Social innovations are new social practices that aim to meet social needs in a better way than the existing solutions, resulting from, for example working conditions, education, community development or health. These ideas are created with the goal of extending and strengthening 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 activism, virtual volunteering, microcredit, or distance learning. There are many definitions of social innovation, however, they usually include the broad criteria about social objectives, social interaction between actors or actor diversity, social outputs, and innovativeness (The innovation should be at least ”new” to the beneficiaries it targets, but it does not have to be new to the world). Different definitions include different combinations and different number of these criteria (e.g. EU is using definition stressing out social objectives and actors interaction). Transformative social innovation not only introduces new approaches to seemingly intractable problems, but is successful in changing the social institutions that created the problem in the first place.
Social Innovation has an inter-sectoral approach and is universally applicable. Social Innovations are launched by a variety of actors, including research institutions, companies and independent organizations, which tend to use their respective definitions of Social Innovation. Therefore, it is worth discussing what distinguishes it from other forms of social work or innovation.
Social Innovation focuses on the process of innovation, how innovation and change take shape (as opposed to the more traditional definition of innovation, giving priority to the internal organization of firms and their productivity). It likewise centers on new work and new forms of cooperation (business models), especially on those that work towards the attainment of a sustainable society.
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. Higher education institutions, such as the Cambridge Centre for Social Innovation, Cambridge Judge Business School, University of Cambridge, leverage the power of research to support this aim. Research has focused on the types of platforms needed to facilitate such cross-sector collaborative social innovation. Historical studies suggest that transforming any system may take many years, and requires not only the capacity for multiple partnerships, but also for engaging policy, legal and economic institutions.
Social entrepreneurship, like social enterprise, is typically in the non-profit sector excluding both for-profit and public organizations. Both social entrepreneurship and social enterprise are important contributions to social innovation by creating social value and introducing new ways of achieving goals. Social entrepreneurship brings “new patterns and possibilities for innovation” and are willing to do things that existing organizations are not willing to do.
Those startups motivated by a social mission can improve their business performance via equity and non-equity strategic alliances, to enhance growth and foster social innovation. However, sustainable growth requires to attract the right investments at the right stage of development of the startup. developed a framework based on international business theory to explain the mechanisms regulating strategic alliances and firm performance in the context of startups with a social mission.
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. First, innovations are usually new combinations or hybrids of existing elements, rather than completely new. Second, their practice involves cutting across organizational or disciplinary boundaries. Lastly, they leave behind compelling new relationships between previously separate individuals and groups. Social innovation is also gaining visibility within academia.
Recent Social Innovation:
Charter schools: Charter schools are a social innovation that provides an alternative avenue for students to continue to develop and build upon their educational foundation without many of the issues prominent in the public school system. These primary and secondary schools are publicly funded and operate independently, which allows the teachers and parents to collaboratively develop alternative teaching methods for their student’s as related regulations are less stringent for Charter Schools.
Community-centered planning: This social innovation allows communities to plan and develop systems that cater solutions to their specific local needs by using their historical knowledge and other local resources.
Emissions trading: The Emissions Trading program was designed to address issues associated with the continuous increase in pollution. The program provides solutions such as setting a cap on the amount that certain pollutants can be emitted, and implementing a permit system to control the amount of pollution produced by each participating business. If a business needs to use more pollution than permitted, it can purchase credits from a business that has not emitted its maximum permitted amount. The goal of the Emissions Trading program is that, over time and with increased awareness, society will limit the types and the numbers of pollutants emitted to what is only necessary.
Fair Trade: Products including coffee, sugar, and chocolate are currently being traded without high standards that result in tough conditions for farmers and a less sustainable environment. Fair trade is a movement that certifies traders to exchange with the farmers that produce these products. The idea behind this movement is that by being paid a living-wage, being able to meet social and environmental standards and promoting “environmental sustainability, the lives of these farmers will be improved.
Habitat conservation plans: Habitat Conservation Plans is an effort by the US Fish and Wild Life Service and the Environmental Protection Agency to protect species and their endangerment by providing economical incentives to conserve their habitats and protect these species from endangerment.
Individual Development Accounts: This social innovation is made to support the working poor with saving decisions that they have made to better enhance their lives. This initiative will give $2 per every $1 saved by the working poor for College tuition, purchasing a home, starting a business, and other similar and productive initiatives. This is made possible by philanthropic, government and corporate sponsors that donate to this cause.
International labor standards: Labor standards differ country-to-country, with some agreeably better than others. In effort to internationally align these, the International Labor Organization, participating governments, and employees contributed to the development of standards that protect workers’ rights to freedom, equity, security, and human dignity”.
Microfinance: This social innovation is created to support those financially unable to gain access to financial services such as banking, lending, and insurance. The ultimate goal of Microfinance is to enable an escape from poverty by helping to improve the living conditions and financial viability among the impoverished program participants.
Socially responsible investing: “An investment strategy that attempts to maximize both financial and social returns. Investors generally favor businesses and other organizations whose practices support environmental sustainability, human rights, and consumer protection.”
Supported employment: Supported employment is a social innovation geared towards helping disabled or disadvantaged workers who are under-employed due to their condition obtain suitable employment. The Support Employment service provides access to job coaches, transportation, assistive technology, specialized job training, and individual tailored supervision in effort to help program participants become more competitive applicants and better prepared overall for the job market.