Why social innovation isn’t just a buzzwordPosted by Georgina Combes in blog June 11, 2012
Social innovation is one of my feature phrases this year. While it sounds like a term you can play buzzword bingo with – “we’re going to social innovationise this product of ours”, it’s actually really cool. And what it means has far more depth than most unnecessary and complicated business jargon.
So what is it? Philanthropy 2.0? A new wave of Corporate Social Investment? Taking cause related marketing campaigns to a new level?
Or, is it a complete side step from ‘do good giving’ which has mostly been motivated by sense of guilt or duty to give back when wealth, benefit or privilege has been gained at the expense of those less able to access it? Not that I’m saying giving isn’t really important, but that social innovation is offering something more than just offsetting a feeling through donations.
I see social innovation – or enterprise/ entrepreneurship – as something completely different and a whole lot more than charity. It’s when visionary people invest their ideas in making things better for others. Jamie Oliver’s Fifteen apprentice programme is a leading example that set the trend.
Recently the social innovation scene seems to have exploded with lots of really interesting initiatives. Some of the ones that have crossed my radar are the Deloitte Social Innovation Pioneers, Britain’s 50 new radicals as judged by Nesta and the Observer, examples from the voice of youth in the UK Live Magazine UK, and their sister publication in South Africa Live Magazine SA, the Young Foundation’s YearHere venture, and charity consultancy arm AfriKids squared.
Why has this area grown? I think the ideas behind social innovation come from the shift to more collectivist and collaborative ways of thinking and working. I also think it comes from more and more people wanting to find meaning in what they do and wanting to connect to the people they’re doing it for or with, while still earning a good living and staying in business. Social enterprises might even end up doing better than the big businesses, as is Richard Branson and Jamie Oliver’s warning to corporations. By challenging the status quo of traditional business models, social enterprises are putting themselves in a more financially sustainable position.
How are social enterprises doing it differently? People who are building their companies on the principle of doing things better and making things better for others have cracked a hard nut. They’re positioning their idea/ product/ service/ business in the space that ticks the box for what society needs, and what people, business and the people that work for businesses, need. At Futerra we call this the sweet spot. The illusive space that lots of our clients are trying to find – and when they do it truly sizzles. For one of our long-standing clients we’re developing a social enterprise model that will deliver for the business, for employees and for young people in the places the company calls home. This triple win is what will drive this proposition beyond a dream to better the lives of people around the world.
As a communications agency our focus is on words that work – the ones that engage the audiences they are targeting. So we’re going to have to get thinking about how we talk about social innovation in everyday speak so it’s not just seen as the latest, flash-in-the-pan business buzzword. Especially because I don’t think social innovation is going to go away any time soon.
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June 22, 2012
Hey there, writing from Canada. Saw your post. I work in Communications for Social Innovation Generation and am constantly grappling to find the most accessible language for social innovation work. I agree it’s not a buzzword, and would love to follow your work and exchange ideas from time to time.