Save The Children's Innovation Culture

Interview with Zoë Regent, Director of Innovation & Business Development at Save The Children


Ahead of our Chief Innovation Officer summit in London, April 25-26, we sat down with Zoë Regent, Director of Innovation & Business Development at Save The Children, to talk about innovation in the charity sector.

Zoë began her career at British Sky Broadcasting where she launched the History and Biography broadband VOD channels. She followed this with a period of digital project management with clients including The Telegraph and IPC media. In May 2009 Zoë joined the team at What If, an innovation agency. She spent 4 years delivering global innovation consultancy on projects for clients including Lloyds TSB, Telefonica, Fanta and Castrol. In June 2012, Zoë joined the Innovation team at Cancer Research UK where she was Head of Innovation for 5 years, leading the development of fundraising propositions. In November 2017, she moved to Save the Children to take up the position of Director of Innovation & New Business

How do you encourage a culture of innovation at Save The Children? Do you have any tips on creating a workplace that does encourage innovation?

In terms of celebrating innovation in the team, we encourage every team member to bring their whole selves to work. In an innovation team, what's truly celebrated is your ability to bring outside, external stimulus into your projects and your unique qualities as people. We encourage that culture by celebrating different skills and different personalities. When we recruit, we deliberately look for people who are really going to stretch our thinking.

I think what really helps build any culture and team is doing what you say you're going to do - living your values, living your cultural principles. So that there's never any contradiction between what, as the innovation team, we say we're here to do and the way that we actually behave.

I think every team in the organization has a different culture. Save the Children is a really values-led organization, so behaviour is really hugely important and everyone is incredibly collaborative. A culture of innovation is something that many teams aspire to. Working in innovation is a privilege because you can set your own cultural agenda and you're more likely to be able to protect it because it’s your job to be creative and challenge the status quo.

What are the challenges of being innovative in the charity sector?

They are numerous! For the charity sector, over and above any other sector, trust in our brand is extraordinarily important. If you do anything as a charity to jeopardize consumer trust then you are theoretically damaging your ability to make money more than you are if you are a utility company or an FMCG; a business with a tangible value exchange. This is a big challenge as to be innovative you've always got to take risks, and be comfortable with deviating from what consumers expect from you, and it's really hard to do that without taking brand reputational risk.

Do you think established organizations should be aiming for a startup mentality in order to embrace innovation?

A startup approach has it’s challenges for big organizations. Agile and lean - which big organizations have adopted, do not lead to a substitute for a five-year business plan stage gate around decision making so need to be adapted and evolved to meet each organisations specific needs.

But fundamentally a startup mentality is a culture, it's all about people not process. It’s about bringing in a team who really care, and understand the impact of culture and a drive to succeed. The all hands on deck mentality, if there's litter on the floor, someone will pick it up even if it's not their job. This type of environment breeds innovation. In startups, you can make the assumption that everyone feels responsible for business growth, and in big businesses you can lose that. Start ups have focus, fear & urgency, and the relentless pursuit of something brilliant. These are all things that big businesses should aim to emulate.

So, what are the biggest traps you think when it comes to implementing an innovation program?

I think that you can get a really amazing insight and a really powerful, strong idea, but then things get watered down as they go through the process. The innovation team can lose line of sight and ownership of ideas and they get subsumed into BAU. By the time the idea gets to the point of delivery it's been watered down so much so it's unrecognizable and it's lost its potency.

Other traps include too many stakeholders and poor decision making process. And not enough appetite for actual risk - people I've worked with in innovation and some stakeholders have been enthusiasts for innovation, so they talked the talk and they said they want to see the different stuff. But when it comes to actually doing it, they don't want to take the risk, they don't have the right level of confidence.

So it requires a leap of faith?

Well not everyone is comfortable putting their name against things that fail. It's different for those in innovation who understand that it’s an occupational hazard, but when it comes to getting big investment from exec-level people/the board it can be a different story.

What do you think will be the next disruptor for the charity industry?

I think the next disruptor won't be an idea that comes from a charity. I think it will be a startup mediator, like a new Just Giving. There'll be some kind of digital innovation - it might be something to do with blockchain - which really builds supporters trust. It might not be affiliated with a particular charity, so I think charities will continue to do really great work in developing what their emotional offer is, and I think that will go from strength to strength.

How is the nature of innovation and organizations approaches to innovation set to evolve over the next five years?

I would be really surprised if Data, Digital, and Innovation didn't come together in most cases. I've seen the innovation market change so much since I started working in innovation in 2012, there have been two major changes. Firstly, there's a proliferation of freelancers and agencies who offer innovation, from management consultants to accountancy firms - everyone includes innovation in their offer. But, secondly, from a client-side perspective, it’s not simply the most creative ideas which are required. It’s about the logical strategic next steps that are going to give you sustainability as a business. I think this trend will continue and the idea of ‘innovation’ will either mean true disruption or optimisation of what you are already doing.

Hear more from Zoë at our Chief Innovation Officer summit in London, April 25-26.


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