As a company grows and branches out into more territories, it can be difficult to find creative solutions to challenging problems.
IKEA Social Entrepreneurship and Ashoka, an organization that has backed social entrepreneurs for over 40 years, have co-created the Dela Accelerator Programme to support ESG business founders with innovative solutions for systemic problems.
Through this program, IKEA supports cohorts of social entrepreneurs both in terms of strategy and hands-on experimentation. Business leaders, co-workers and social entrepreneurs exchange knowledge and inspiration in a mutually-enriching partnership.
"We appreciate the focus on a more holistic approach to system change," Managing Director of IKEA Social Entrepreneurship, Åsa Skogström Feldt, says.
"We realize that social innovation needs to happen in partnership and that, by engaging our co-workers, we can also learn about new approaches and interventions that can create a better future for many vulnerable people."
Investment of time and money
IKEA has a long history of donating to causes and partnering with changemaker companies, but the Dela scheme has enabled deeper involvement.
"We wanted to invest in social entrepreneurs both financially and non-financially to support them in scaling their solutions," Feldt says, who observes that IKEA Social Entrepreneurship is uniquely placed at the intersection of philanthropy and business.
"Working with a diverse range of social enterprises means we can bring a diverse range of knowledge, experience and ideas back into IKEA with learning opportunities between the peers in the cohort."
"Through the approach of supporting entrepreneurs already working to solve social and environmental challenges, we aim to strengthen their solutions for greater impact.
"It allows us to address important social issues in a wider way and gives us the opportunity to expand IKEA’s reach and impact and use more combinations of financial and non-financial tools. We also have a longer-term approach when it comes to exploring interesting social innovations for the future."
The IKEA–Ashoka partnership matches IKEA with impact initiatives of varying sizes, focal points and targets in many parts of the world – an approach that has also afforded IKEA the opportunity to connect some of the founders with other partners they have worked with previously.
"There are many challenges in the world with a need for systems change – so it needs a more holistic approach," Feldt says.
"We also want to have an impact in as many IKEA markets as possible. Working with a diverse range of social enterprises means we can bring a diverse range of knowledge, experience and ideas back into IKEA with learning opportunities between the peers in the cohort."
Return on investment
IKEA employees who work with social entrepreneurs commit to a weekly meeting and ring-fenced time to work with their connected social enterprises. This allows both parties to build a meaningful bond, understand any challenges involved and discover how to grow the impact of their organization.
The sheer number of IKEA staff members who are keen to get involved in the program is testament to the fact that the company nurtures changemaking ideas.
"It has been very popular," Feldt says. "Our co-workers have been very motivated and engaged throughout the program.
"They have each brought extensive knowledge and commitment to supporting the social entrepreneurs and the time commitment seems to be manageable, especially as the program is broken down into three phases with co-workers providing different types of support in different phases.
"Those involved in Dela view this as a developmental opportunity, where they can learn about social impact, system change and work with experimentation. We benefit from the insight and ideas of the social entrepreneurs, too.
"One example is that, through working with an enterprise that supports families with children who have special needs, it made us reconsider how we interact with customers within those families."
"Our main focus from the start was to create an accelerator program to support social entrepreneurs in strengthening their strategies to address the root causes of social challenges and create deep change."
Working with Ashoka’s social entrepreneurs has opened IKEA employees’ eyes – and minds – to a wide range of solutions and IKEA has stated its desire to have a fully circular business model by 2030.
"With a business as big as IKEA, there are so many areas to learn about and develop to become circular," Feldt explains. "Being open to social innovation is one way to learn.
"Our main focus from the start was to create an accelerator program to support social entrepreneurs in strengthening their strategies to address the root causes of social challenges and create deep, long-lasting impact. This remains unchanged.
"Within the scope of impact, we focus on areas such as inclusive employment, circularity and renewable materials, aligning with strategies within IKEA."
Lifelong learning opportunities
The partnership between IKEA and Ashoka’s social entrepreneurs has provided practical education and a diverse array of solutions.
Feldt believes that larger companies should consider forming similar partnerships.
"By supporting the scale-up of social innovations, we can contribute to social impact both directly – through improving income for vulnerable people – and indirectly, through enabling access to products and services that improve their livelihood."
"By supporting the scale-up of social innovations, we can contribute to social impact both directly – through improving income for vulnerable people – and indirectly, through enabling access to products and services that improve their livelihood. It is also a way for us to contribute to systems change in important areas – for people, society and the planet," Feldt says.
"At the same time, we can learn about important topics, share new ways of working across our own franchise system and develop our co-workers.
"We have also expanded with other partnerships and more local accelerators, so it has influenced our way of working in several ways. Ashoka is a great partner because they see true value in cross-sector co-creation. The program offers a co-creation space for the corporate and social entrepreneurship sectors to exchange new knowledge and collaborate on an equal footing."