Social innovations are new strategies, concepts, ideas and
organizations that meet the social needs of different elements which
can be from working conditions and education to community development
and health — they extend and strengthen 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, online volunteering, microcredit, or
Prominent innovators associated with the term include Pakistani Akhter
Hameed Khan, 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,
and also inspired programs such as the Infolady Social
Entrepreneurship Programme of Dnet (A
Social Enterprise) and
Stephen Goldsmith, former
Indianapolis mayor who engaged the private
sector in providing many city services.
1 Matters of Definition
4 Developments Since 2000
4.1 Institutional support
5 Local and regional development
6 Some noted scholars
7 See also
Matters of Definition
Innovation has an inter-sectoral approach and is universally
Social Innovations are launched by a variety of actors,
including research institutions, companies or independent
organizations, which each tend to use their own definition of Social
Innovation. Therefore, it is worth discussing the most important
aspects that distinguish it from other forms of social work or
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 serving the productivity).
focuses on new work and new forms of cooperation (business models),
especially those that work towards a sustainable society.
The Young Foundation, in order to distinguish between social and
business innovation, stressed that social innovation is developed and
diffused via organisations, whose primary purposes are not centred on
mere profit maximisation (Mulgan et al., 2007, p. 8). The Bureau
of European Policy Advisers more precisely defined social innovation
as socially oriented in both ends and means (Hubert, 2010). According
to these influential definitions, social innovation is characterised
by: the capacity to address social needs that traditional policy seems
increasingly unable to tackle; the empowerment of groups and
individuals; and the willingness to change social relations. Hence,
social innovation is often presented as a way to increase the quality
of social services and their cost-effectiveness, offering equivalent,
if not superior, outcomes despite considerable budget constraints.
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. Research has focused on the types of
platforms needed to facilitate such cross-sector collaborative social
Social entrepreneurship, like social enterprise, is typically in the
nonprofit 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.
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.
Since 2014, a subdomain of social innovation has been defined in
relation to the introduction of digital technologies. The subdomain is
called digital social innovation and refers to "a type of social and
collaborative innovation in which innovators, users and communities
collaborate using digital technologies to co-create knowledge and
solutions for a wide range of social needs and at a scale and speed
that was unimaginable before the rise of the Internet".
Social innovation was discussed in the writings of figures such as
Peter Drucker and Michael Young (founder of the
Open University and
dozens of other organizations) in the 1960s. It also appeared in
the work of French writers in the 1970s, such as Pierre Rosanvallon,
Jacques Fournier, and Jacques Attali. However, the themes and
concepts in social innovation existed long before. Benjamin Franklin,
for example, talked about small modifications within the social
organization of communities that could help to solve everyday
problems. Many radical 19th century reformers like Robert Owen,
founder of the cooperative movement, promoted innovation in the social
field and all of the great sociologists including Karl Marx, Max Weber
Émile Durkheim focused attention on broader processes of social
change. Other theories of innovation became prominent in the 20th
century, many of which had social implications, without putting social
progress at the center of the theory. Joseph Schumpeter, for example,
addressed the process of innovation directly with his theory of
creative destruction and his definition of entrepreneurs as people who
combined existing elements in new ways to create a new product or
service. Beginning in the 1980s, writers on technological change
increasingly addressed how social factors affect technology
The article “Rediscovering
Social Innovation” mentions how social
innovations are dependent on history and the change in institutions.
The article discusses the ten recent social innovations reflecting
current change to include:
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 students as related regulations are less stringent for
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
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
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
Supported Employment: Supported Employment is a social innovation
geared towards helping disabled or disadvantaged workers who are un-
or 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
Over the last two decades social innovation has gained significant
popularity as a strategy to tackle new social risks including
population ageing and its health correlates (Hubert, 2010; Mulgan et
al., 2007, 2010; Murray, Caulier-Grice and Mulgan, 2010). However, as
other concepts recently developed within the academic debate – among
them, social capital (Ferragina, 2012) – social innovation might
soon turn out to be simply another way to juxtapose the qualifier
“social” to the private sector jargon, in order to avoid heated
discussions on structural inequalities (Grisolia and Ferragina,
In the context of ‘neoliberal austerity’, a strong call in favour
of social innovation might hide the attempt to shift public attention
from structural deficiencies and disparities to individual and group
responsibility, following the vision: "doing more with less". In order
to guarantee universal coverage and universal social rights, however,
the welfare state system cannot be managed with the logic of mere
cost-effectiveness alone (Grisolia and Ferragina, 2015). A
Universal coverage is the precondition for any well-functioning
economy, not the other way around. As such, the enhancement of
“politically motivated policies under the pretence of budget cuts”
can be particularly dangerous in its consequences for population
health (Kleinert and Horton, 2013, p. 1074).
per se might not be able to substantially tackle pressing social
needs. Rather, the all-innovating and self-empowering jargon currently
in vogue might disguise a dangerous inattention to structural
inequalities, adversely affecting health outcomes across the board,
but especially of the poorest. Among the therapies prescribed by the
neoliberal orthodoxy – liberalisation, deregulation, devolution,
individual or group empowerment – social innovation might soon
reveal itself as a convenient buzzword, an eclectic concept to
dissimulate political choices, legitimated by the doctrine of
budgetary constraints. The redistribution of resources “from
past to present generations” – keeping constant the overall public
spending – and the shift from a “transfer-based” to a
“service-based” welfare state would represent a truly innovative
approach to social policy, offering a credible and responsible
alternative to the magic wand of social innovation.
Developments Since 2000
Academic research, blogs and websites feature social innovation, along
with organizations working on the boundaries of research and practical
action. Topics include:
Innovation in public services was pioneered particularly in some
Scandinavian and Asian countries. Governments are increasingly
recognizing that innovation requires healthcare, schooling and
Social entrepreneurship, which is the practice of creating new
organizations focusing on non-market activities.
Responsible Research and Innovation, which takes into account effects
and potential impacts on the environment and society. It includes
Engagement of all societal actors (researchers, industry, policymakers
and civil society); Gender Equality; Science Education; Open Access;
Ethics; and Governance.
Online volunteering, a free service launched in 2000 whereby
individuals from all over the world contribute to the needs of
development organizations and public institutions
Open source innovation, in which the intellectual property involved in
a product or service is made freely available.
Complex adaptive systems, which have built-in mechanisms to help them
adapt to changing circumstances.
Collaborative approaches which involve stakeholders who are not
directly responsible for some activity, such as stockholders and
unions collaborating on business issue and business collaborating with
government on regulatory issues.
Localized influences that make some localities particularly
Institutional or system entrepreneurship which focuses on agents who
work at a broad system level in order to create the conditions which
will allow innovations to have a lasting impact.
Business, particularly in services.
The US created an Office for
Innovation in the White House,
which is funding projects that combine public and private
resources. with foundations that support social innovation. In
2010, the US government listed 11 investments made by its 'Social
Innovation Fund', with public funding more than matched by
philanthropic organizations. This fund focuses on partnerships with
charities, social enterprises, and business. Moreover, educational
institutions are now increasingly supporting teaching and research in
the area of social innovation. In addition to pioneered efforts by
institutions such as the Harvard Business School's Initiative on
Social Enterprise (launched 1993) and Said Business School's Skoll
Social Entrepreneurship (launched 2003), INSEAD and
other universities now offer short-term programs in
and a few such as Goldsmiths, University of London offer Masters
courses dedicated entirely to the study of theory and practice in
relation to social entrepreneurship and innovation.
Public policy makers support social innovation in the UK, Australia,
China and Denmark, as well. The European Union’s innovation
strategy was the first well-funded research and development
strategy to emphasize social innovation.
In 2002, the South Australian government, led by Premier and Social
Inclusion Minister Mike Rann, embraced a ten-year social innovation
strategy with big investments and a focus on reform in areas such as
homelessness, school retention, mental health and disability services.
The Common Ground and Street to Home homelessness initiatives and
the Australian Centre for
Social Innovation were established in
Adelaide and many reforms trialed in South Australia have been adopted
nationally throughout Australia. This initiative, headed by Monsignor
David Cappo, South Australia's
Social Inclusion Commissioner, was
advised by 'Thinkers in Residence'
Geoff Mulgan and New York social
entrepreneur Rosanne Haggerty.
Local and regional development
Literature on social innovation in relation to territorial/regional
development covers innovation in the social economy, i.e. strategies
for satisfaction of human needs; and innovation in the sense of
transforming and/or sustaining social relations, especially governance
relations at the regional and local level. Beginning in the late
1980s, Jean-Louis Laville and
Frank Moulaert researched social
Canada CRISES initiated this type of
research. Another, larger project was SINGOCOM a European
Commission Framework 5 project, which pioneered so-called "Alternative
Models for Local Innovation" (ALMOLIN). These models were further
elaborated through community actions covered by KATARSIS and
SOCIAL POLIS. More recent works focus on the societal role of the
economic life in terms of innovations in social practices and social
relations at the local and regional levels.
therefore, is increasingly seen as a process and a strategy to foster
human development through solidarity, cooperation, and cultural
The EU funded URBACT programme is designed to help cities to exchange
and learn around urban policies. The URBACT methodology can be seen as
a social innovation action planning approach. A typical URBACT network
would have ten cities working on a specific theme such as active
inclusion or regenerating disadvantaged neighbourhoods. They examine
good practice and then working through a local support group use the
results to inform their local action plan.
Innovation Europe initiative, funded by the European
Commission's Directorate General for Enterprise and Industry, was set
up to map social innovation at a European level, by creating a
directory of grass-roots examples of social innovation from across the
27 member states.
European Commission funded the SELUSI study between 2008 - 2013
that looked at over 550 social ventures and examined how these
insights can spark change and innovation at a much larger scale. It
looked at business models of social ventures in five countries - UK
being one of them – identifying which specific practices evolved by
social ventures are particularly successful, and how and by whom –
be it social enterprise, public sector body or mainstream business–
they can be most effectively scaled-up.
European Commission has launched a new initiative (project) in
2013 under FP7 funding, with the aim to build a network of incubators
for social innovation across regions and countries. This network
facilitates identification of 300 social innovation examples and
facilitates its scaling. The network is organised in a way to identify
new models for scaling of social innovations across various
geographical clusters in collaboration with each other, communicating
the ideas, finding the tools and funds, developing business plans and
models in order to promote the new promising ideas throughout Europe.
A guide also exists that provides a way to promote social innovations
at a local or regional level.
Some noted scholars
Akhtar Hameed Khan
Ferragina, E. (2012) "
Social Capital in Europe".
Europe Tomorrow, (2015) "Europe tour of
Social & Environmental
Social innovation exchange, (2015) "worldwide social innovation
Grisolia F. and Ferragina, E. (2015) "
Innovation on the Rise:
yet another buzzword in a time of austerity1?", Salute e Società 1
Hubert A. (ed.) (2010). Empowering People, Driving Change: Social
Innovation in the European Union. Brussels: BEPA – Bureau of
European Policy Advisers.
Kleinert S., Horton R. (2013).
Health in Europe – Successes,
Failures, and New Challenges. The Lancet, 381: 1073-1074.
Mulgan G., Tucker S., Rushanara A., Sanders B. (2007). Social
Innovation. What it is, why it matters and how it can be accelerated.
London: The Young Foundation.
Murray R., Caulier-Grice J., Mulgan G. (2010). The Open Book of Social
Innovation. London: The Young Foundation and Nesta.
^ Domanski, Monge, Quitiaquez, Rocha (2016). Innovación
Latinoamérica (PDF). Corporación Universitaria Minuto de Dios.
ISBN 978-958-763-196-8. CS1 maint: Multiple names: authors
^ Foreign, Mail (2012-11-02). "Info Ladies bringing the internet by
bike to the remote villages of Bangladesh Mail Online".
Dailymail.co.uk. Retrieved 2014-05-22.
^ "Internet rolls into Bangladesh villages on a bike".
Asafeworldforwomen.org. Retrieved 2014-05-22.
^ "Info Ladies – Riding Internet into Rural Bangladesh!". Amader
Kotha. 2012-11-08. Retrieved 2014-05-22.
^ a b c "Let's hear those ideas". The Economist. August 12, 2010.
Retrieved December 28, 2010.
^ Goldsmith, Stephen (March 2010). The Power of
Social Innovation: How
Civic Entrepreneurs Ignite Community Networks for Good. Jossey-Bass.
^ a b Klievink, B., & Janssen, M. (2014). "Developing multi-layer
information infrastructures: advancing social innovation through
public-private governance" "Information Systems Management"
^ a b c d e f g h i j k l James A. Phills Jr., Kriss Deiglmeier, &
Dale T. Miller "Rediscovering
Social Innovation", Stanford Social
Innovation Review Fall 2008.
^ Mulgan. Geoff. "
Social Innovation: What it is, why it matters and
how it can be accelerated: Skoll Centre for
University of Oxford"
^ Nambisan, S. "Platforms for Collaboration", Stanford Social
Innovation Review, Summer 2009.
^ Howaldt, J./ Schwarz, M. "
Social Innovation: Concepts, research
fields and international trends", IMO international monitoring, 2010.
^ F. Bria, DSI4EU final report, 2015, available at:
^ see for example Gavron, Dench e ds Young at 80, Carcanet Press,
London, 1995 for a comprehensive overview of one of the world's most
successful social innovators
^ Chambon, J.-L, David, A. and Devevey, J.-M (1982), Les Innovations
Sociales, Presses Universitaires de France, Paris
^ "Mumford, M.D. (2002)
Social Innovation: Ten Cases from Benjamin
Creativity Research Journal'', 14(2), 253-266".
Leaonline.com. 1970-01-01. Retrieved 2014-05-22.
^ notably in the writings of Christopher Freeman, Carlotta Perez, Ian
Miles and others
^ "Charter School.". Wikimedia Foundation, n.d. Web. Feb.
^ a b c Grisolia, Francesco and Ferragina, Emanuele. (2015), "Social
Innovation on the Rise: yet another buzzword in a time of austerity?"
(Salute e società, Vol. 1(2015), pp. 169-179).
Innovation in the Public Sector an overview of thinking about
innovation in the public sector, published by the UK government's
Strategy Unit in 2003
^ Ready or Not? published by The Young Foundation in 2007 about the
need for public sector organizations to innovate
Social Entrepreneurship, Oxford University Press 2007
^ Online Volunteering service
Innovation in open source article by harvard business school about
innovation in open source
^ Westley,Zimmerman and Patton; Getting to Maybe;Toronto, Random House
^ Nambisan, S. "Transforming
Government through Collaborative
Innovation", IBM Center for the Business of Government, April 2008
^ James A. Phills Jr., Kriss Deiglmeier, & Dale T. Miller
Social Innovation", Stanford
^ various studies by Greg Dees and others and the study published by
NESTA In and out of sync: growing social innovations, London 2007
^ Transfomers published by NESTA, London, 2008
^ Westley et al.2013 A Theory of Transformational agency in Linked
Social Ecological Systems, Ecology and Society
^ design companies article by Forbes magazine about how companies are
innovating in the way they offer services
^ Kohli, J. and
Geoff Mulgan (2007) Capital Ideas. How to Generate
Innovation in the Public Sector. The Young Foundation and Center for
Social Enterprise Initiative at Harvard Business School".
Hbs.edu. Retrieved 2014-05-22.
^ "The Skoll Centre for
Social Entrepreneurship, Said Business School,
University of Oxford". Sbs.ox.ac.uk. Retrieved 2014-05-22.
Social Entrepreneurship Programme". Insead.edu. Retrieved
^ "The Goldsmiths MA Programme in
Social Entrepreneurship, University
of London". Gold.ac.uk. 2014-04-16. Retrieved 2014-05-22.
^ Mulgan, Ali, Tucker;
Social innovation: what it is, why it matters,
how it can be accelerated, published by Said Business School, Oxford,
^ "Home page -
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^ Murray, R., Caulier- Grice and
Geoff Mulgan (2010) The Open Book of
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^ Laville, J.-L. (Ed.) (1994) L’économie solidaire, une perspective
internationale, Desclée de Brouwer, Paris
^ "Moulaert, F. and Sekia, F. (2003) Territorial
Innovation Models: a
Critical Survey, ''Regional Studies'', 37(3), 289-302".
Taylorandfrancis.metapress.com. 1970-01-01. Retrieved
^ CRISES Archived December 14, 2007, at the Wayback Machine.
Social Innovation, Governance, and Community Building (2002–2004)
^ "KATARSIS Homepage". Katarsis.ncl.ac.uk. 2009-10-07. Retrieved
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^ MacCallum, D., Moulaert, F., Hillier, J. and S. Vicari (Eds) (2009)
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^ Masselin, Matthieu. "''Is
Innovation the Future of
Economy?'', ParisTech Review, Dec. 2011". Paristechreview.com.
^ Jegou F., Bonneau M., (2015)
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^ The Guide to
Social Innovation. Belgium: European Commission, 2013