Screenshot of the Trace Mapping Tool on the Rapanui Website

New Business Models
Social Impact, Technology and Innovation

Examples of businesses working towards a greater good by embracing cutting edge technology and innovation trends

As part of an ongoing project I am researching businesses that are using technology to work in a sustainable and ethical manner to create positive social impact. I’ve been really inspired by the ideas and principles shared by the entrepreneurs behind these businesses. I have decided to turn these research notes into short-articles. This is the first in the series.

Traceable eco-clothing

“Fashion is like no other medium in that you
literally drape yourself in what you believe in”
Source: Screw Business as Usual (2012)

Rapanui is an eco fashion brand set up by brothers Rob and Mart Drake-Knight in 2008. Their goal is to use the power of fashion to change behaviour and buying action. The company makes casual-wear with sustainable materials such as organic cotton, bamboo and eucalyptus. Their entire supply chain is traceable via the trace mapping tool on their website.

In an interview with Positive News, the brothers admit that it does cost more to buy organic, sustainable products, but they are constantly driving business efficiency. In 2014, they embraced the Internet of Things in a big way and their factory now has an API. In principle, anyone can connect their app, widget or function in their source code and trigger the printing and posting of products from their supply chain.

Rapanui is also committed to local employment on the Isle of Wight and offers apprenticeships and work experience placements. They now employ 15 staff in their factory in Cowes.

Impact Hub Birmingham:
Local community, global network

Members of the Impact Hub Birmingham Team. Click here for image source.

An Impact Hub is a unique ecosystem for social innovation. It functions as a prototyping lab, a start-up incubator, an office, a learning space and a think tank. The first Impact Hub was opened in Islington in 2005. It is now a global network with Hubs located in over 63 cities across the world, with over 11,000 members.

[The Hub] is about building a movement of citizens that want to build a fairer, more prosperous city.
Andy Reeve (COO), src:

The Birmingham Hub aims to bring together people who want to have a positive impact on the city through their work. Immi Kaur (CEO) says the Hub builds on the ‘contagious energy of events such as TEDxBrum and City of Colours’. It will be a space to work, host events and run world-class programmes. It will be home to The Civic Foundry, a programme that will support interdisciplinary teams to develop initiatives that seek to transform the lives of citizens.


In 2014, the Birmingham Hub launched a Kickstarter project to raise £50,000 to make the Hub operational, and they have successfully met this goal. The Hub will be housed in The Walker Building, originally a factory that manufactured marine instruments. The feasibility study for the Hub is available online here.

Product Design for Social Change

A Short Introduction To Historypin

Shift is a social enterprise that designs consumer products that address social problems. These range from the well-known designer shopping bag developed with Anya Hindmarch to a Biofeedback video game that gives people skills to manage their emotions through regulated breathing. (The latter is of particular interest to me as it was the focus of my PhD at the University of York several years ago). There is extensive documentation about each project and initiative on the website.

What’s interesting about Shift is that they have articulated three clear strands of value that define their products and social ventures. These have been defined as social value, user value and financial value. Click here for a blog post on this subject.

…the best social entrepreneurs excel at building all three strands of value into their products and services: social value, user value and financial value

Click here for the original article by Nick Stanhope, CEO

I hope you’ve found these examples just as inspiring as I did. I’ll post more research notes and links in the coming weeks. If you know of businesses that are using technology to drive social change please get in touch with me on Twitter at @gopaldass or via email contact [at] digitalidentities [dot] info.

I am interested in the context & values of our Digital Identities.

I am interested in the context & values of our Digital Identities.