In an effort to become more aware and involved with social innovation endeavors, ANTVibes presents “What is social innovation?” as the first section of a three-part series detailing some of the most important facts, trends, opinions, and contributors to social innovation today.
What is social innovation?
We’ve heard the term tossed around in newscasts and the occasional weblog, but social innovation is something we should all be aware of. The English word “social” is derived from the Latin word “socii”, meaning allies or associates, while “innovation” refers to introducing something new or different. Normally we think of innovation as technologically driven, but social innovation is more driven by benefits to society. So in a nutshell, social innovations are new ideas (or programs) that meet a need of society.
But what are needs of society, you ask? A need of society could be anything that increases the quality of life for a population or group of people, such as a faster way to bring water to a village, a new kind of motor that requires less energy input, or a program to provide financial services to those without. Many social innovation programs focus on providing services such as healthcare, job training, and education that will allow individuals to make better decisions and in turn, reduce the overall rate of poverty.
While most of us should agree that social innovation is a positive thing, it doesn’t come without its problems. A major setback of social innovation is, and has been, the lack of speed at which progress is made and the limited reach of the implemented programs. In addition, tracking and monitoring the success and impact of social programs can be a complicated and daunting task.
Social innovation looks to the private sector
The downturn in the economy has certainly had its effects on social innovation. Government spending on social programs has decreased as budgets tighten, and many contributors to non-profit organizations find themselves out of position to donate.
Traditionally, many social programs have been plagued by bureaucratic policies and inefficiencies, or lack of funding, both leading to slow rates of growth or progress. And while funding is always going to be somewhat of an issue, more recently, social innovation has started to take a different approach. With the rise in internet and mobile access, collaborating with like-minded individuals or stakeholders from anywhere in the world is possible.
Of late, the private sector has been looked upon to provide and transform social programs. By utilizing the creativity and inventiveness of people in the private sector, particularly entrepreneurs, many people believe that social efforts can be streamlined and accelerated.
Because successful small businesses and their owners often experience rapid growth and expansion of their companies, it is believed that the same concept and growth can be applied to entrepreneurs working on social solutions. These entrepreneurs, called “social entrepreneurs”, hope to develop new technologies, practices, or solutions to social issues. Run with business-like efficiency, the hope is that greater impact can be attained and more people can be reached.
Part two of this three-part series features some of our favorite social innovations and programs, and will be available soon on the ANTVibes blog. In the meantime, feel free to visit some of our favorite social innovation resources:
The Stanford Social Innovation Review provides a wealth of information, along with some of the leading opinions, in the realm of social innovation. While the SSIR is available in print as a magazine, the website also offers a variety of blog readings, podcasts, webinars, book reviews, and more.
The Case Foundation invests in people and ideas that can change the world. Their website provides an assortment of information about social causes, as well as resources for volunteers and advocates. In addition, a mix of publications, blogs, and videos is available.
Social Velocity is a company that helps non-profit organizations start and/or succeed. Although a company website, they offer an insightful blog written By Nell Edgington, which presents a variety of information, resources, and suggested reading materials.
If you have any questions or comments, we’d love to hear them! Chime in to the conversation today by leaving a comment or contacting me at jonv [at] antvibes [dot com].