer is capable of replicating any climate to create great-tasting, nutrition-packed produce without wasting water, space, or energy.

“Building self-reliance for urban refugees”

urban refugees post-it note

How to support and empower refugee populations was another hot topic at the Collaborative. On day one, Lesley Bourns of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, Lina Sergie Attar of the Karam Foundation, Corinne Gray of the UN Refugee Agency, and Ali Al Jundi of Oxfam America convened for the panel discussion, “Refugee Populations: People and Ideas on the Move.”

“Making it acceptable for nonprofits to invest in technology”

nonprofits invest post-it note

As so many stellar social impact organizations shared how they use technology for both programs and infrastructure, it was clear that investments in technology are key to maximize impact.

“Designing for people not profits”

design for people post-it note

This one sparked a debate! The importance of human-centered design was a prevailing theme at the Collaborative, with a product display by Design That Matters and a panel with experts in creating better social solutions through design. But there was also plenty of discussion on how for-profit models were solving social problems AND creating sustainable income for affected populations.

“Drone Geo-mapping”

drone geo-mapping post-it note

In The Lab, where some of the Classy Awards Finalists displayed their innovative solutions, Air Shepherd demonstrated how they’re using drone technology to fight illegal poaching in Africa.

“Using mobile to map global health challenges, and track patient outcomes”

mobile for health post-it note


There was a lot of discussion on how the social sector can use mobile technology to track health problems and create better outcomes for patients. For example, Classy Awards Finalist Khushi Baby uses an app to read microchips containing babies’ vaccination records.

“Enabling people to see their impact!”

show impact post-it note

More than ever, organizations want to be transparent and show donors and funders how their support makes a difference. Shanna Birky explained how the Progress platform, which is based on the Classy Awards application, helps nonprofits and social enterprises articulate their problems and impact.

“Social entrepreneurship incubation”

entrepreneur incubator post-it

Many of the funders and organizations at the Collaborative shared a goal to empower people through entrepreneurship. The second day’s keynotes on “The Future of Funding” included representatives from incubator programs that nurture some of the world’s most promising social enterprises.

“Collaboration inside & outside our sectors!”

collaboration post-it note

While there were some sessions devoted to certain cause categories, one of the most heartening and illuminating parts of the event was seeing how such different organizations can learn from and work with each other.

“Every voice is heard and included in the solution.”

voice of all actors post-it

The need to listen to and empower people affected by a cause was one of the most far-reaching themes of the event. From Ray Offenheiser, CEO of Oxfam America, to Classy Award Winner ayzh inc., many of the individuals and organizations at the Collaborative emphasized that this was crucial to solve the world’s toughest problems. Collaboration must extend beyond other organizations and mobilize the power of effected populations.


The long-term benefits of bringing together the social sector at the Collaborative + Classy Awards will continue to unfold. We at Classy are thankful for the opportunity to hear insights from all the organizations that attended and can’t wait to see the impact they will make, both individually and collectively.

What do you think of the social innovations above? Let us know in the comments and download our white paper to learn more about the exciting strategies and solutions driving the social sector forward.


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