What exactly is Social Innovation?

People often ask me what Social Innovation is and my answer constantly evolves, but I strongly feel that it’s importance will continue to emerge.

Social Innovation is finding solutions to the social, cultural and environmental challenges we together face.

The world and our society has experienced unprecedented growth in the last 100 years. While we have marvelled at our progress we are only now starting to realise the impact on ourselves, on our communities and on our earth.
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Social Innovation challenges these notions. It asks us to look outside the systems that are now such a part of our lives, to challenge our unquenchable desire to consume, our sometimes limiting education systems, our population explosion and it’s impact, and our often crumbling health systems.

It often pushes for a reconnection to our community, it offers us the opportunity to make a difference in our lives, the lives of those around us, of our global village and, our precious planet.

The examples are varied yet so very exciting:

From Umair H and his New Capitalist Manifesto:   Breaking habits of extracting value and running passionless organisations, to creating enduring, authentic value for people. Enter Meaning Organisations: create micro- and macro-structures that fuel radically meaningful work, life, and play.

To the new consumer behaviour Collaborative Consumption where we swap or barter or pay for goods and services that we would have mindlessly discarded in the 20th century hyper-consumption model.

We’re connected in a way that we never before dreamed. The What Took You So Long Foundation is a team dedicated to filming grassroots NGOs, untold stories, & unsung heroes in some of the more remote corners of the globe.

Or the Start Your School Online supercoolschool.com platform that empowers everyone to create customized education environments for live online learning.

To help and supports these entrepreneurs,  organisations such as The Unreasonable Institute aim to give altruistic entrepreneurs skills and funding to effect large-scale change.

This is only a fraction of what is going on, with Social Innovation going on ingovernment to open it up, micro-donation sites that give loans to entrepreneurs in developing countries such as Kiva or the people powered political activist group GetUp, which played such a big part in the last election.

This is only just the beginning, the future is very excited now that we are so connected, informed and increasingly frustrated and empowered to make positive change.

What are your examples? And, do you have anything to add to this definition? It is always evolving and growing so would love to hear.


  1. There is an entire edition of The Philanthropist (2010) volume 23 number 3 that is dedicated to social innovation. It is available on line at http://www.thephilanthropist.ca/index.php/phil/issue/current. Most of the examples are Canadian. Geraldin Cahill authored a chapter titled “Primer on Social Innovation A Compendium of Definitions Developed by Organizations Around the World” http://www.thephilanthropist.ca/index.php/phil/article/view/846. Lots of definitions on social innovation.

    The definitions continue to evolve. The examples are many and growing. I was asked 3 days ago where I draw the line between a social innovation, social enterprise and more traditional concepts of innovations. I struggled to answer and realized we know the ends of the spectrum but everything in the middle is fuzzy. it is especially fuzzy when a technological innovation can bring a social benefit.

    Is that a social innovation, a technological innovation or an economic innovation? Yes to all three.

    Thanks for keeping the dialogue alive!

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