I write often about the seeds of innovation – where ideas come from and how those ideas are developed into revolutionary products and services. I am drawn to these examinations because I believe that true innovation has a measurable impact. It solves an existing problem in the marketplace or opens up new possibilities for growth and success.
However, innovation doesn’t always mean creating new technology from the ground up. Often, innovative minds match existing technology with real-world problems to create an unexpected outcome and an impact that positively affects real people.
In this holiday season, I want to explore how technology can meet needs that allow us to flourish.
The Miraculous Impact of the Unexpected
Here’s an unexpected example that came to my attention through an unexpected source: the blog ScaryMommy publicized a story earlier this fall about Whirlpool’s Care Counts program and its impact on school attendance. Care Counts was developed by Whirlpool Corporation, a leading manufacturer of home appliances, in partnership with internationally recognized researcher and developmental psychologist Dr. Richard Rende, Ph.D.. The program sought to explore the link between access to clean clothing and attendance in school.
While clean clothes may not be the first of many factors we would anticipate affecting school attendance, the results of this collaboration proved nothing short of extraordinary. A pilot program placed 17 sets of clothes washers and dryers in two school districts in St. Louis, MO, and Fairfield, CA. Those schools then invited students with documented attendance problems to bring their clothes to school to be washed and dried.
Whirlpool found that 90% of participating students increased their attendance dramatically – on average, they attended over a week more of classes than they had the year before. For the most at-risk students that figure often exceeded two weeks worth of classes. Additionally, participating students were observed to show increased motivation and participation in class, and were also more likely to participate in extracurricular activities.
Due to its incredible and life-enhancing results, Whirlpool plans to expand the program to an additional 20 schools across 5 school districts beginning this summer.
Where Need and Innovation Meet
The success of programs like this one show that technology, whether revolutionary or not, can have a measurable, beneficial impact on individuals and communities. Research done by Whirlpool in advance of the Care Counts pilot program showed that 1 in 5 students in the United States have difficulty finding clean clothes to wear to school. The solution was a simple one. By making appliances available to those students in the location where they were most needed, Whirlpool both eradicated one obstacle to school attendance and incentivized student’s presence in class.
This type of innovation – the combination of existing technology with an underserved population to create a solution to a problem – presents an opportunity for innovators and social advocates alike. By providing children with the technology needed to clean their clothes, an innovative appliance company was able to impact their confidence, their education, and their prospects for the future. It isn’t rocket science, but it is an unexpected pairing.
And for a company like Whirlpool, which prides itself on developing innovative and eco-friendly products that enhance family life, it’s not bad marketing, either.
An Opportunity and a Challenge for Innovators
The lesson here for innovators and entrepreneurs? Seek out unexpected opportunities to do good in the world. Whether providing technology that enhances quality of life for those who may not have access to it otherwise or developing solutions to the problems that affect young and vulnerable people, we are challenged to make a mark on more than our bank accounts.
As we enjoy this holiday season and the goodwill that it brings, let’s take time to reflect on how our drive for innovation and success can impact others along the way. Opportunities are all around us, and as Whirlpool’s Care Counts program shows, it’s often the unexpected partnerships that bring about the most inspiring results.