← Techstars Blog

The term “social innovation” is relatively new, but the concept itself is not. There are many examples of social innovation throughout history, from kindergartens to hospices, and from the cooperative movement to microfinance.

Social innovation is the act of framing new ideas, products, services or business models that simultaneously meet social needs and create new relationships or collaborations. There is a common myth that social innovations are essentially non-profits, but they are not. Social innovation can take place in for-profit, non-profit, or government spaces or in the spaces between them. Social innovations come from individuals, groups or organizations. Increasingly, they are happening in the spaces between these three sectors as perspectives collide to spark new ways of thinking. In simple words, a social innovation is an idea that works for the public good. These solutions are both social in their ends and in their means. They can take the form of genuine innovations or of improved solutions.

Social innovation as a new framework for entrepreneurship has been a fad for the last couple of decades in parts of Europe and other parts of the first world, and it is now catching up in other parts of the world, especially in Asian countries.

In order to understand social innovation, we first have to understand the theory of change.

Theory of Change:

A single or simple answer can’t tell us how a social innovation occurs. Social change is the result of a tremendously complex mix of ingredients: environmental conditions, social conditions and individual actors colliding to spark world-changing ideas. There is an underlying magic to social innovation that precludes any simple recipe for success.

A social start-up fosters itself based on the following three criteria:

  1. Diversity:

Social innovation occurs best in diverse environments. Innovation rarely occurs within homogenous or staid structures. It happens at the peripheries, where differing approaches bump up against each other and stimulate new ways of thinking. This diversity leads to new opportunities and robust and flexible responses to common challenges. We can’t create change by doing the same things we’ve always done. By introducing diversity we provoke discovery.

  1. The Right Environment:

Social innovation needs a conducive physical environment. Social innovators need actual spaces to spark, develop and apply their ideas. Without access to resources and support structures, even the best ideas have trouble taking flight. Balancing these characteristics, we can create a dynamic that stimulates new ideas to germinate and blossom.

  1. Animation and Growth:

Finally, we have learned that some gentle animation can do wonders. In addition to the physical space and a diverse mix of people, it is the interventions and learning opportunities that help make connections and stimulate new thoughts and ways of doing. These inputs foster individual and collective growth and creates an environment that produces original action, which is key. And when a new idea begins to surface, a gentle touch helps it to grow.

Social Innovation – The Past Decade:

The following are some recent and contemporary trends taking place all over the globe in the past ten years:

  • Innovation in public services was pioneered particularly in some Scandinavian and Asian countries. Governments are increasingly recognizing that innovation requires healthcare, schooling and democracy.

  • Increase in social entrepreneurship, which is the practice of creating new organizations focusing on non- market activities.

  • 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 issues and business collaborating with government on regulatory issues.

  • Innovation diffusion

  • Localized influences that make some localities particularly innovative.

  • 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.

Yes, social entrepreneurship and social innovation is becoming a fad in today’s society. More social innovations are taking place. All the developing countries are transforming. Society today is becoming collaborative by finding common and adoptable solutions to problems that exist. More and more platforms, support groups, incubators, accelerators, funders and events exist and more are flourishing in every part of the globe in order give the world collaborative solutions to address their problems.

You don’t need any specific background or qualifications to become a social entrepreneur. Anyone who has an idea to change a social problem or an idea which serves a social good for everyone and takes a step forward in implementing the idea is a social entrepreneur. You too can be a social entrepreneur one day. Let’s build a problem-free and collaborative world together.







Karthik Shankar