Global Innovation for Impact Lab

The Global Innovation for Impact Lab at Stanford PACS develops insights that help organizations make better strategic and operational decisions about innovation, scaling, and system change.

Lab directors Johanna Mair and Christian Seelos study effective innovation and scaling strategies that they share in workshops, webinars, innovation courses, several articles and scholarly publications. Their recent book Innovation and Scaling for Impact: How Effective Social Enterprises Do It was recognized by the Alliance for Nonprofit Management with the Terry McAdam prize for “the most inspirational and useful new book contributing to nonprofit management” and by the Academy of Management (AOM) who awarded it “Best Book 2015-2017”. 

GIIL is now taking the insights on effective innovation and scaling to the next level–system change. We frame system change as a complex innovation process. This perspective expands our frameworks and diagnostic tools on effective innovation and scaling and enables us to develop new insights collaboratively with organizations and initiatives. 

GIIL addresses three core problems in the social innovation space:

  1. inconsistent evidence on how to increase the potential of social innovation and system change for positive impact;
  2. a divide between scholarly work and practitioner needs, and
  3. unproductive learning that stifles knowledge accumulation.

GIIL works in partnership with foundations, government and multilateral agencies, and organizations in the social and private sectors. Our research enables decision makers to grow their ambitions and capabilities for addressing social problems and for transforming social systems effectively. GIIL aligns rigor, realism, and usefulness, and leverages insights from existing knowledge across disciplines with novel insights from engaging deeply with organizations and social problems in the field. GIIL also contributes to the scholarly knowledge base on effective organizations and educates the next generation of committed leaders.

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The Global Innovation For Impact Lab, launched in 2017 at Stanford PACS, is an evolution of the decade-plus long international research project, Organizational Capacity for Continuous Innovation (OCCI). Johanna and Christian are based in Berlin, Germany, and can be reached by contacting Stanford PACS


The hallmark of GIIL activities is a critical and constructive engagement with social innovation from an organizational perspective. This engagement includes related topics such as scaling and systems change and explores the role and potential of social innovation for positive impact. A critical review in these areas allows us to separate fantasy from fact and real opportunities from mere hopes. We evaluate the substance behind topics such as innovation or systems change. These topics are often taken-for-granted in an unreflective manner. Our critical perspective facilitates productive decisions by funders, entrepreneurs and established service providers, public and private sectors, and consultancies.

The founding directors of GIIL, Johanna Mair and Christian Seelos, are orchestrating new research programs that build on their extensive experience researching private- and social-sector organizations over two decades. Both directors have received awards for the scholarly and practical value of their research and for their teaching activities at post-graduate and executive levels. In addition to developing new research and educational tools and activities, GIIL will bridge continental and sectoral divides to configure people, ideas, and resources into productive opportunities for generating useful knowledge and enacting positive impact.

Path to Impact

GIIL develops knowledge on social innovation and organizational strategies that is portable across geographies, sectors and issue domains.

  • We develop knowledge that is relevant for practice and at the same time has the potential to advance or recast existing knowledge. For example, we study why and how different organizations enact innovation and how these differences generate positive and negative consequences for organizations and their stakeholders.
  • We convene events and organize exchanges between research and practice to generate, reflect on, and disseminate knowledge. For example, we organize a number of salons for smaller groups of senior foundation and social sector leaders in the USA, Europe, and Asia as well as larger audiences such as those at Stanford PACS’ signature event, the Philanthropy Innovation Summit.
  • We interact with strategic partners such as foundations, government and multilateral agencies, and organizations in the social and private sector to define relevant areas for research and develop a joint learning experience. For example, we work directly with several leading social enterprises to understand the architecture for strategic learning and for building their capacity for productive innovation.
  • We build partnerships with leading academic institutions. For example, we leverage institutional ties to the Knowledge Initiative on Organisations and Society at the Hertie School of Governance, the Social Innovation and Change Initiative at the Harvard Kennedy School and several institutions in Europe and Asia such as the Stockholm School of Economics (Sweden), the University of Leuven (Belgium), the Skoll Center for Social Entrepreneurship at the University of Oxford (UK), the Sekem Academy (Egypt), the BRAC University (Bangladesh), the Tata Institute of Social Sciences (India) to conduct research in a collaborative spirit and to empower the next generation of scholars and educators.