What is social innovation?
Some definitions of social innovation are:
“the development and implementation of new ideas (products, services and models) to meet social needs" (Geoff Mulgan et al, In and Out of Sync)
Rather than a totally new idea, it is also recognised that a social innovation can be the further development of an existing idea or set of ideas.
“A true social innovation is systems-changing – it permanently alters the perceptions, behaviours and structures that previously gave rise to these challenges.” (Centre for Social Innovation, Canada)
The global social innovation movement recognises that we urgently need new solutions to pressing social problems such as climate change, health issues for an aging population and drug and alcohol problems. Governments do not have all the answers or the resources for addressing these issues. However, if sectors work together, share our resources and use them strategically and efficiently, we can address many seemingly intractable problems. Socially innovative ideas can come from small or large organisations from any sector - community, government or business. Ideas can also emerge from individuals. Any of us could come up with an innovative idea!
The social innovation movement addresses social problems by connecting innovative ideas, individuals, organisations and sectors. Social innovation encourages and promotes creative, systems-wide solutions that might be scaled up and used in other areas. The movement recognises that many socially innovative ideas are not developed or implemented due to inadequate development support. Support for social innovations can come from skilled individuals and networks as well as from funding and new organisational structures.
Some not-for profit organisations run for-profit businesses to support their core values and work. Some for-profit businesses are developed with a specific social mission in mind. These are both types of social enterprise. Some social innovations are also social enterprises; others are not.
Bridges provides an example of a social innovation coming from a small not-for-profit organisation. Our social innovation is a systems-changing model called the Bridges Network Approach and can be expanded and applied to other geographic areas and other pressing social problems.
The social innovation movement also refers to social entrepreneurs (individuals with a mission and skills to progress a social innovation through the development of their organisations). There are a number of different defenitions including Ashoka's definition.
To find out more about the social innovation movement, check out the global Social Innovation Exchange, the Australian Social Innovation Exchange, and The Australian Centre for Social Innovation. You can read more in-depth analysis about social innovation in Geoff Mulgan's paper, written while he was thinker in residence for the South Australian Government.