Impact-driven research is a research work that is led with the intentional and primary objective to have results being applied to solve a social or environmental challenge. A good example of impact-driven research can be the “Faso Soap” project in which researchers work at defining the formula for an efficient anti-malaria soap. With her organization SoScience, Mélanie does not aim at replacing the existing research system, but at stretching its boundaries to add impact-driven research as a recognized path. Thus, she is laying the first bricks of a research ecosystem where targeting social impact goals is facilitated, encouraged and valued.
To demonstrate how this is concretely feasible, Mélanie first structured the new relevant spaces for needed new collaborations to emerge. The objective is to create a pattern of strategic relationship building among scientists who want to contribute to the world’s good, and not just make money, and social entrepreneurs who can connect that potential to work on the ground. She carefully crafted the program “The Future Of __”, which starts with a one-day collaborative event gathering 40 selected experts of a theme (The Future Of Food, Soil, Water, ...) to meet and identify potential collaborations. The number of participants is limited to ensure qualitative and deep exchanges. The selection of the attendees is also key; first, these experts must come from diverse backgrounds: scientists (including post-docs, who have expertise but often struggle finding a full-time position), social entrepreneurs, NGOs, industrial companies; second, they should have testified a clear motivation to look for new partners in their work. Mélanie also carefully frames the theme of her program around a challenge to be solved rather than a specific technical development issue to make sure diverse profiles apply. The launching event is followed by a six-month follow-up to support the actual implementation of the impact-driven collaborations between the attendees (mediation, help to identify funding sources, ...). This is particularly necessary at the beginning of the project as research scientists and social leaders have different languages and temporalities. The “The Future Of __ ” programs are funded and sponsored by public research institutes or companies who see an opportunity to identify new partners in an open-innovation approach. For instance, the food company Diana Group sponsors the currently ongoing program focused on how to further improve the industrial valorization of fruit and vegetable waste.
Previous editions of the program, on Soil and Water, generated 40 impact-driven collaborations between attendees from 17 different countries. More than half participants reported an on-going collaboration three months later. Mélanie documented the “The Future Of_” process and methodologies so that it can be independently replicated in the future. In this sense, Mélanie targets as replicators the “valorization” services of research institutes who are directly interested in new ways to enhance economic and social valorization of research. Mélanie successfully engaged the IRD (Institute for Research and Development) counting 800 researchers; she ambitions to build a network of committed research institutes that will advocate for impact-driven research. She is currently in discussion with the biggest French research institutes, such as the national center for scientific research (CNRS). In addition, Mélanie is also training the social entrepreneurship incubator “La Fabrique” in Burkina Faso to organize such a collaborative program in their own local and cultural context in 2018. Finally, she hopes to build on the “The Future Of_” former participants to develop an influential cross-sector community of impact-driven science ambassadors.
Considering the private sector channels the majority of research and development investments, Mélanie also works with private companies to move them from valorization focused on risk to return on investment, to seeing market opportunities in impact-driven innovation. Her longer-term ambitious goal here is to change the way corporates are allocating funds to research so that social good becomes part of doing business and gets out of CSR silos. While extending her impact, this consulting activity also provides her with a sustainable revenue stream. As an example, she worked with the French multinational car manufacturer Renault R&D and CSR departments to identify new market opportunities integrating social impact criteria, such as investing in the development of low-cost refrigerated vans in order to help solving the issue of food waste. In some underprivileged rural areas in South-East Asia or Africa, 10 to 30% of produced food are indeed wasted because of improperly working refrigerated transport means. Mélanie identified visualizing opportunities as an important first step and thus developed and freely shared online a dedicated tool called “the Matrix of Opportunities” to help the company concretely visualize interactions between economic drivers, societal challenges and their own expertise. Mélanie is now in discussion with large international consulting companies to further structure the market around this emerging business and thus incentivize more companies to invest in impact-driven innovation.
While demonstrating this is feasible on the field, Mélanie also works at building a facilitating framework for impact-driven research to become a recognized, easily accessible and attractive career path for scientists. First, to generate wider awareness and demand, Mélanie shares her vision in conferences and gives lectures in universities about responsible research and innovation. She also published a book in 2017 to broadcast her insight and reach out to new partners. In collaboration with a communication agency, she is now preparing a media campaign to showcase successful impact-driven research projects. Second, she works at building a dedicated financial pipeline for impact-driven research by supporting research funding agencies in integrating social impact in their criteria. She already led this work with the national funding agency ADEME which has now a greater ability to identify and support impact-driven research collaborative projects. Finally, Mélanie is also advocating at a decision-making institutional level: she has been appointed as an expert on “Science with and for Society” by the European Commission and, as such, has been involved in working groups on reshaping European research policy. Her advocacy led to the opening of EU research funds for social entrepreneurs, who were not eligible to these grants before.