Friday, September 26, 2014

A definition of social innovation

“We contend that social innovation is the best construct for understanding and producing lasting social change. We redefine social innovation to mean: A novel solution to a social problem that is more effective, efficient, sustainable or just than existing solutions and for which the value created accrues primarily to society as a whole rather than private individuals.”

Source: Phills, Deiglmeier, and Miller (2008)

A definition of social entrepreneurship

  • Adopting a mission to create and sustain social value
  • Recognizing and relentlessly pursuing new opportunities to serve that mission
  • Engaging in a process of continuous innovation, adaptation, and learning
  • Acting boldly without being limited to resources currently at hand
  • Exhibiting a heightened sense of accountability to the constituencies served

There may be many ways of solving a social problem.

1) NGOs / Government - Mission Driven Way

Funds can be raised, the government can set up departments and fund social projects

Government usually like large scale projects, focusing on equity, and the funds used should be accountable to voters. Generally slow moving and takes a long time to implement.

NGOs are often shaped by beliefs and values and the projects tend to be responsive to the board, community, donors and the public. It is also mission driven and operate under a non-distribution constraint.

2) Social Entrepreneurs

4 main criteria:
  • Innovation
  • Financial Sustainability
  • Impact
  • Scale
Mission and money are balanced Takes the best of “both worlds”

Goal: to create innovative, sustainable, effective, and scalable solutions to social problems

“Not just businessmen who see that something has to change…” 
M. Yunus

"As I see it, there are two great forces of human nature: self-interest and caring for others. Capitalism harnesses self-interest in helpful sustainable ways, but only on behalf of those who can pay. Philanthropy and government aid channel our caring for those who can’t pay, but the resources run out before they meet the need… To provide…for the poor we need a system that draws in innovators and businesses in a far better way….I like to call this system creative capitalism…."
B. Gates

"Social entrepreneurs are…the practical dreamers who have the talent and the skill and the vision to solve problems [and] to change the world….Social entrepreneurs have a unique approach that is both evolutionary and revolutionary, operating in free markets where success is measured not just in financial profit but also in the improvement of the quality of people’s lives."
Skoll Foundation


For social entrepreneurs, the starting a business with a social cause is not enough. Taking an Entrepreneurship approach brings innovation up front is key. I strongly feel that problems should be tackled at the source.

For example, instead of giving homeless people food and shelter (which many other NGOs are doing) A social entrepreneur should focus on how to prevent people from getting to that point of homelessness. Or ways where homeless people can get back on their feet and eventually rent / own a home.

Getting the beneficiaries choices and empowering them to solve their own problems should be key as they should feel more involved in the solution that will directly affect them. I've met many brilliant social entrepreneurs who would "think for" their beneficiaries, and for many cases, it works after much iteration. However if the beneficiary is a person, shouldn't they be engaged be part of the solution, instead of being seen as the problem?

I always have a quote which I deeply believe in. 

"Poor people are NOT stupid people.
M. Yunus.

And I feel that engaging them from the start, and empowering them to be part of the solution should be the first start of any social enterprise. 

-- Robin Low

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