A global response to the most important questions facing the field of social innovation

In February 2017, SIX hosted our first global Wayfinder event in London. We brought together more than 160 leaders from 34 countries to explore the future of social innovation and our roles within it. There were some clear messages about the very core of what we do, why we do it, and why it matters.

Some of those in the room had first penned the term social innovation; others had started and mobilised movements such as design for social innovation; others had unlocked key funding and resources to help this movement grow around the world; and many had pioneered innovations that are staple case studies in the field. All thought seriously about the current state of social innovation and the world, and their role in creating the future.

We’ve spent the past few weeks analysing, exploring, thinking, pausing and digging deeper into what came out of the Wayfinder. It was no easy task.

You can see a longer summary highlighting our learning and insights here and a visual culmination that captures the energy of the past and the event and shares ideas for action going forward.

The following are questions that are key to ponder when considering our future:

  • How do we grow locally whilst still staying globally? Digital social innovation (DSI) may provide one solution. As Francesca Bria, Chief Technology Officer of Barcelona City Council said ‘digital is ultimately about the local, it’s about the things that people care about most: food, health, care, etc.’ She predicts that the next 10 years of DSI will mean that every city has maker districts for the circular economy & produce energy and food locally, moving towards productive and sovereign cities’.
  • How do we activate the radical middle? How do we break through our silos and bubbles to work differently? How do we use innovation to empower people within institutions to discover and unleash their social intrapreneur? Or as Alex Ryan of the Alberta CoLab said ‘how do we move beyond the water cooler and get this into the water supply?’ How do we ensure that social innovation isn’t limited to the ‘innovation lab or officer’ in the corner? Should we all adopt Millie Begovic of UNDP’s time-based approach, in which the lab will shut down in 3 years – because it should have fulfilled its mandate by then or else it should be abolished.
  • How do we make our institutions more human, inclusive, responsible and responsive? The conversation kept coming back to the notion of citizenship and a global feeling of isolation and disenfranchised. If we want to live in a world where greater participation and equality is the norm, how do we get there? How can technology help to further democratise our institutions? How do we prepare our next leaders to be more responsive?
  • Inspired by the B Corps movement, how do we expand our definition of stakeholder and look beyond the shareholder? As Harvey Koh of FSG India said, ‘I’d like to live in a world where business isn’t just serving the expectations of shareholders but are truly accountable to society in an equitable way’.
  • Collaboration remains essential for the future. The real question is how we train and empower tomorrow’s leaders to be comfortable moving and working across the public, private and third sectors? As Mark Moore of the Harvard Kennedy School said all social issues are touched and managed in some way by some combination of the private, public and third sector, and as such, our solutions need to incorporate and be managed by all three.
  • How do we focus our efforts on the demand side? If there are social needs and rights that the market won’t reach, but we’ve still decided that they’re important to preserve social standing, then how do we do this? As Mark Moore said ‘we’ve been focusing all of our efforts on the supply side, instead of the demand side, which is a mistake. Who are we counting on to want the social change and who will pay for it?’ 
  • How does social innovation create a political strategy? If we want to be successful, we need to have a political strategy. Without a strategy to influence government, social entrepreneurs and innovation will not reach large-scale sustained change. How do we do this effectively and without jeopardising our mission? 
  • How do we foster a real movement for real people? The past decade has seen the field of social innovation develop out of a multitude of sectors including social entrepreneurship, design and civil society. With this, a new language has been created. However, as innovation author Charlie Leadbeater commented during the Wayfinder, the ‘paraphernalia language’ of post-it notes, labs and rapid prototyping risks obscuring the language of what really matters – that of heart, soul and spirit. How do we get back to the heart of what really matters? And how do we share this? As Charlie also said ‘if we’re going to be a movement, then we need to move people’
  • Should we be united in our process or our mission? Should we be united globally in the process of innovation, the practical craft? Or is it enough to be united in the broad mission of improving society for all and it doesn’t matter how we get there? Or does it matter? As Tonya Surman of the Centre for Social Innovation in Canada said ‘do you need to know you’re in social innovation to benefit from it?’

To see more questions and challenges facing the next 10 years, see this short video featuring innovation leaders from around the world.

What’s next? 

We are by no means done… A journey starts with a single step, and the 2017 Wayfinder event set us off down our track.
We want to ensure that this is a global conversation, and we are speaking to organisations across the world to ensure that this vision of the future is collectively shared and understand how we’re going to achieve these visions.

Get in touch if you would like to work with SIX to host your own version of the Wayfinder in your country or region. Contact  jordan@socialinnovationexchange.org