As the newest member of the SiG team, I am looking at how I can contribute to this space and empower others to do the same. This is my Why time. The Why for social innovation and the people involved can be seen through the rest of the W’s below:
What is social innovation?
Essentially, a social innovation addresses a complex social problem with an idea focused on getting to the root of the problem, as opposed to temporary relief that only remedies the surface issues. In order to truly disrupt a system, a social innovation must cross social boundaries and reach different people and organizations at different levels.
A traditional approach…
The World Wildlife Foundation, founded in 1961, is dedicated to conserving and restoring the environment. It has over 5 million supporters worldwide and, in 2014, it generated over a quarter of a billion dollars in revenue (WWF-US Annual Report 2014). The WWF brings attention to important issues regarding our planet, and it does so by capturing the attention of individuals and institutions alike. But even with all this activity, environmental conditions continue to decline and the number of endangered species continues to rise.
Determined to tackle one of the root causes of this continued decline, the WWF-UK joined forces with the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales (ICAEW) as of 2008, leading to the creation of the Finance Innovation Lab. The unusual collaboration of these two organizations was brought on by their shared desire for a financial system that sustains people and the planet.
This call to action is derived from the shared challenges that every individual, organization or government is faced with — resource constraints, a current economic model that assumes perpetual growth, growing disparity between rich and poor — as well as from the outcomes both organizations strive towards: a system that enables people and the planet to flourish and one that builds resiliency.
“At WWF-UK, we perceive finance as a key lever to influence business strategy and corporate supply chains to reduce their threats to the natural world, and to provide financial mechanisms which protect and encourage sustainable ecosystems“ – WWF-UK
Their big picture is to repurpose finance to have a positive impact in the world. Their work encourages and accepts open discussion about the root causes of issues, and they strive to take a bird’s-eye view across the financial system to identify where they can best make a difference.
Who is involved?
There are different types of social innovators, according to Frances Westley:
Social Entrepreneurs: create innovations and bring them to market through team building.
System Entrepreneurs: find and connect the opportunities to leverage innovative ideas for much greater impact.
Institutional Entrepreneurs: individuals or networks that actively seek to change the broader social system through changing institutions.
The inclusion of the people social innovations are designed to serve is important. A successful ongoing project is Family by Family in South Australia. Families going through a hard time are paired with families who have come through a hard time. Families learn from one another and help each other. It is not a one-stop solution for every family; Family By Family takes into consideration the uniqueness of each case and continues to learn from every participating family how to improve their methodology.
What conditions are needed for social innovation to take place?
Market demand, cultural and social demand, and political demand are complex factors, but can open the way for new ideas for change.
An example of demand-led change is smoking: in the past, smoking in a public place was tolerable, but now if you light up a cigarette you are more likely to receive looks of disapproval.
It is a culture shift and transformation that took decades and may be attributed to the culmination of grassroots initiatives, public service advertising , evidence-based policy, and publicizing the effects of smoking on health.
How is THE question…
How do you identify what you can do?
I have been encouraged to discover and build upon my strengths. Asset-based thinking works to develop strengths as opposed to focusing on weaknesses. Depending on who you are, you may find your strengths pulling you in one direction, connecting with others, and supporting or creating an idea.
How do you socially innovate?
Collaborate with others. Change Labs create a physical and intellectual space designed to encourage and facilitate collaboration and the co-creation of meaningful and innovative solutions to complex problems.
It is a truth ever-increasingly acknowledged: by engaging with the knowledge of others, you better your own understanding. If you are an organization, becoming a learning organization has benefited the most successful institutions in the world.
When a social innovation is successful, it becomes part of the norm, which may lead to the emergence of new problems. As Frances Westley says, social innovation is not a fixed address. Once a social innovation is put in place, it becomes the new system. It is a cyclical process – a never-ending infinity loop – a continuous who, what, when, where and why to ask.
I have come to learn there is no step-by-step approach to creating, implementing and following through with socially innovative ideas, because that is the nature of these problems and solutions – they are embedded in institutions, complex, chaotic, and ever-changing. I look forward to learning so much more this year, deepening my understanding, satiating my curiosity and exploring what’s possible. As with social innovation, I too am not fixed, but constantly growing and evolving. What an adventure!