Social Innovation: Building a community spirit Herman Miller style

Every now again when writing about social innovation and enterprise you discover something significant and special...I did when I stumbled upon Herman Miller, Inc., a design and technologies services firm with the mission to improve the human experience wherever people work, heal, learn, and live. Herman Miller strives to create ‘a better world around you, and does this by encouraging its employees to regularly volunteer in the community, allowing them 16 hours of paid work with a charity of their choice, which has taken them to helping projects across the globe. It is the efforts of volunteers that actually make a difference to the world we live in—without them we would see no changes.

From the U.K. to India to Japan, Herman Miller employees have helped lives through their own social innovation and awareness. In response to the Japan earthquake earlier this year, 134 employees throughout the company contributed nearly $16,000, which was matched with $15,000 from the Herman Miller Foundation. In addition, colleagues throughout Asia auctioned off crafts by designers to raise funds for victims of the earthquake. In India a group of staff went to the Ashraya Orphanage in Bangalore and were so touched by the example of a volunteer music teacher at the orphanage that several of them signed up to teach classes every weekend.

In the U.K. Herman Miller volunteers support the Bath Rugby Community Foundation's Business Enterprise Project, which offers local school children the chance to improve their learning skills, and to find out more about social innovation and how businesses work. Not stopping there, another group of volunteers from the company, along with the architecture and design community, volunteered in "We Care," a day of creativity and craft-making for underprivileged children in 25 cities across the U.S. and Canada, while 20 women volunteered for a fourth year with Women for Women International, an organisation that addresses "the unique needs of women in conflict and post-conflict environments."

Over the past six years, Herman Miller volunteers have helped build social innovation homes for Habitat for Humanity; with its teams of volunteers, a house was built in record time—eight business days!

Some may argue how can a company so steeped in ‘doing good’ actually earn revenue and be successful?! Well, Herman Miller is the perfect example of how a commitment to social innovation can still make you a winner. Last year the company generated revenue in excess of $1.6 billion. Innovative business practices and a commitment to social responsibility have actually established Herman Miller as a recognised global company. It was cited by FORTUNE as the "Most Admired” company in the contract furniture industry. Now, in my book, Herman Miller is a great corporate business model.

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