Social Innovation: words, meaning, and action
Social innovation is a term used globally to describe and identify quite different activities. We propose a definition that is value-laden, distinctive and focused – from inception to impact – on equality, justice and empowerment.
A comment on one of our articles in Pioneers Post shouted ‘don’t talk about it just do it!’
That’s fine if you know what you are doing but we have become increasingly aware that doing social innovation or doing social enterprise or doing social entrepreneur type stuff means a whole lot of things to whole lot of people. And what they are all doing using these words does not mean their actions end up making the world a better place – in fact sometimes it makes it worse. So we figured it was worth talking about a bit more.
We were surprised when we arrived two years ago in Austria with a great bunch of people from all over the world at a Masters of Arts in Social Innovation programme, to discover that what we thought social innovation was about was not quite what others made of it. In fact we discovered that for some a McDonald’s hamburger could qualify as a social innovation because it had social effects – even it that effect in many places was an increase in fat.
Claudia Wittig now working with TECHO in Mexico City was equally surprised. Out of life experience as well as critical reflection we all felt uncomfortable with the nebulous nature of what the term meant so we decided to write a paper to put our case together for a clear definition that linked words and meaning to what these meant in action.
That paper has now been published by the Centre for Social Innovation in Vienna – ZSI – and has been also published by Social Innovation Europe.
Here is the abstract:
Social innovation is a term used globally to describe and identify quite different activities. While it is a term that everyone likes to use, precisely what it refers to is not always clear. This paper explores different definitional approaches or intentions –legitimating, theoretical, action-reflection, broad and distinctive– and considers why a definition of social innovation is important and what the crucial ingredients, informed more by practice than theory, might be. Following lessons learnt from postmodernity and critical theory, social marketing, democracy, governance and social entrepreneurship, we arrive at a definition that is value-laden, distinctive and focused – from inception to impact – on equality, justice and empowerment.
It is the last three words that are the most meaningful and require the most urgent action.
We believe these three words should also be applied to definitions of social enterprise – and that we should not be shy of using them when these words provide the meaning that drives our actions to make the world a fairer place.
Hope you have the time to read it and even enjoy it. Read the paper here: