Prominent social innovators include 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.
Social innovation refers to new strategies, concepts, ideas, and organizations that extend and strengthen civil society or meet societal needs of all kinds—from working conditions and education to community development and health.
Organizations, both for for-profit and nonprofit, benefit enormously from incorporating social innovation into their operations. Giving back to to the community and empowering the individuals you work with and sell to (i.e., stakeholders) improves employee morale, grows wealth for potential customers, builds a strong brand, and underlines social responsibility and high ethicalstandards as central to the organizational character.
The term "social innovation" has overlapping meanings. Sometimes it refers to social processes of innovation like open-source methods and techniques. Other times it refers to innovations that have a social purpose, like microcredit or distance learning. The concept can also be related to social entrepreneurship (entrepreneurship is not necessarily innovative, but it can be a means of innovation). On occasion, it also overlaps with innovation in public policy and governance. Social innovation can take place within the government sector, 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.
The Process of Social Innovation
Social innovation is often an effort of mental creativity that involves fluency and flexibility across a wide range of disciplines. The act of social innovation in a sector encompasses diverse disciplines within society. The social innovation theory of "connected difference" emphasizes three key dimensions of social innovation:
First, it usually produces new combinations or hybrids of existing elements, rather than wholly new.
Second, it cuts across organizational or disciplinary boundaries.
Last, it creates compelling new relationships between previously separate individuals and groups. Social innovation is currently gaining visibility within academia.
Examples of Social Innovation
There are many examples of social innovation making a meaningful difference across the globe—from huge organizations like the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation funding multinational initiatives to small groups of community leaders collecting money to help buy new high school textbooks. Some specific examples include:
The University of Chicago sought to develop social innovations that would address and ameliorate the immense problems caused by poverty in a largely immigrant city around the turn of the 20th century.
Prominent social innovators include Bangladeshi Muhammad Yunus, the founder of Grameen Bank, who pioneered the concept of microcredit for supporting innovators in multiple developing countries in Asia, Africa, and Latin America.
Stephen Goldsmith, former Indianapolis mayor, engaged the private sector in providing many city services.