The excitement of launching the Social Innovation Platform (SIP) Project, with the support of HEKS/EPER in early 2020 was slowly turning into fear for the project team at the Centre for Training and Consultancy (CTC) in Tbilisi, Georgia. As the world grappled with the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, we didn’t know what the future held, except that it would test our ability to deliver the project. Moreover, the impending lockdown was going to impose infinite restrictions. Therefore, we had to act quickly, reasonably and wisely.
SIP is a unique project that centers on inspiring and empowering the Georgian public, including donors and investors through social entrepreneurship and social innovation to address Georgia’s cultural, economic, environmental and social challenges. The ultimate aim is to provide the public with the knowledge, skills and tools to solve problems through an innovative and entrepreneurial approach and simultaneously increase donor interest.
The project features an online learning platform where users can access various social entrepreneurship and social innovation resources. They can even enroll in a certified e-course. However, the most exciting component is the Social Innovation Contest open to the Georgian public. They can submit business ideas to win some seed money and get expert technical assistance in refining their ideas and eventually establishing them as a social enterprise.
Despite having a concrete project implementation plan, execution against the coinciding pandemic posed numerous challenges for us. How were we going to gauge the interest of the public successfully? How can we deliver the right message? Can we attract the interest of donors and investors to help fund the contest winners? Would the people apply for the competition? Many such questions lingered.
Acknowledging that we couldn’t directly prevent the pandemic, we decided to treat this challenge as an opportunity. Therefore, we started thinking of ways to help our audience sense some relief from the immense emotional, mental and physical fallout caused by the pandemic. Guided by the philosophy that social innovation and social entrepreneurship are about creating new paradigms and new ways of addressing problems, we set forth. It started with revising and changing the entire communication strategy to adapt to the new reality. At the core of our changes was instilling the same philosophy of turning problems into opportunities and how the SIP project could facilitate that.
The first step entailed tapping into the influence of social media to shape innovative minds. With experts’ help, we rigorously promoted the concepts of social entrepreneurship and social innovation through a well-designed campaign and advertisement. Although the process required more financial resources, the results paid off. We were able to reach out to about 1,200,000 registered social media users, with more than 80,000 people actively engaged in our media posts. Today, SIP social media page has 4209 likes and 4319 followers.
While our social media work was taking off, we started figuring out appropriate content for the online learning platform. Rather than uploading every possible material available, we kept an eye on our users’ interest and adapted the content accordingly. We were careful not to overwhelm them with a lot of information but to engage, inspire, and influence them with the right type of materials to take action. Therefore, we offered diverse resources: articles, books, case studies, success stories, informational videos, expert interviews, quizzes and other multimedia resources free of cost. They were user friendly and updated frequently. Additionally, users could also enroll in an e-course on social innovation and social entrepreneurship and finish it at their own pace. If it weren’t for the user-friendly, motivating and useful content, the platform wouldn’t have managed to get 24,000 visitors and 115 registered e-course users by the end of the year.
Finally, we had to make sure that many people would participate in the contest and submit reasonably good business ideas. Therefore, we organized six digital open house meetings to facilitate transparency and exchange of information, answering questions of interested applicants about the contest and the procedures. Besides, before applying, they had the opportunity to take the e-course to understand social innovation and social entrepreneurship concepts, which we iterated in the meetings and social media posts. Since the competition took place toward the end of 2020, we used the time very efficiently. Apart from social media, we used radio and television to promote the project and the competition. To our surprise, we received 183 applications from 115 females and 68 male altogether. We think that the online campaign significantly conditioned the success of the competition.
Despite the odds brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, we feel positively triumphant about how SIP has come along. By changing and contextualizing our communication strategy, we could be on top of our game. We invested time in understanding our audience and their needs to make the project more meaningful without derailing our philosophy through appropriate communication channels. We learned that using the right tool and being flexible allows greater leeway in making the right decisions. Who knows how long the pandemic crisis will last, but we are hopeful that the right communication approach will keep paving the way for the SIP project’s success.
SIP project is supported by HEKS/EPER with the contribution of Bread for the World.