Social innovation

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Social innovations are new strategies, concepts, ideas and organisations that meet the social needs of different elements which can be from working conditions and education to community development and health — they extend and strengthen civil society. Social innovation includes the social processes of innovation, such as open source methods and techniques and also the innovations which have a social purpose — like microcredit or distance learning.

Social entrepreneurship can be an innovative and it also overlaps with innovation in public policy and governance. Social innovation can take place within government; the for-profit sector, the nonprofit sector (also known as the third sector), or in the spaces between them. Research has focused on the types of platforms needed to facilitate such cross-sector collaborative social innovation.

Social Innovation is often an effort of mental creativity which involves fluency and flexibility from a wide range of disciplines. The act of social innovation in a sector is mostly connected with diverse disciplines within the society. The social innovation theory of 'connected difference' emphasizes three key dimensions to social innovation.[1] First, innovations are usually new combinations or hybrids of existing elements, rather than completely new. Second, their practice involves cutting across organisational or disciplinary boundaries. Lastly, they leave behind compelling new relationships between previously separate individuals and groups.[2] Social innovation is also gaining visibility within academia.[3]

Prominent innovators associated with the term include Pakistani Akhter Hameed Khan, Bangladeshi Muhammad Yunus, the founder of Grameen Bank which pioneered the concept of microcredit for supporting innovators in multiple developing countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America, and also inspired programs such as the Infolady Social Entrepreneurship Programme[4][5][6] of Dnet (A Social Enterprise) and Stephen Goldsmith, former Indianapolis mayor who engaged the private sector in providing many city services.[7][8]

Social Innovation is emerging worldwide as people realize that it is time to work together to find new solutions to the challenges facing our society. New initiatives are launched all over the place whether by research institutions, companies or by independent organizations. Those engaged in Social Innovation apply their own definition of Social Innovation, but all definitions have one thing in common: working together towards a sustainable society. Social Innovation has an inter-sectoral approach and is universally applicable. Social Innovation focuses on the process of innovation, how innovation and change take shape (as opposed to the more traditional definition of social innovation, giving priority to the internal organization of firms serving the productivity). Social Innovation focuses on new work and new forms of cooperation (business models).[9]


Social innovation was discussed in the writings of figures such as Peter Drucker and Michael Young (founder of the Open University and dozens of other organizations) in the 1960s.[10] It also appeared in the work of French writers in the 1970s, such as Pierre Rosanvallon, Jacques Fournier, and Jacques Attali.[11] However, the themes and concepts in social innovation existed long before. Benjamin Franklin, for example, talked about small modifications within the social organisation of communities[12] that could help to solve everyday problems. Many radical 19th century reformers like Robert Owen, founder of the cooperative movement, promoted innovation in the social field and all of the great sociologists including Karl Marx, Max Weber and Émile Durkheim focused attention on broader processes of social change. Other theories of innovation became prominent in the 20th century, many of which had social implications, without putting social progress at the center of the theory. Joseph Schumpeter, for example, addressed the process of innovation directly with his theory of creative destruction and his definition of entrepreneurs as people who combined existing elements in new ways to create a new product or service. Beginning in the 1980s, writers on technological change increasingly addressed how social factors affect technology diffusion.[13]

Developments since 2000[edit]

Academic research, blogs and websites feature social innovation, along with organizations working on the boundaries of research and practical action. Topics include:

  • Innovation in public services was pioneered particularly in some Scandinavian and Asian countries. Governments are increasingly recognizing that innovation requires healthcare, schooling and democracy.[14][15]
  • Social entrepreneurship, which is the practice of creating new organizations focusing on non- market activities.[16]
  • Business, particularly in services.[17]
  • Open source innovation, in which the intellectual property involved in a produce or service is made freely available.[18]
  • Complex adaptive systems, which have built-in mechanisms to help them adapt to changing circumstances.[19]
  • Collaborative approaches which involve stakeholders who are not directly responsible for some activity, such as stockholders and unions collaborating on business issue and business collaborating with government on regulatory issues.[20][21][22]
  • Innovation diffusion[23]
  • Localized influences that make some localities particularly innovative.[24]
  • Institutional or system entrepreneurship which focuses on agents who work at a broad system level in order to create the conditions which will allow innovations to have a lasting impact.[25]

Institutional support[edit]

The US created an Office for Social Innovation in the White House, which is funding projects that combine public and private resources.[7] Foundations support social innovation.[26] The European Union’s innovation strategy[27] was the first well-funded research and development strategy to emphasise social innovation.[28] Public policy makers support social innovation in these different sectors, notably in the UK, Australia, China and Denmark.[29] In 2002 the South Australian government led by Premier and Social Inclusion Minister Mike Rann embraced a ten year social innovation strategy with big investments in different approaches to tackling homelessness, school retention, mental health and disability services reforms. The Common Ground[30] and Street to Home homelessness initiatives and the Australian Centre for Social Innovation[31] were established in Adelaide and many of the reforms trialled in South Australia have been adopted nationally around Australia. This initiative, headed by Monsignor David Cappo, South Australia's Social Inclusion Commissioner, was advised by 'Thinkers in Residence' Geoff Mulgan and New York social entrepreneur Rosanne Haggerty.

In 2010, the US government listed 11 investments made by its 'Social Innovation Fund', with public funding more than matched by philanthropic organizations. The fund focuses on partnerships with charities, social enterprises, and business.[7] Moreover, educational institutions are now increasingly supporting teaching and research in the area of social innovation. Along with pioneering centres such as Harvard Business School's Initiative on Social Enterprise (launched 1993) [32] and Said Business School's Skoll Centre for Social Entrepreneurship (launched 2003),[33] several universities such as INSEAD [34] now offer short-term programmes in the field while a handful of institutions such as Goldsmiths, University of London [35] are offering masters courses dedicated entirely to the study of theory and practice in relation to social entrepreneurship and innovation.

Local and Regional development[edit]

Literature on social innovation in relation to territorial/regional development covers innovation in the social economy, i.e. strategies for satisfaction of human needs; and innovation in the sense of transforming and/or sustaining social relations, especially governance relations at the regional and local level. Beginning in the late 1980s, Jean-Louis Laville and Frank Moulaert researched social innovation.[36][37] In Canada CRISES[38] initiated this type of research. Another, larger project was SINGOCOM[39] a European Commission Framework 5 project, which pioneered so-called "Alternative Models for Local Innovation" (ALMOLIN). These models were further elaborated through community actions covered by KATARSIS[40] and SOCIAL POLIS.[41] More recent works focus on the societal role of the economic life in terms of innovations in social practices and social relations at the local and regional levels. Social Innovation, therefore, is increasingly seen as a process and a strategy to foster human development through solidarity, cooperation, and cultural diversity.[42][43]

The EU funded URBACT programme is designed to help cities to exchange and learn around urban policies. The URBACT methodology can be seen as a social innovation action planning approach. A typical URBACT network would have ten cities working on a specific theme such as active inclusion or regenerating disadvantaged neighbourhoods. They examine good practice and then working through a local support group use the results to inform their local action plan.

The Social Innovation Europe[44] initiative, funded by the European Commission's Directorate General for Enterprise and Industry, was set up to map social innovation at a European level, by creating a directory of grass-roots examples of social innovation from across the 27 member states.

The European Commission has funded a the SELUSI study between 2008 - 2013 that looked at over 550 social ventures and examined how these insights can spark change and innovation at a much larger scale. It looked at business models of social ventures in five countries - UK being one of them – identifying which specific practices evolved by social ventures are particularly successful, and how and by whom – be it social enterprise, public sector body or mainstream business– they can be most effectively scaled-up.

The European Commission has launched a new initiative (project) in 2013 under FP7 funding – BENISI Project – with the aim to build a network of incubators for social innovation across regions and countries. This network facilitates identification of 300 social innovation examples and facilitates its scaling. The network is organised in a way to identify new models for scaling of social innovations across various geographical clusters in collaboration with each other, communicating the ideas, finding the tools and funds, developing business plans and models in order to promote the new promising ideas throughout Europe.

  • A guide also exists that provides a way to promote social innovations at a local or regional level.[45]

Some noted scholars[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Mulgan. Geoff. "Social Innovation: What it is, why it matters and how it can be accelerated: Skoll Centre for Social Entrepreneurship, University of Oxford"
  2. ^ Nambisan, S. "Platforms for Collaboration", Stanford Social Innovation Review, Summer 2009.
  3. ^ Howaldt, J./ Schwarz, M. "Social Innovation: Concepts, research fields and international trends", IMO international monitoring, 2010.
  4. ^ Foreign, Mail (2012-11-02). "Info Ladies bringing the internet by bike to the remote villages of Bangladesh | Mail Online". Retrieved 2014-05-22. 
  5. ^ "Internet rolls into Bangladesh villages on a bike". Retrieved 2014-05-22. 
  6. ^ "Info Ladies – Riding Internet into Rural Bangladesh!". Amader Kotha. 2012-11-08. Retrieved 2014-05-22. 
  7. ^ a b c "Let's hear those ideas". The Economist. August 12, 2010. Retrieved December 2010. 
  8. ^ Goldsmith, Stephen (March 2010). The Power of Social Innovation: How Civic Entrepreneurs Ignite Community Networks for Good. Jossey-Bass. ISBN 978-0-470-57684-7. 
  9. ^ Klievink, B., & Janssen, M. (2014). "Developing multi-layer information infrastructures: advancing social innovation through public-private governance". "Information Systems Management" 31:240–249
  10. ^ see for example Gavron, Dench e ds Young at 80, Carcanet Press, London, 1995 for a comprehensive overview of one of the world's most successful social innovators
  11. ^ Chambon, J.-L, David, A. and Devevey, J.-M (1982), Les Innovations Sociales, Presses Universitaires de France, Paris
  12. ^ "Mumford, M.D. (2002) Social Innovation: Ten Cases from Benjamin Franklin, ''Creativity Research Journal'', 14(2), 253-266". 1970-01-01. Retrieved 2014-05-22. 
  13. ^ notably in the writings of Christopher Freeman, Carlotta Perez, Ian Miles and others
  14. ^ Innovation in the Public Sector an overview of thinking about innovation in the public sector, published by the UK government's Strategy Unit in 2003
  15. ^ Ready or Not? published by The Young Foundation in 2007 about the need for public sector organisations to innovate
  16. ^ Nichols; Social Entrepreneurship, Oxford University Press 2007
  17. ^ design companies article by Forbes magazine about how companies are innovating in the way they offer services
  18. ^ Innovation in open source article by harvard business school about innovation in open source
  19. ^ Westley,Zimmerman and Patton; Getting to Maybe;Toronto, Random House 2006
  20. ^ Nambisan, S. "Transforming Government through Collaborative Innovation", IBM Center for the Business of Government, April 2008
  21. ^ James A. Phills Jr., Kriss Deiglmeier, & Dale T. Miller "Rediscovering Social Innovation", Stanford Social Innovation Review Fall 2008.
  22. ^ Klievink, B., & Janssen, M. (2014). "Developing multi-layer information infrastructures: advancing social innovation through public-private governance". "Information Systems Management" 31:240–249
  23. ^ various studies by Greg Dees and others and the study published by NESTA In and out of sync: growing social innovations, London 2007
  24. ^ Transfomers published by NESTA, London, 2008
  25. ^ Westley et al.2013 A Theory of Transformational agency in Linked Social Ecological Systems, Ecology and Society
  26. ^ Kohli, J. and Geoff Mulgan (2007) Capital Ideas. How to Generate Innovation in the Public Sector. The Young Foundation and Center for American Progress
  27. ^ "Home page - Innovation Union - European Commission". 2014-05-13. Retrieved 2014-05-22. 
  28. ^ Murray, R., Caulier- Grice and Geoff Mulgan (2010) The Open Book of Social Innovation. The Young Foundation and NESTA
  29. ^ Mulgan, Ali, Tucker; Social innovation: what it is, why it matters, how it can be accelerated, published by Said Business School, Oxford, 2007
  30. ^
  31. ^,au
  32. ^ "The Social Enterprise Initiative at Harvard Business School". Retrieved 2014-05-22. 
  33. ^ "The Skoll Centre for Social Entrepreneurship, Said Business School, University of Oxford". Retrieved 2014-05-22. 
  34. ^ "INSEAD Social Entrepreneurship Programme". Retrieved 2014-05-22. 
  35. ^ "The Goldsmiths MA Programme in Social Entrepreneurship, University of London". 2014-04-16. Retrieved 2014-05-22. 
  36. ^ Laville, J.-L. (Ed.) (1994) L’économie solidaire, une perspective internationale, Desclée de Brouwer, Paris
  37. ^ "Moulaert, F. and Sekia, F. (2003) Territorial Innovation Models: a Critical Survey, ''Regional Studies'', 37(3), 289-302". 1970-01-01. Retrieved 2014-05-22. 
  38. ^ CRISES[dead link]
  39. ^ Social Innovation, Governance, and Community Building (2002–2004)
  40. ^ "KATARSIS Homepage". 2009-10-07. Retrieved 2014-05-22. 
  41. ^ "Social Polis". Retrieved 2014-05-22. 
  42. ^ MacCallum, D., Moulaert, F., Hillier, J. and S. Vicari (Eds) (2009) Social Innovation and Territorial Development. Ashgate, Aldershot. ISBN 978-0-7546-7233-3
  43. ^ Masselin, Matthieu. "''Is Social Innovation the Future of Economy?'', ParisTech Review, Dec. 2011". Retrieved 2014-05-22. 
  44. ^ "Home | Social Innovation Europe". 2014-05-15. Retrieved 2014-05-22. 
  45. ^ The Guide to Social Innovation. Belgium: European Commission, 2013