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The Global Ecosystem For Social Innovation

Published Date: 22 June 2011

Louise Pulford shares how the social innovation industry is applying its own medicine to accelerate social innovation globally.

The case for social innovation has never been clearer. The big issues—climate change, affordable health care, disconnected communities—are complex and it is widely accepted that they cannot be solved by doing things the old way. But whilst the “what” and “why” are more widely understood, the “how” and “who” of social innovation is less clear, and the “ecosystem” to support social innovation remains underdeveloped.

Support for Social Innovation
Businesses, global NGOs, local charities and governments alike are increasingly open to the idea of social innovation, but little work is being done on bolstering the institutions, frameworks and structures that will actually enable social innovation to happen. Spotting, supporting, measuring and financing social innovation is still no-one’s responsibility.

Those working to find and develop effective solutions often feel as if they are facing a series of brick walls—not only are the social issues complex and inter-connected, the knowledge of what works, and what doesn’t is not effectively shared. Many organisations lack the skills and capacity to be innovative, and there are a set of institutional barriers including the undervaluing of creativity, a lack of safe space to fail and little appropriate finance. For those outside of organisations, there are few physical places to create, test and develop ideas. New or more effective solutions to some of today’s societal challenges would be less scarce if there were a framework or a system which supported the growth of new initiatives, i.e. if there was a social innovation ecosystem.

Ecosystems for social innovation are needed both locally and globally.

At a local level, physical infrastructures that provide a pathway between each stage of the development can be helpful, not least because support structures can be developed. DenokInn’s Social Innovation Park in Bilbao is a good example; here, a set of physical spaces create an infrastructure, or ecosystem, to promote and support social innovation throughout the city and wider region.

At a country level, whether through active community organisations in Milan or a strong public sector in Malmo, an anchor institution is often present as a key pillar of a social innovation ecosystem.

At a global level, networks of organisations to share learnings and practices, support and implement joint projects are neededto scale the social innovation industry. One of the most impactful of such networks, the Social Innovation Exchange (SIX) is evolving along these lines.

Gaps in the Social Innovation Ecosystem
But it is the softer, less tangible parts of a social innovation ecosystem that are often missing or underdeveloped. Specifically, the lack of learning and training, support structures at a policy level, and under-development of networks slow the effective development of new solutions. These three areas need more attention.

Read The Global Ecosystem for Social Innovation in full to explore the gaps in the social innovation ecosystem.