Social Innovation for Advancement of Societies

Subject: Sociology
Pages: 30
Words: 8271
Reading time:
30 min
Study level: PhD

Introduction

Innovation forms an important tool for the advancement of societies throughout the world. The creation of new and socially innovative products and services not only promotes people’s living standards but also presents them with life-improving opportunities. For instance, successful innovations in the field of medicine have led to better health outcomes for societies while social modernization in the area of technology has made it easier for people to explore the environment around them. As such, social innovation has become an increasingly important concept in the policy-making process across various sectors, including education, health, economics, social affairs, and business. It is the most sought-after idea for solving complex problems at the societal level. Social innovation appreciates the fact that the world is in constant need of effective solutions for the ever-changing nature of public and environmental challenges that affect people on a daily basis. The concept of social innovation arose when different entities recognized the need for striving to create shared value through diverse activities and processes. According to Phillips, Lee, Ghobadian, O’Regan, and James (2015), three key mechanisms drive social innovation, namely, the exchange of ideas and values, a shift in roles and relationships, and collaboration between private and public sectors. Over the years, humankind has learned the importance of teamwork as a tool for solving common complex problems that bedevil people’s efforts to progress socially. Authors have attempted to distinguish social innovation from social entrepreneurship. The former brings together efforts by non-profit and for-profit organizations, including governments.

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Unfortunately, literature regarding social innovation is scanty in relation to studies on technological and business innovation. The past 20 years have been characterized by an increase in the adoption of business ideas in non-profit outfits. At the same time, businesses have also shifted toward creating social value via corporate social responsibility (CSR) and socially responsible business concepts. Therefore, conventionally, the issue of collective enterprise or entrepreneurship, which originated from the private sector, is often used interchangeably with social innovation. Through a literature review, this paper strictly explores social innovation beginning with its definition according to various authors. Further, it discusses findings presented in different studies regarding the history of this idea before dwelling on its growing importance in modern society. Further, this paper explores various fields, including health, education, business, and economics, where social innovation has been applied effectively with satisfactory results. Nonetheless, this study may not be exhaustive without a mention of the need for further research regarding advanced social innovations because of the ever-changing complexity of societal demands.

Literature Review

Defining Social Innovation

Despite having its origins in sociology, social innovation draws authors from different backgrounds, including sociologists, political scientists, and financial experts (Cajaibana-Santana, 2014). As a result, this concept has diverse definitions, each of which depends on the particular author’s view. Some meanings are specific. Thus, they exclude numerous aspects of innovation. Others are general enough to incorporate projects that are not necessarily innovative, provided they possess some form of social aspects (Cajaibana-Santana, 2014). According to Phillips et al. (2015), the reason behind varying definitions is that social innovation is practice-oriented. As such, people confer definitions and meanings based on what works for them, as opposed to adopting the conventional academic view. Consequently, social innovation implies diverse things to different people globally. O’Byrne, Miller, Douse, Venkatesh, and Kapucu (2014) argue that despite many people having a general idea regarding what social innovation entails, a universal definition of the concept is non-existent. Furthermore, the recent popularization of this idea has watered down its innovative dimension, thus risking rendering it a mere rhetoric (Ekeberg, Flanagan, Golembeck, & Ha, 2014). Nonetheless, the uncertainty surrounding the notion of social innovation has not prevented some authors from attempting to define it. As it will be revealed, some definitions are more admissible compared to others depending on particular contexts such as academics, politics, policymaking, or finance. This part of the literature review examines various definitions advanced by scholars.

A shallow approach to social innovation. One category of definitions centers on the adjective “social”, thus framing social innovation within the sphere of social sciences. According to Sampath (2014), the focus of this approach is to attempt to distinguish social innovation from other types, specifically, economic and technological modernism. In line with this assertion, Voorberg, Bekkers, and Tummers (2015) assert that social innovation should be seen as more than an outcome or side effect of technical modernization. Further, according to the American Radium Society (2014), when viewed as advancements of collective practices, social innovation forms a basic component of sociology. As such, it can only be analyzed and engendered in the context of a shared relationship structure. The above definition sets apart social modernism from technological innovations, thus limiting the description of the former to collective practice while identifying the latter as constituting technical processes. The above authors present social innovation as the bringing together of one or more shared practices within some fields of actions inspired by specific actors with the aim of offering a better way to satisfy the various collective needs.

As seen above, distinctive definitions of social innovation are limited to strategies that deal with collective needs and social justice. Therefore, these perspectives explicitly identify social justice outcomes that have real impacts, for instance, the improvement of people’s welfare, thus offering a clear-cut distinction from other types of innovations, namely, technological and economic forms of modernization. As such, Westley, McGowan, Antadze, Blacklock, and Tjornbo (2016) are of the view that a proper social innovation should specifically focus on promoting social justice and cohesion, hence qualifying as the primary determinant of the “good” of the society. The concept is at the center of social progression. Thus, according to Windrum, Schartinger, Rubalcaba, Gallouj, and Toivonen (2016), innovations that do not promote public happiness are unwelcome. In particular, Phillips et al. (2015) define social innovation as novel responses to demanding social needs whose outcome entails improving people’s well-being. Similarly, Murakami et al. (2014) identify social innovations as ideas, which are prompted by the need for addressing collective needs that have somewhat been neglected by the private market mechanisms or the state.

Some definitions go as far as identifying the specific social need they seek to address, including the particular context. In particular, as Mulgan (2017) reveals, the National Agency to Overcome Extreme Poverty (ANSPE) defines social innovation as sustainable practices, products, and services that once implemented have a better impact in relation to existing solutions that address the challenge of extreme poverty. This view is limited to the context of a single social need, namely, extreme poverty. Nonetheless, this definition proves that social innovation can be modified to fit specific goals and objectives intended by a scholar. Couto Soares and Cassiolato (2008) provide a perspective similar to that of ANSPE, although these authors target the fight against poverty. They define the concept as a social change that not only improves people’s living standards but also treats the fight against poverty and social inequality as a priority. By taking this approach, these definitions emphasize a specific problem, which is viewed as the core of what social innovation should entail. McGowan and Westley (2017) offer a distinctive definition that limits social innovation to the use of digital technologies to achieve social advancements or inclusion. Their view is shallow because it confines social innovation to the utilization of digital expertise.

Manzini (2014) defines the concept of social innovation by bringing together three aspects, namely, regulative, cultural, and normative. Normative innovations question existing practices and norms while regulative ones define and prescribe acceptable regulations for the society. Cultural innovations challenge prevailing ways of perceiving reality by influencing mindsets and habits. Manzini (2014) concludes his perspectives by presenting social innovations as transformations that transcend normative, cultural, and regulative structures of society to the extent of resulting in an improved collective bargain, both socially and economically. Manzini (2014) is keen to separate technological and economic innovations in the above definition. Technological innovations refer to new efficient means of transforming material realities while economic improvements constitute ways by which technological novelties are employed to create surplus value (Westley et al., 2016). These two views have been merged into what is referred to as techno-economic innovations, which according to Manzini (2014), need to be separated from social innovation. This author is not alone in his efforts to separate social innovation from other forms of modernization. Others such as Phillips et al. (2015) distinguish between social innovation and social entrepreneurship. The latter involves the creation of products and services that satisfy environmental and social needs. On the other hand, social innovation involves the development of social structures that help to reframe issues of education, justice, environmental protection, and community development with the view of creating new solutions (Phillips et al., 2015). Similarly, Windrum et al. (2016) separate social innovation from economic novelty. According to them, the former does not concern itself with the introduction of new means of production but rather the identification of new effective ways to satisfy existing human needs (Windrum et al., 2016). Further, they argue that social innovation seeks to improve people’s welfare via employment, participation, and consumption with the aim of resolving individual and community problems (Windrum et al., 2016). therefore, if this definition is upheld, social innovation and community development become intertwined. Herrera (2015) seemingly agrees with the view given by Windrum et al. (2016) because he recognizes social innovation as the process of identifying and delivering services aimed at improving people’s quality of life. He lists examples of social innovations in the workforce such as new labor market practices, new competencies, and improved employee participation. These definitions have a narrow or distinctive context since they are dedicated to specific social challenges and their respective resolutions.

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A broader approach to social innovation. Unlike the scope of definitions explored above, the categories presented below have expanded the concept of social innovation to capture activities across a wide array of fields and societal levels. for instance, Harvey Brook’s innovation typology brought together market innovations such as leasing, political innovations, management innovations, and institutional innovations, including cooperative societies, all under the ambit of social innovations (Manzini, 2014). Harvey Brooks belongs to a class of authors who view cynically the need for having distinctive definitions such as those discussed above regarding the concept of social innovation. Voorberg et al. (2015) maintain that distinguishing social from economic innovation is impractical and unnecessarily restrictive. They go ahead to list examples of economic novelties, which double up as social innovations, namely, microfinance and fair trade movements, employment, and cooperative societies. However, it may seem that a distinction between social and economic modernism and technological by extension is merely imagined, as opposed to being practical. Borzaga and Bodini (2014) enlarge the concept to include any activity that broadens the society’s capability to act collectively. Another similarly amorphous definition recognizes social innovation as the rolling out of the innovation process to the public (Cole, Nyirenda, Fazal, & Bates, 2016). In line with this definition, companies, universities, customers, and research bodies all become agents of the innovation process. Thus, according to these authors, social innovation is a broadly shared phenomenon that extends literally to all occupations. Hawley (2014) presents the concept as a wider process involving the introduction of new products, programs, or processes whereby the outcome entails a transformation of basic routines in the end. As Herrera (2015) argues, society brings about social innovations in the embodiment of new practices, customs, institutions, as well as technological modernism. All these developments are socially appropriate because societal players create them from across numerous platforms that are not limited to science and business (Baker & Mehmood, 2015).

Other definitions explicitly restrict social innovation to the aspect of new or novel ideas or solutions. However, while agreeing with this approach, Phillips et al. (2015) contend that a solution needs to be new but only perceived as such by targeted individuals or entities. Therefore, if this definition is adopted, it means that an idea needs not to be new in a strict sense but only original to the field of action. Other authors opine that social innovation should be defined by its effect instead of focusing on novelty. For instance, Schubert (2018) defines social innovation as societal achievements that provide advanced solutions not based on their novelty but for their consequences. This perspective is consequential because it views social innovations as not simply solutions but also interventions that work better in relation to existing frameworks.

Other scholars base the definition of social innovation on specific outcomes. For instance, Herrera (2015) presents the concept as entailing original, effective, and efficient solutions that create value for society as a whole, as opposed to benefiting private individuals. Unfortunately, such an approach is significantly broad to the extent that it captures projects such as the national transport infrastructure under the ambit of social innovations. Nonetheless, as Borzaga and Bodini (2014) observe, the use of terms such as effective, efficient, and sustainable among others helps to direct the essence of the context of social innovation. For instance, microfinance, which would not qualify as a social innovation under stricter definitions, extends financial services to low-income members of society. By so doing, microfinance helps to fight widespread poverty. Despite doubts being expressed regarding the overall impact of microfinance, it is commonly contended that it is more effective, efficient, and sustainable in relation to traditional solutions (Borzaga & Bodini, 2014). In addition, microfinance presents benefits to a wider section of the population, as opposed to individual investors, thus fitting perfectly into the above definition (Philips et al., 2015). Further, this perspective attempts to eliminate boundaries that separate profit, non-profit, and public sectors as far as social innovation is concerned (Herrera, 2015). A less restrictive definition is preferred because it promotes a wholesome adoption across multiple disciplines. Importantly, four categories of Herrera’s (2015) definition stand out. The first one is the process of innovating or creating viable solutions. The second is the innovation itself, which is the desired outcome of the process. Thirdly, innovation is broadly used in the field of action. Fourth, value apparently emerges from the creation and adoption of this new idea.

Nonetheless, the debate about what constitutes social innovation continues, with various authors attempting to strike a balance between the identified broad and narrow approaches. Based on these two perspectives, scholars seem to have diverse thoughts whereby broad definitions are regarded as incorporating too many examples, some of which are either not social or innovative (Phillips et al., 2015). On the other hand, narrow definitions may lock out some rich examples of social innovation (Baker & Mehmood, 2015). Godin (2010) maintains that social innovation is not necessarily value-neutral, meaning that it does not always result in superior and socially acceptable outcomes. It may lead to unintended consequences such as the isolation of sections of the society (Godin, 2010). However, as Neumeier (2017) reveals, the European-based TEPSIE approach sought to associate the definition of social innovation with activities that aim at enhancing societies’ livelihood. This definition not only rivals that of Herrera (2015) but also offers a more comprehensive framework for contextualizing the concept of social innovation in the 21st century. According to Neumeier (2017), social innovations refer to new solutions, including models, products, services, processes, and markets, which in addition to addressing social needs in better ways compared to existing frameworks, facilitate the creation of new and improved opportunities while at the same time affording a better use of available resources. Compared to Herrera’s (2015) view, the latter definition introduces additional concepts that emphasize the need for improving societies’ capabilities through better resources utilization procedures. Neumeier’s (2017) perspective of social innovation has various vital components such as novelty. This term does not imply that an idea has to be completely new. Rather, the innovation should introduce original qualities to some targeted fields. Regarding the element of implementation, this definition recognizes that innovation will only occur when an idea is converted into practice. As such, Neumeier (2017) appreciates the difference between formulating an idea and putting it into practice. Nonetheless, this disparity is often the distinction between invention and innovation. In particular, while invention refers to formulating a new idea to improve a product or process, social innovation is the practical implementation of the same concept to address a prevailing societal issue (McGowan & Westley, 2017). Thus, not all inventions eventually result in social innovation. Neumeier’s (2017) view also captures the element of effectiveness whereby social innovation is expected to establish better ways of addressing collective problems. As such, with social innovation, there needs to be a measurable improvement when compared to existing strategies (Baker & Mehmood, 2015). Such step-ups may be assessed qualitatively or quantitatively. An example of quantitative improvement is a reduction in the number of people living in extreme poverty while an illustration of a qualitative enhancement may include societies’ increased confidence levels (Neumeier, 2017). These measures are ordinarily linked to shared values targeted by the concept of social innovation. A distinguishing aspect of social innovation is that it is specifically created to address a known social need. What constitutes a need is construed based on the social context, often subject to debate. Social needs include things that if not met can lead to social suffering. Neumeier (2017) argues that social innovation brings forth an improved capacity to act by introducing new relationships, building assets, and ensuring their better use. As such, the process of social innovation often involves adjustments in power relations, including increased access to resources, to help beneficiaries to meet their needs in better ways. Neumeier (2017) cites a rich background of literature to back the argument that social innovation more often than not leads to an enhanced societal capacity. Westley et al. (2016) refer to this aspect as public and ecological resilience while Lester (2015) terms it as empowerment. Thus, Neumeier’s (2017) approach to social innovation seems the most comprehensive of all the definitions examined in this part of the literature review.

The History of Social Innovation

Various authors have given divergent views regarding the origin of the concept of social innovation. The reason for different perspectives is the lack of consensus pertaining to when the idea was first used. For example, Mulgan (2017) associates social innovation with the rise of modernity, specifically, industrialization and urbanization, around the 18th and 19th centuries. However, other historians contend that many society-shaping ideas, some of which are still in force to date, arose centuries before the industrialization era. Another group of writers believes that social innovation stemmed from the United States during the 1970s (Cajaiba-Santana, 2014). Other writers link social innovation to earlier philosophers such as Benjamin Franklin, Max Weber, and Emile Durkheim (McGowan & Westley, 2017).

According to McGowan and Westley (2017), social innovation had existed long before any terminologies were coined to describe it. He offers examples of various historical characters whose projects and goals were designed toward solving pertinent social problems at the time. A befitting illustration entails programs launched in the early twentieth century for testing a large number of army recruits (Baker & Mehmood, 2015). In line with this view, McGowan and Westley (2017) argue that looking back through historical case studies can help to discern the complex phenomenon of transformation and innovation. Mulgan (2017) categorically links the birth of social innovation to the period around the industrial revolution, which was characterized by the mass migration of people to cities, an event that gave rise to new problems previously unknown to humankind. In contrast, Phillips et al. (2015) trace the origin of social innovation as a concept to the 20th century in the field of sociology before it grew in usage during post-World War II. In the early days, Baker and Mehmood (2015) point out that the term appeared ambiguous enough to the extent that it meant different things to diverse people.

The most accepted early use of the term relates to contexts of race, unemployment, and urbanization within the United States. In particular, according to Cajaibana-Santana (2014), during the early 20th century, social innovation denoted some form of improvement on social aspects of human life. However, Phillips et al. (2015) argue that if social innovation has its origin in the 19th or earlier, as suggested by some authors, then the recent increase in the literature regarding the subject is a mere resurrection of the concept. While sharing this view, Cajaibana-Santana (2014) opines that social innovation re-emerged in the second half of the 20th century as a tool for countering various unanticipated effects of technological innovation. Indeed, some authors believe that social and technological innovation emerged from similar processes (Borzaga & Bodini, 2014; Voorber et al., 2015). Writings of prominent sociologists from the 1960s and 1970s show consistent use of the term social innovation. Moreover, French authors used the term generously in the 1970s, suggesting a growing global adoption of social innovation into mainstream discourses (Cajaibana-Santana, 2014). Nevertheless, Herrera (2015) argues that similar themes advanced by writers from the 1960s had been explored by individuals such as Benjamin Franklin much earlier. Franklin suggested small modifications within communities that could bring about social change by solving everyday challenges. Nonetheless, many prominent sociologists from the 19th century, including Karl Marx, Durkheim, and Weber, were promoting broader processes of bringing about social change. Other theories ensued in the 20th century focusing on innovation that caused social implications, even though the underlying impacts were not centered on societal progress. An example is Joseph Schumpeter’s theory of creative destruction in the 1950s. During the 1980s, many writers were devoting their efforts to addressing the interconnectedness of social factors and growth in technology.

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However, the concept of innovation had a negative connotation during its early days. The term “innovate” originally came from Greek people who presented it to imply a way of attempting to interfere with society’s order, something that was always shunned (Borzaga & Bodini, 2014). Through religion, innovation as a concept was embraced in parts of Europe. Catholic Church leaders began performing sermons and visitations as a way of restoring hope to the masses, eventually falling out with political leaders who accused them of “innovating” (Westley et al., 2016). Interestingly, Westley et al. (2016) explicitly state that common examples of social innovation at work, for instance, through first aid, orphanages, and hospice care, have their origin in Christianity. Thus, while the term arose in recent centuries, social innovation as a method of solving problems could date back to much earlier. Faced with challenging tribulations, religions throughout history have always attempted to revise existing strategies to ensure their survival. The reason why religion played a central role in shaping the idea of social innovation was that it was responding to societal problems before governments could view them as part of their responsibilities. In attempting to rationalize the earlier negative attitude toward innovation, Borzaga and Bodini (2014) argue that every innovation is somewhat sudden and violent. In 1858, Lucas Sargent famously published a diatribe against advocates of social welfare such as Adam Smith who had famously claimed that community interests, as opposed to work, were the solution to problems facing people (Hawley, 2014).

While the English viewed innovation negatively, their French counterparts had assigned it a positive connotation (Godin, 2010). The term social innovation became common following the French Revolution of the late 18th century. By the 1860s, it was regularly used interchangeably with socialism. Toward the end of the 19th century, the term acquired a positive meaning across the board. At the onset of its widespread usage, social innovation was equated to human inventions in areas such as printing and money minting before it later became associated with social reforms. Throughout the 20th century, this concept invoked humanism (Windrum et al., 2016). Herrera (2015) contents that present-day social innovation is understood not as a perversion of social order but a creative approach to solving social issues. Other authors have used historical case studies to explain the dynamics of a particular complex phenomenon over time (Phillips et al., 2015), thus supporting the notion that social innovation evolves as a response to technological innovation.

The Growing Importance of Social Innovation

Social innovation is gaining ground in various sectors of society due to the reluctance of governments to provide sufficient aid to the public. Therefore, there is a desperate need to transform cultural, social, and economic spheres within the society through social innovation (O’Byrne et al., 2014). Society needs to have innovative solutions that guarantee growth and development of the economic situation. According to Lester (2015), numerous platforms have been established whereby entities engage in competition for the most socially innovative solution. For example, the MasterCard Foundation’s innovation competition was aimed at recognizing financial products and services that could influence the lives of people in rural and agricultural areas (Philips et al., 2015). In addition, in recognition of the increasing importance of social innovation, President Barack Obama launched the Social Innovation Fund (SIF) (Lester, 2015). This initiative was one of the earliest forms of evidence-based interventions by the Obama Administration. It focused on youth development, healthcare management, and economic opportunity. Through the program, funding was provided to grant-making organizations that then offered sub-grants to non-profit agencies for the benefit of the community (Lester, 2015). The success of SIF was reflected in projects dealing with social enterprise employment, childhood obesity, workforce development, and early childhood learning. The program needed to have an innovative background to be considered for funding.

Another notable significance in recent times was the introduction of social innovation programs in Seoul, South Korea. According to O’Byrne et al. (2014), under the stewardship of Seoul’s mayor, Park Won-Soon, social innovative programs were incorporated into the city administration. Socially innovative strategies were evident during the campaign period when Won-soon used social media to ask for votes. After being elected as the mayor, the Seoul Metropolitan Government (SMG) implemented several programs and policies initiated by social innovation. Such programs helped to transform Seoul into a global city by improving the quality of life for its inhabitants. In a display of the city’s endeavor to engage in social innovation, the formation of Seoul International Business Advisory Council (SIBAC) in 2012 brought global business leaders together to discuss various ways of improving Seoul (O’Byrne et al., 2014). On the other hand, the Big Society scheme is meant to offer support to the most promising social innovative programs. In the UK, Mr. Cameron explained that the initiative helped to steer projects that are developed by locals. In addition, Murakami et al. (2014) assert that after the devastating event of the 2011 tsunami in Japan, social innovation has rapidly been applied to rebuild the economy.

Through social innovation, businesses take part in building emerging markets, thus becoming active participators in the social sector. In particular, social innovators are known to work in challenging environments where they obtain new ideas while developing resilience. For instance, the World Food Program (WFP) intends to provide food assistance to more than 80 million people (Murakami et al., 2014). The project will be made possible by working with social innovators within local communities. These people will be responsible for availing durable solutions to some targeted populations. Social innovation can also be used by businesses as a tool for retaining employees. For instance, Boehringer-Ingelheim (BI), a pharmaceutical company in Germany, has partnered with Ashoka to promote social innovation among its employees (Ekeberg et al., 2014). Through the Making More Health initiative, employees discover business opportunities that are viable for the company. The corporation has also introduced the Executive in Residence program where employees can spend 6 months with social innovators. According to Ekeberg et al. (2014), the plan ensures that workers develop leadership skills while learning more about social innovation. They also secure an opportunity to discover unmet health needs within communities.

Evidence is available regarding philanthropic activities initiated because of social innovation. According to Cole et al. (2016), social innovation has often been used as a channel for community development because respective organizations regularly receive incentives. In Canada, social innovation activities operate according to the Canada Revenue Agency’s rules and regulations. By studying the social innovation behaviors of foundations, government agencies remain informed about various organizational needs, including other philanthropic activities. The model used in Canada encourages collaboration instead of individual social modernization (Pue & Breznitz, 2017). Most agencies function within realms of impact maximization associated with social innovation. However, some staff members in these foundations believe that social innovation prevents funding, thus limiting their activities (Pue & Breznitz, 2017). Despite such misunderstandings about the role of social innovation in organizations, many foundations are already employing collective groundbreaking techniques, which rely on the particular agency’s legitimacy, staff capacity, and financial assets.

The following case studies depict the significance of social innovation based on the way it has been deployed. The Metcalf Foundation Innovation Fellowship program uses financial resources to encourage creative personnel to engage in social innovation (Pue, &Breznitz, 2017). The Gordon Foundation provides training to creative individuals to enable them to obtain social innovation expertise. Through the Vancouver Foundation’s “Develop” and “Test” grants, the foundation assumes that new organizations are unable to delve into social innovation due to the lack of funds (Pue & Breznitz, 2017). The “Develop” aspect empowers small organizations that do not have the skills to implement ideas. The Edmonton Community Foundation uses the tactic of providing financial aid to charitable organizations with the view of eliminating all barriers to the implementation of new ideas (Pue & Breznitz, 2017). Social innovation has also been employed to develop future markets that spur growth and development in the community.

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According to Pue and Breznitz (2017), many developed markets are experiencing slow economic growth rates. On the other hand, consumers are increasingly demonstrating low purchasing powers, a situation that is leaving minimal profit margins for companies, hence presenting a growth opportunity for both local and multinational companies. These global businesses research various unique needs of customers in different markets while at the same time studying factors that lead to behavior changes. Pue and Breznitz (2017) report that this situation spurs social innovation to provide products that satisfy customers’ unique needs. Companies that rely on social innovation to identify and develop new markets use three ways to innovate. According to Pue and Breznitz (2017), products and services are first designed to cater to low-income customers in the form of running promotional offers meant to publicize low prices of new commodities. This goal can also be achieved by fortifying food products with additional nutrients to address cases of malnutrition (Pue & Breznitz, 2017). Secondly, merchandise and services offered should provide consumers with value for their money (Sampath, 2014). Social innovation ensures that clients get full benefits from the products and services they acquire. Hence, companies ensure consistency regarding items released to the market. In addition, products made should be available across large geographical locations without straining consumers. Despite having poor infrastructure, organizations ensure that their commodities are in constant supply at all times. Consequently, consumers always expect to obtain products from local stores whenever any need arises. According to Pue and Breznitz (2017), such interventions by companies indicate a significant application of social innovation because they encourage micro-entrepreneurship and, consequently, stable incomes to consumers.

Social innovation has also been used to strengthen supply chains within companies. To reap the benefits of social innovation, corporations have deployed social innovation to guarantee steady access to raw materials (Sampath, 2014). Nonetheless, various authors emphasize the need for regulations on the percentage taken by intermediaries, especially those in the food and consumer goods industries. In particular, Odunlade (2017) presents intermediaries as key parties in shaping the price of products in the market. Therefore, regulations should be put in place to ensure that small suppliers do not abandon their trade. For instance, many global chocolate manufacturers have partnered with social enterprises due to the shortage of cocoa. Extreme weather conditions are also another factor that determines the effectiveness of a supply chain. Companies deploy social innovation concepts to diversify their supplier bases to create lasting relationships with farmers. Their efforts result in stable prices, despite weather conditions that determine product price (Odunlade, 2017). Jollibee Foods Corporation (JFC) employed social innovation by eliminating intermediaries in the wake of extreme weather conditions such as typhoons in the Philippines. It organized farmers into functioning cooperatives to facilitate the delivery of farm produce to companies. As a result, through social innovation, companies have improved the quality of raw materials to the extent of achieving premium prices while maintaining consumers’ loyalty. Furthermore, organizations benefit from social innovation based on the way they can promptly respond to the ever-shifting consumer preferences.

Through social innovation, companies have managed to develop talents within the workplace. Diversity in administrative centers ensures that a company has a wide pool for recruiting new employees (Odunlade, 2017). As a result, employees influence various innovative ideas within their companies, thus promoting the social innovative sphere within an organization. The SAP is an example of a company that realized the importance of a diverse workforce in promoting social innovation. After conducting numerous studies, the organization discovered talents within individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Since then, the company embraces a diverse workforce to provide perfect grounds for social innovation. Other companies conduct youth vocational skill training sessions to increase the number of employable talents in the market. The curriculum is designed by particular organizations to ensure that various targeted skills are readily available in the market (Odunlade, 2017). Teaching infrastructure is often obtained through collaborations with educational institutions. Social innovation has also been employed to leverage the financial position of companies. The Spanish globally recognized organization, Telefónica, triggered social innovation by managing impact investment funds. It has helped in developing innovative and investment ideas that have boosted its survival in the industry. Odunlade (2017) opines that companies should concentrate on start-ups that are in line with their strategies and objectives. A key example is Morgan Stanley’s Asia Private Equity business (MSPE), which has greatly invested in small businesses in the Asia-Pacific region as a means of encouraging social innovation. MSPE invested in CreditEase, a Chinese microfinance industry, thus introducing a variety of credit products to rural populations.

Through social innovation, governments have effectively addressed the effects of the world’s catastrophic events. In addition, restorative justice, fair trade, mobile money transfer, and zero-carbon housing strategies have been effectively applied, thanks to social innovation. As a result, common beliefs, practices, and stereotypes are positively changed. According to Sampath (2014), social innovation has effectively changed the economic landscape in Africa by making significant improvements in macroeconomic policies. Social innovation in Africa is guided by the mantra that groundbreaking business models should be incorporated into innovative technologies (Mas & Ng’weno 2010). As such, socially innovative institutions constantly receive funding from their governments to continue with such programs. Cole et al. (2016) add that most African countries are changing from adopting research and development (R&D) to embracing research for development (R4D). As a result, the public is encouraged to focus on the acquisition of technical and endogenous scientific skills to drive positive social changes. Economic growth improvements in Africa are tied to social innovation policies that most governments have embraced.

Mobile money transfer services have shaped the financial exchange services in East Africa. Through M-PESA, the public is able to transfer money just as banks do. This innovative service has proved convenient by giving subscribers total control over their money. According to Mas and Ng’weno (2010), in addition to being easy to use, M-PESA has helped to fill gaps that have existed in the finance industry because of poor banking infrastructure. This case is a standard example of social innovation being used to stir economic growth in society. Mas and Ng’weno (2010) add that this form of money transfer has reduced the risk of robbery because people in various rural areas can now send and receive money at their convenience. Vodafone is currently collaborating with NGOs that are well informed about the needs of the community. Such forms of partnerships ensure that creative solutions are encouraged within the public sector. Society is transitioning to a situation where innovation will be shaped by the need for services that are based on efficiency in line with definitions given earlier, specifically the preferred approach to social innovation (Sampath, 2014). As a result, many businesses are seeking social innovators who can offer guidance, as well as new techniques. On the other hand, governments are encouraging social innovation in various ways. For example, through SITRA, the government’s advisory body on science, innovation, and research, the government of Finland engage firms that bid for public procurement opportunities in a vetting process to gauge their level of innovativeness (Cole et al. 2016). From this illustration, as a way of encouraging social innovation, government departments are required to fund innovation activities.

Social innovation becomes compulsory whenever problems become more difficult to solve or when systems are not modeled to address current problems. Therefore, discontentment in a system of operations is enough to influence social innovation. Sampath (2014) reveals that a society that is well informed on how agencies should work tends to embrace social innovation. It is imperative for marginalized communities to be involved in decision-making to foster a culture of social innovation. This plan can lead to a global increase in social innovators who stand a better chance of helping in developing the global economy. Due to an increase in people’s life expectancies, there should be innovative ways of pension organization, including the care and support offered to the public (Marešová, Mohelská, & Kuča, 2015). As a result, following the growing diversity, social innovation is expected to provide ways that will foster cohesion, thus preventing discrimination in society. There is also an increase in the number of people suffering from terminal illnesses. As such, through social innovation, novel models of medical support have been used to provide social solutions.

In the political arena, politicians promote certain agendas to favor their party’s beliefs thus gaining popularity in the public. Such politicians increase their chances of winning and hold power for a relatively long time. Jaime Lerner, the mayor of a Brazilian city is known for incorporating social innovation in his leading style (Hawley, 2014). For example, he championed paying slum children with transport vouchers to transfer dumpsites from the slums to designated areas. In the US, the Centre for Court Innovation was formed through a partnership between the city of New York and the state (Lester, 2015). The center is meant to propagate novel approaches to the reduction of crime through the introduction of special courts to deal with domestic violence and crimes related to drugs. In Denmark, the ministry of economics and business affairs started MindLab to steer innovation by applying creative techniques (Lester, 2015). The ministry of finance encourages social innovation whereby all citizens are required to have an account number linked to a digital account.

Despite the increasing benefits of social innovation, experts allude that the world still needs to tap this concept because it has more to offer in relation to what has been witnessed so far. For instance, it is crucial to realize that most of the innovative ideas are not supported to the end. As a result, the solutions given do not serve many people. This situation results in the loss of funds from stakeholders who fail to see the need for sustaining such ideas that do not benefit massive populations. In such tough economic times, the public should experience the effect of every dollar spent on addressing social problems. Given the present circumstances, both governmental and non-governmental bodies should conduct campaigns that spur social innovation. Following the number of dollars that governments may expend on social services in the future, authorities should ensure that social innovation is embraced in a variety of ways. First, governments should increase and drive funding towards programs that address priority problems. This process should be conducted, despite the presence of politically powerful entrenched grantees. Currently, a small fraction of the federal money is allocated to such programs while the rest is driven to other activities that are not given much priority. Secondly, evidence-based programs supported should be monitored to achieve maximum and favorable results. A regulatory framework can be established to trigger the achievement of the promised results. These regulations should apply to federal funds, as well as private dollars that have been donated by non-profit organizations. It is important to note that federal grantees are often subjected to costly administrative processes that hinder their ability to disburse the funds. Proactive steps should be taken to maximize the underlying benefits of pro-innovation funding, including processes involved in their management. It is important to note that the government is referred to as the funder-in-chief, which is expected to oversee proper funding decisions while at the same time managing various programs. An example of a federal action entails having strict requirements for the application of grantees and the development of performance indicators targeting particular areas. Despite these possible interventions, several obstacles are anticipated to occur. Existing beneficiaries of the system are expected to launch attacks against the system while defending their positions. On the other hand, federal bureaucrats are bound to resist any attempts aimed at disrupting the existing culture. Politicians are also expected to continue defending positions that address their personal needs instead of supporting social innovation interventions that benefit the whole society. Nonetheless, the public can only hope that selfish individuals will not deter or influence various governments to bar the advancement of social innovation schemes.

Fields for Social Innovation

As life expectancy continues to increase, there is a rising need to take care of the aging population. Most countries report not having specific social innovation policies, despite the presence of gaps that can be filled with such strategies. Lester (2015) asserts that nations such as Oman and Germany are experiencing a sharp decrease in social care workers, a situation that paves the way for socially innovative practices. According to Jaba, Balan, and Robu (2014), the EU is currently experiencing an increase in life expectancy while very little is spent on health. This problem has driven social innovation strategies such as “task-shifting” whereby nurses are able to perform duties previously done by doctors (Okyere, Mwanri, & Ward, 2017). This social innovation plan has helped to revamp the medical fraternity. The World Health Organization (WHO) strongly advocates for “task-shifting” as a means of making maximum use of the available resources.

In particular, the world is experiencing an increase in communicable and non-communicable diseases (NCDs) that raise the demand for effective health services. Barreto (2017) adds that health inequalities often lead to challenges in the entire medical field. Many countries around the globe are experiencing high numbers of persons suffering from diseases such as HIV/AIDS and TB. Higher rates of infant mortality and maternal near-miss are also being witnessed globally (Jaba et al., 2014). Countries with higher percentages of rural areas experience challenges in providing reliable care to their isolated groups. This situation influences the rate of innovation in all spheres of society. An increase in the use of mobile phone technology and other forms of ICT has given rise to social innovation in the medical field. As a result, applications have been developed to help people in managing long-term illnesses without making visits to various hospitals. In addition, persons with disabilities can benefit from apps that enable them to participate in everyday activities without needing support (Barreto, 2017). For example, in Austria, the e-Medication application ensures that the public can receive coordinated and integrated medical care at all times. In developing nations, populations are struggling with diet-related diseases, as well as ailments emanating from poor sanitation. These problems are linked to societal issues that require the intervention of social innovation. The use of applications that can constantly remind the affected people to do exercise or take particular meals at specific times can be fruitful in addressing various lifestyle issues. Hence, the health sector is one of the fields where social innovation is being deployed.

Social innovation has also been used in the field of business. In particular, the growing diversity in countries creates a need for socially innovative ways of organizing communities. The lack of groundbreaking mechanisms leads to issues of discrimination by investors who look for university graduates as pre-conditions for any form of investment (Marešová et al., 2015). This class bias gives businesses the chance to come up with solutions that are not necessarily pegged on university education. According to Sampath (2014), in a bid to inculcate a culture of social innovation, the management of firms has created policies that reflect a bias-free organization. They have developed internal tools that are not linked to conventional ways of measuring successful investments. As a result, social innovation in this field has helped to create equal opportunities for everyone within various companies to participate in developing strategies that not only benefit them but also societies (Sampath, 2014). Nonetheless, management teams can also employ external training services for the benefit of employees to ensure maximum inclusion and innovation.

Social innovation has also been deployed in economics to address issues related to financial disparities. Economic inequality has widened in most societies, a situation that is linked to the lack of social innovation. According to Sampath (2014), countries with high levels of economic disparities often create an environment that is not fit for modernization. As a result, they have room to create avenues for equal distribution of wealth by supporting institutions that foster innovation. Before the global financial crisis of 2008, monetary inequalities were only common in a few developing countries. This situation has changed to affect almost all emerging economies. According to Jaba et al. (2014), economic variations can be a driving force to such kinds of financial crises. Therefore, it is imperative for all countries to understand the concept in a bid to foster growth and prosperity. Social innovation can help authorities eliminate all factors that tend to reduce the level of financial products within the society. This goal can be achieved by increasing access to education, as well as improving the overall access to resources. As technology continues to develop, society is in constant need of social innovations that will offer sustained models of economic growth.

Social innovation also comes in handy in the field of education, specifically, the area of growth and development. Teenagers should be helped to transition smoothly into adulthood. In turn, they can secure stable relationships and rewarding careers. Innovative solutions can be in the form of applications that provide tips to parents and children. These apps encourage knowledge sharing and social participation from young adults. If properly executed, they can save instances where teachers and other school staff members are not adequately trained to deal with teenagers transitioning to adulthood. Considering that adolescence is critical regarding the development of identity, society should welcome ideas that are geared toward promoting positive behaviors. Interested governments can also offer incentives to individuals who come up with socially innovative tools for such purposes.

Conclusion

Despite varying definitions, most authors agree that social innovation involves creating and deploying operational solutions to various problems that have continued to hinder societal development. Social innovation is a process by which new ideas are made to work in achieving social goals. Other authors go as far as distinguishing the concept from social entrepreneurship, which has its origin in for-profit organizations. However, as revealed in the paper, broader perspectives have attempted to bridge artificial barriers in definitions that limit the context of social innovation. It was indicated that a narrow definition of the concept is not only restrictive but also impractical. Scholars have given varying assertions regarding the origin of the concept. However, most of them agree that it gained widespread use in the post-World War II era following the increasing number of social challenges. The origin of social innovation has been traced to the industrial revolution when unique and challenging problems arose due to rapid advancements in technology and urbanization. However, some authors maintain that earlier practices by the Catholic Church before and during the 16th century can be termed as the earliest efforts of social innovation that included caring for the sick and running orphanages. The increasing importance of social innovation today can be attributed to the growing magnitude of challenges facing humankind. The present-day world has deployed social innovation to address issues related to droughts, natural catastrophes such as earthquakes, and the constant threat of nuclear war among others. Today, social innovation is being applied in numerous fields with satisfactory results, including the health sector where it has helped to address issues related to long-term illness. Other fields include business, economics, and education. Nonetheless, experts maintain that if proper research on social innovation is not initiated, the concept risks being reduced to empty rhetoric. Most socially innovative ideas do not receive adequate support to ensure their smooth implementation. Thus, federal governments along with non-profit and business outfits may have to increase their funding for social innovation to spur greater social achievements. Most importantly, collaboration among these three entities cannot be overemphasized. Many complex challenges facing humankind cannot be understood, let alone being solved, without stakeholders from the abovementioned sectors brainstorming together. Therefore, social innovation thrives where industries come together to pursue common goals. Hence, there is the need to examine practices and policies that often hinder the sharing of ideas, capital, and values in various sectors. The present-day world needs higher levels of social innovation to solve many emerging and disturbing problems. Regardless of their sectors, social innovators will have to strive to come together to pursue the collective agenda of societal advancement.

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