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How Can Social Innovation Work?

How Can Social Innovation Work?

Social innovation is any idea or business that seeks to improve the lives or living conditions of its surrounding environment. It is a popular concept that has triggered organizations to think of how best to implement their own ideas and have the desired impact.

It has been defined by experts as “the process of developing and deploying effective solutions to challenging as well as often systemic social and environmental issues in support of social progress. It is not the prerogative or privilege of any organizational form or legal structure but collective efforts as solutions often require the active collaboration of constituents across government, business, and the nonprofit world”.[1]

Social innovation has been misinterpreted as impact investing, social impact activities, charity and so on, however, it is bigger than these as its main aim is to address social and environmental issues. It can take on different forms, for example in developing countries, social innovation can be about power generation, access to finance, technology, while in rural areas it could be sustainable agricultural production, social farming, or renewable energy.[2] Examples include[3]:

  • Social – grassroots innovation responding to pressing social demands not yet addressed and targeted at vulnerable groups in the society. An example of a social issue addressed by social innovation is an American company- Groundswells that encourages consumers to use their electricity for good through what they call Civic Consumption where consumers can use their money to support responsible businesses, save money, and promote local wealth. Groundswells brings people and organizations together where those that can afford to, pay for energy for those that cannot afford to.[4]


  • Societal – addresses a broader level and society as a whole. An example is a san francisco based, African focused company- Kickstart that set up in Africa to make available portable water to farming communities, primarily in Kenya, Tanzania and Mali using irrigation technology. They help farmers grow crops out of season and have succeeded in lifting 667,000 people out of poverty , helping to create an entrepreneurial middle class.[5]


  • Systemic – relates to fundamental changes in attitudes, values, policies, organizational structures and services. Speakingbooks, a South African initiative, focused on tackling mental health awareness. It seeks to encourage people to get help when they need it, give them the platform to access proper healthcare and for the society to be more aware of critical healthcare issues around them[6].

Regardless of what form social innovation takes, the fundamental elements surrounding it are: [7]

  • The introduction and application of a new concept to a field
  • Moving from invention to implementation
  • Meeting a social need effectively
  • Ability to impact a society positively

The following should be considered when applying effective business management to social innovation to ensure it is sustainable[8]:

  1. Selecting the right personnel and collaborators from the beginning.
  2. Making sure that there is enough funding to keep the initiative running.
  3. Ensuring that businesses focus on their strengths in order to scale when required to.

Social innovation is still a work in progress. People are becoming more accustomed to the idea of innovating for change and impact investing. It is therefore imperative that it is effectively managed to ensure sustainability.






[1] (Soule, n.d.)

[2] (Melece, 205)

[3] (Agnes Hubert)

[4] (Johnson, 2018)

[5] (Mina Holland, 2012)

[6] (Mina Holland, 2012)

[7] (Caulier-Grice)

[8] Ben Gold (Forbes)

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