The process of collecting contributions in the form of ideas and services is not a new phenomenon. In fact, crowdsourcing has historically been used to solve challenging innovation problems.

Companies have for a long time used consumer wisdom to tackle tough scientific and technological challenges, design new products, generate marketing ideas and increase customer satisfaction. Platforms like the Heineken Ideas Brewery, BMW customer innovation lab and My Starbucks Ideas show how major organizations are successfully tapping into the power of the crowd to co-create innovative concepts.

Beyond simply a new approach to research and development, some companies have taken crowdsourcing a step further. Organizations are now using the powerful platform to tackle social challenges in the areas of sustainability and poverty reduction.

Unilever Foundry Ideas is a crowdsourcing platform that was launched by a corporate giant, Unilever in 2015. Through the platform, Unilever seeks to make sustainable living mainstream by sourcing ideas from customers and entrepreneurs. An article in CSR Asia talks about the success of Unilever Foundry ideas highlighting how it has generated over 300 ideas to encourage recycling of bathroom products, reduction of water dependency while doing laundry and invention of concepts for more luxurious and sustainable showers for the future.

“Big social, environment and economic issues are so huge that no one organization or company or group can solve them alone,” says a Unilever Foundry Ideas representative. “Aspects of sustainability affect all of us and so all of us have ideas.”

General Electric has the open innovation branch of its Ecomagination program. This is a collaborative problem-solving environment.

Open innovation posts a variety of challenges and creates an open call to the global brain, a growing community of over 400 million, to submit creative ideas to tackle these challenges. Contributors of winning ideas normally receive cash prizes, internships and future collaboration opportunities.

Open innovation has so far fielded challenges in the areas of solving water scarcity through Water Reuse and managing chronic disease by developing wearable monitoring technologies to mention a few.

BASF, one of the world’s leading chemical companies, has the co-creation platform the Creator Space. In 2015, Creator Space conducted a tour in six cities around the globe, Mumbai, Shanghai, New York, Sao Paulo, Barcelona and Ludwigshafen. Creator space aimed to develop solutions for problems that citizens in the different cities were facing. It did this through enlisting inputs from government officials, NGOs, the society as well as artists.

In Mumbai, for example, BASF Creator Space was tackling the challenge of water accessibility. According to a white paper on the Mumbai visit, a holistic approach has been developed to augment Mumbai city’s plans to revamp the on-grid water infrastructure.

Coca-Cola takes part in the crowdsourcing space by hosting an annual grant challenge known as “Shaping a Better Future”. For the grant, Coca-Cola has partnered with the Global Shapers Community of the World Economic Forum to scale proven solutions to the world’s biggest problems.

There are over 500 Global Shaper hubs around the world that comprise of young people with an exceptional drive to make a contribution to their communities. They have a focus on matters such as bettering the environment, kick-starting civic engagement and eradicating poverty to name a few.

Coca-Cola offers five 10,000 dollar grants through the program to accelerate the most impactful and promising Global Shaper hub projects.

François Pétavy, eYeka CEO notes that crowdsourcing often has its beginnings in the creation of better products and experiences, but often results in a more collaborative and sustainable world.

June Samo

Sources: BASF 1, BASF 2, Coca-Cola,, CSR Asia, Entrepreneur, GE 1, GE 2, Open Innovation, Unilever