17 Apr 2013   |   Network Updates   |   Update from Esade
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ESADE study: social innovation plays key role in economic recovery

A new ESADE-sponsored study entitled “Social Innovation: Pathways to Systemic Change" was presented today at ESADE Madrid by its authors, Heloise Buckland, a researcher, and ESADE professor, David Murillo, track new developments in the social innovation field through the publication Antenna for Social Innovation.

They look at ways in which social innovation can become more influential and effective, and stress the role it plays in addressing  economic and political challenges. A central strand of the report finds that social innovation no longer focuses solely on covering gaps left by public services that defend basic rights.

The new study provides a snapshot of the huge variety of trends in the field by profiling four social innovation organisations: Avaaz, an online social-activism community with 15 million members in 194 countries; the Barcelona Food Bank, which mobilises 7,600 volunteers and 600 organisations throughout Catalonia; the Behavioural Insights Team, an independent body of the British government that incorporates economics in its analyses; and the community exchange markets that have fostered a culture of bartering in eight neighbourhoods of Barcelona.

"This selection shows that the lines between public initiatives, private initiatives and civil society are starting to blur, and that a new management model – in many cases more professional and results-oriented than before – is now emerging," said Mr. Murillo. 

Main factors in social innovation

"Social Innovation: Pathways to Systemic Change" identifies the key factors that help social innovation initiatives to address our various social and economic challenges: 

1. Social transformation and impact
Although social innovation is usually defined in terms of social problems, the new study subscribes to a broader definition that is gaining wider acceptance: taking in all initiatives that help address current economic, ethical or environmental challenges. It is essential that techniques be developed to measure the results of all initiatives included under this umbrella and to evaluate the performance of their participants as indicators of development. One key indicator is the extent to which an initiative achieves its stated objectives.

2. Inter-sector collaboration
Social innovation rarely takes place in isolation. In fact, the field has frequently shown that it is pointless to define spaces as either public or private, collective or individual. Traditional hierarchies have broken up, creating numerous venues and forums in which companies, governments and civil society can cooperate to develop better social services and products. Motivation and objectives vary by sector and type of participant, giving rise to hybrid organisations that are fascinating to watch.

3. Long-term economic sustainability and viability
Although there is no single definition for social enterprises,  it is generally agreed that these organisations differ from non-governmental or strictly philanthropic organisations in that their strategies are oriented towards financial sustainability and results. They are dedicated to efficiency, rapid return on investment and the capacity for long-term viability. Other common characteristics include the use of innovative fundraising techniques, low-cost implementation and growth-oriented strategies.

4. Innovation
Broadly speaking, social innovation can take one of two forms. The first is based on open innovation, in which all stakeholders are free to copy, use and adapt the original idea, and the second is based on the concept of intellectual property, in which knowledge stays in the hands of its creator. If we want to maximise social impact, we should pay especially close attention to initiatives that share their know-how.

5. Scalability and replication 
The ability to replicate and adapt social innovations to any scale or sector is important for two reasons. Firstly, many of today's social problems – including climate change, desertification and over-fishing of the oceans – are global. These problems require solutions at the global scale. Secondly, countless other aspects of society – from business to government – have been globalised, proving that what works in one city or country can be applied to another.

"In the future," explained Mr. Murillo, "you will perceive no division between private, public and non-governmental organisations. You'll just see community services, and their relevance will not be determined not by their nature but by these five factors. The ideas of excellence, open innovation and impact will be fundamental." He added: "The four cases described in the study are of academic interest because of the variables used to measure their results and the factors that favour their replication elsewhere."

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