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Judith Rodin, President of the Rockefeller Foundation, on Social Innovation

Author: Adam Hart
Published Date: 18 February 2011

Recently, I sat down with Dr. Judith Rodin, President of the Rockefeller Foundation, to discuss, in great depth, the evolution and promise of social innovation, and the role that the foundation is playing to systematically advance the field moving forward. Dr. Rodin has been president of the Rockefeller Foundation since 2005. She was previously president of the University of Pennsylvania, the first woman to lead an Ivy League institution, and provost of Yale University.

Rahim Kanani: Let’s discuss the definition of social innovation as is generally understood, and then develop more clarity and hone in on the different kinds of social innovation that exist.

Judith Rodin: What I find most useful as a definition is that social innovation really refers to innovation in the social sector — in other words, innovation applied to social, health and environmental problems, as opposed to business. Social innovation can be associated with social entrepreneurship, but I think that’s a very narrow definition. I think social innovation comes in four categories. There is product innovation, which is what most people think of when they think of innovation. It’s that “aha!” experience that I invented something new, and that’s important, but it’s only one kind of innovation.

There are three other kinds of innovation, which the literature supports. There’s process innovation. How you do things, not only what you do. So, it’s not only a new thing, but it may be doing old things in new ways. And there’s a lot of work on process innovation that that we find particularly interesting at the Rockefeller Foundation.

Third is market innovation, where you’re really transforming how markets operate, and in the social space, as in the for-profit sector, those are really powerful ways to innovate.

And then the fourth category is organizational innovation. There again, I think people don’t typically have that type of mindset when they think about what innovation means. But it’s another really powerful one. I think it’s Tim Brown from IDEO—when he talks about Thomas Edison—he says first of all, the light bulb was invented 20 years before, and until Edison, it was like a parlor trick. What Edison did was create the organizational innovation. He realized that electricity, as opposed to the light bulb, was about distribution and transmission and creating the system of electrification. So that’s an organizational innovation that allows things to take off. And again I’d love to talk to you more about that because we’ve been investing in that as well.

Rahim Kanani: How would you characterize the social innovation sector today, with respect to how it has evolved over space and time?

Judith Rodin: Without hubris, although I probably will sound a little full of hubris, we really think that the Rockefeller Foundation, from its start 100 years ago, was doing social innovation. They didn’t call it innovation at the time, they called it scientific philanthropy. But they were very nimble, and they were learning, adapting, changing, and testing. Therefore, a lot of things we associate with current characteristics of innovation, I think they were using back then in a very significant way, and that’s how they cured hookworm disease and invented a vaccine for yellow fever and created the green revolution.

So I think we stand on their shoulders, and philanthropy actually stands on the shoulders of those early innovators of philanthropy. I think there are two new things in this sector. One, there really is literature now on innovation, so it’s become a field of knowledge that we can learn from and build on, so that everybody isn’t kind of figuring this out by the seat of their pants. And being an academic I appreciate and find value in that.

The second thing is that the rate of change due to globalization is so profoundly exponential, such that the capacity for innovation to really have impact has just accelerated so dramatically. That’s what we’re seeing, and I am so excited about this sector in the social space. Good ideas are coming from the ground up because of globalization.

Rahim Kanani: What is Rockefeller’s relationship, in terms of its investments, with the modern sector of social innovation?

Judith Rodin: We are very systematically trying to advance the field. I think all philanthropy invests in product innovation, whether in a vaccine or a new kind of product of one sort or another, and I think we’ll all continue to do that. The private sector’s really good at that too, so there’s more of a convergence and the establishment of public/private partnerships in product innovation in the social space. The vaccine developments are one example where it’s philanthropic institutions but also large for-profit multinational pharmaceutical companies, and that’s really to the good in product innovation. We’ve been investing in the other three types of innovation differentially.

With regard to process innovation, we are investing in the how, rather than the what. We’ve been very taken by the demonstration of the power of user-driven innovation. So, we have a partnership with InnoCentive, and we’re trying out crowd-sourcing platforms for solving problems in the social space: new kinds of anti-malarial devices, a missing piece of a puzzle in a particular vaccine development cycle, and new kinds of cook stoves, among others.

InnoCentive, a for-profit that spun off from Eli Lilly, has now registered almost 400,000 scientists and thinkers from around the world, and they crowd-source a problem by offering a prize. Through the challenges we have worked on with InnoCentive for the social space, we have gotten some really amazing, inspiring, and surprising solutions. There have been lots of demonstrations now of really great challenges solved, and a lot of other foundations are now starting to use either InnoCentive or other kinds of crowd-sourcing platforms.

Additionally, the government is increasingly trying to use crowd-sourcing to solve problems, and I think if we can show that policy isn’t only formed by 12 smart people sitting in a room, but that if you open up to the general public ideas about policy, that you get great policymaking as well. And you also get more committed citizens.

There’s a lot of work being done through the innovation arm of the World Bank, at the World Bank Institute. There’s a lot of work that we at the Rockefeller Foundation are doing and funding towards that end, and increasingly, the U.S. government is getting engaged. But we’re collaborating with them, and we now have six or seven heavily funded pilot innovation process grants to the U.S. government and increasingly to other governments around the world.

Another kind of crowd-sourcing we’re funding is the Ashoka work on collaborative competitions. So rather than a complete competition, which is what InnoCentive is, the hypothesis that Ashoka had, which we also have found really interesting, is that if you post the problem and everybody’s posting their solutions, all of you can identify where there’s white space where other people aren’t thinking about things, but you can also iterate to a better solution. So, we funded a global water challenge for them. And they had 340 entries, and you could see people in all different countries, working on the solution. You could see the iteration occurring and the winning solution came from people in seven different countries, who had never met one another, who were collaborating and competing sort of virtually, but wound up as the collaborators in this solution, which was then taken to scale in a very significant way.

Based on this success, we funded a collaborative competition recently for the G20. The G20 asked for help in creating a collaborative competition on the Ashoka platform for the best ideas in the world on how to finance small and medium sized enterprise. As you know, there’s a lot of attention to micro finance, and it’s wonderful, but we’re not going to get growth and poverty reduction without starting to go to scale and SMEs, along the continuum, are the next sized growth engine and next sized business entity. And the G20 wanted to invest, but they felt that they didn’t have a good line of sight on what the best financing models were. So, they decided let’s crowd-source it.

We opened it up to the world to see what ideas there are. They got hundreds of applicants and ideas. They picked 17 winners and they committed half a billion dollars to fund them. So, you know, here are entities that have resources and are looking for innovative ways to open themselves up to new ideas for their funding. It cost us about half a million dollars to mount the competition. So for us, we say, “What amazing leverage: half a million to unleash $528 million.” That’s a dream for philanthropy, that you really are leveraging and that in itself is a kind of innovative process.

The third process that we’re excited about really comes out of design thinking and is also another kind of user-driven innovation, which is instead of inventing something in the research lab and then doing a focus group with the consumers to see if it works or if it’ll sell, you work in reverse. You actually go out first to the users, and you engage them in the design in some way either intentionally or by observing them. And then you develop the solution based on engaging them in the problem solving.

Rahim Kanani: What are some examples of analyzing an issue in reverse in hopes of discovering a solution?

Judith Rodin: We started with one that is really just based on observation and not on direct engagement with a grantee called Positive Deviance, based at Tufts University, and made up mostly of anthropologists. Their hypothesis was that if you observe in places where there are problems and focus on the successes rather than the failures, and then you ask what is it that they are doing that’s different, you can then take what they’re doing and teach it.

Their first observations were in villages in Vietnam — very, very poor villages where over 90 percent of the kids were severely malnourished. They noticed that several of the children were pretty well nourished. So, they deeply observed the families. And they found that the caregivers, those who were preparing the food, were not washing the crustaceans out of the rice when they prepared it. So those were the only kids in the village getting protein. For the other parents, it was a dirt product that they wanted to get out of there before they cooked the pure rice. They taught this to those villagers, and then they took it to scale across most of the villages in Vietnam. So, there it’s a real user driven innovation without the users really knowing that they were the innovators.

Then there are the more intentional ones where you really are bringing people in and getting their ideas at the front end. I love the laboratory, I love R&D (I’ve spent my life in that) but maybe now the laboratory is everywhere and so it’s opening up new avenues for innovation that we never had before. That’s a longwinded answer on process. I’ll try to give you two shorter ones on markets and organization.

The market innovation that we’re most interested in developing is really around this new field of impact investing. And the reason is that I think everyone agrees that all the government aid, all the multilateral aid, all the philanthropic aid is not enough to really have the transformative or growth effect that we’re going to need to continue to lift people out of poverty or cure disease, so how do you unlock that last source of capital, which is the private sector capital?

One way it’s unlocked is by public/private partnerships that bring corporations into the social space and that’s effective. But the one that was not maturing on its own we felt were the private investors, the private wealth high net-worth individuals, the pension funds that sometimes have a double bottom line mandate, the sovereign wealth funds that often want a double bottom line, and so we commissioned a report by the Monitor Institute, and they estimated that there were at least a trillion dollars, maybe more, of those kinds of dedicated resources that were not being scaled effectively.

We decided to make ourselves sort of intermediaries in that space by innovating a new market. So we did several things. We thought you need to better organize the supply side, you need to better organize the demand side and you need to create metrics. Those with the money would say to us we know how to do the financial due diligence, but we don’t know how to do the social due diligence. What does social impact look like, how can we measure it, how do we tell our investors what it is? So on the supply side, among other things; we’ve now created, with fantastic partners, the Global Impact Investing Network. And they’re financial groups like JP Morgan, and others such as us, and Gates, yet none of us do enough deals in a year to develop a huge internal capacity. So we reasoned that if we create this network, a lot of the learning could be shared. They may co-invest or not, but at least some of the necessary platforms are there. And so GIIN, the Global Impact Investing Network, is developed. We’re actually physically housing it here in the Foundation’s office, so that it can grow and develop.

Then in the metrics, we funded the development of IRIS, Impact Reporting & Investment Standards. IRIS is creating metrics that everybody will agree on, or at least the fundamental social impact measures that an investor would want. When I talk about impact investing I’m talking about double bottom line. You want a financial return but you also are looking for a social or environmental return as well.

To be clear between socially responsible investing and impact investing, socially responsible investing is do no harm, vote your shares in a positive way or vote against tobacco if you want or whatever. This is really different. This is saying you have a financial investment instrument that promises a double bottom line return.

Sometimes you want financial first, social second. Sometimes you want social first, financial second. And that depends on your own preference as an investor or your fund’s mandate and we’re identifying both categories. Sometimes that can be equity. Sometimes it can be debt. So it’s all categories of financing within the overall architecture.

Once IRIS was created, we funded grantees to create something called GIIRS, which is the Global Impact Investing Rating System. And their goal now is to become, and to get social companies to accept, a rating like Moody’s or Standard & Poors would do for how high risk is this investment. GIIRS is experimenting this year with getting companies on board to be rated.

And then on the demand side we funded with others the ANDE, which is the Aspen Network of Development Entrepreneurs, so that the take up of these monies getting mobilized is real and that there are funds and companies in the social space that are able to absorb funding effectively.

These are often funds of funds initially…so let’s say a big bank or a pension fund wants to put in $100 million. They don’t want to have to deal with the entrepreneur on the ground. They don’t know how to source them. So instead we’re helping them to create investment vehicles that are funds of funds that they can put their money in. Those funds of funds are closer to the ground. So, an African agriculture fund, an Asian alternative energy fund. They are about $10 to $100 million each. And they then make the investments.

So, we have worked to create reorganization of the whole market in this space, using grant money or program related investment money to unleash private capital. We’re incredibly excited about this. That’s the market innovation that I’m most enthusiastic about. Then organizational innovations: I think GIIN and ANDE and GIIRS are organizational innovations. They are prime examples of it.

As you can see, for us organizational innovation really means creating new kinds of networks of stakeholders that didn’t know each other or communicate before, where they together really redefine the problem. So often in philanthropy, we think we know the problem and we get people together to create the solution. One of the things we think is critical in innovation is that there’s a lot of time spent on really defining the problem.

InnoCentive has done an experiment with this on water to see if maybe you could use crowd-sourcing to define the problems, not only the solutions. Because often you think you’re an expert, so you think you can frame the problem. What if you used the world as the experts to help you frame the problems, which in turn might lead to more relevant and impactful solutions? We’re interested in that as well and that’s another kind of networking organizational innovation.

Rahim Kanani: When you spoke of measuring impact, how hard is it to come up with an agreeable framework in terms of the right kinds of metrics and methods to measure outcomes?

Judith Rodin: It’s really hard, and we think IRIS is only a start. We think it’s the lowest common denominator. I don’t mean that in an insulting way, but that is not I think aspirationally where we or people who have passion about social impact will want to be five or ten years from now. But to get this kind of innovation off the ground you have to experiment and iterate and change and so that’s the kind of baseline of agreed-upon social impact measures.

Rahim Kanani: What’s the downside of investing in social innovation?

Judith Rodin: High risk. I think that if it’s truly innovation, then you’re taking more risk. And there really are, I think, terrific grant makers — our colleagues included — who feel that the risk shouldn’t be as much on the innovation side. The risk should be on taking a proven thing and then risking whether you can scale it. That’s a different question. It’s not an innovation question. And we have tried, therefore, to maintain a portfolio of work at Rockefeller, some of which really pushes this innovation agenda and some that applies to our risk appetite to demands that are different than the experimentation with innovation qua innovation.

Rahim Kanani: How can you minimize or mitigate the level of risk associated with this kind of investment?

Judith Rodin: Well I think in the other kinds of risks we take when we do grant making, we can be more effective at mitigating the risk. We do due diligence. We pick the best organization, the one most likely to be able to scale or the one most clearly demonstrating prior success. So we mitigate the risk. In innovation the risk is inherent. So there isn’t really a way to mitigate the risk. You say, we throw all the balls up in the air and a couple land and we’re going to spend only a certain amount in this space, so the only way to mitigate the risk is to decide in advance how much of our annual portfolio we’re going to spend on that kind of work as opposed to other risks that we can perhaps mitigate more differently.

Rahim Kanani: Is the trend line of this particular section of the annual portfolio on the rise?

Judith Rodin: It is. It is because we’re encouraged by the results, and we think as I said in the beginning that the domains from which you can draw innovation have grown. And the acceleration of the application of the innovation has grown. So the traditional ways that we have relied on to scale are sort of themselves changing through all of these innovation processes. You know, often we don’t have to scale it. It just sort of virally happens. That’s fantastic and scary for foundations that have typically said, “we do this and then we scale and then we”…but it’s fantastic.

Rahim Kanani: What are some examples of social innovations that have gone to scale?

Judith Rodin: I think the ones most exciting at the moment that we’re really seeing in real time acceleration are those using mobile technology. I think the cell phone will turn out, when the case studies are written about this, to be the invention, and the innovation is what’s happening now in how mobile technology is being used for social good. When you see, for example, M-PESA in Kenya, and so many replications now all over the developing world, so that anybody who’s got even the most simple cell phone can now make savings and transfer money and invest and get credit all through their cell phone. It’s quite extraordinary and you’re getting all kinds of innovative products. You’re getting entrepreneurs developing all kinds of apps, that aren’t coming out of some western-minded app person but something that’s very local.

The Rockefeller Foundation wasn’t involved with M-PESA, but we are now pushing and have been working really intensively in the mHealth space because we see the same chance for acceleration of healthcare delivery, or diagnostics, or recordkeeping all through the developing world, again through mobile technology and in a way that they could leapfrog over us in the United States. In the US, we’re still figuring out how to get our wires to talk to one another in the health space, and the developing world is going right to using mobile technology.

And again you see all these amazing things happening. We have a grantee called Heart File in Pakistan. Virtually no poor person is insured in Pakistan. So, if a worker, a day laborer broke his leg in several places falling off of scaffolding, in the normal turn of events it would take him eight or ten weeks to go through the bureaucracy in Pakistan, have them verify that he was poor enough, have them verify that they could do surgery, and in the meantime he’s lost eight weeks of work, which is wiping out his family. And by the way his leg has already set. So what good is it going to do him?

Heart File recognized this and got the Pakistani government to agree that — using mobile technology — they would turn a decision within 12 to 14 hours as to whether that person was at the poverty level, where he could be treated immediately and get the kind of surgery or treatment needed. And then they went further.

So this is where again, think about the innovation, recognizing that there was still some expense associated with it and these people were at the poverty level and they couldn’t afford it, Heart File decided to crowd-source the stories across the world through mobile technology. We’ll SMS this person’s story and we’ll ask people using mobile finance to make contributions to his healthcare, which they are now doing and then they SMS back to the philanthropist whether it’s $.05 or $5.00 or whatever, how he’s healing and how his family’s doing. Well when you think about that, you think about what philanthropy is going to be in this new kind of environment as well. The innovation is really just accelerating at an extraordinary pace. We’re investing a lot in these pilots.

Rahim Kanani: As you think about that changing landscape of philanthropy you just mentioned, how would you position Rockefeller’s interests and ambitions within this new and dynamic space, five or ten years down the line?

Judith Rodin: On the back of innovation and all of the innovation processes and products and organizational structure and the acceleration of all of that, we hope, that Rockefeller is in the leading edge of what we’re calling the democratization of philanthropy because everybody can be a philanthropist. So in investing in Heart File, in investing in Jumo as it started, Kiva or Net Hope, new platforms are opening the architecture for innovation, opening the architecture for collaboration and opening the architecture for philanthropy, whether you’re investing your time or some money, we think that in five or ten years, that’s what we may be most excited about in terms of what we’ve done in our innovation work.

Rahim Kanani: It seems as though the common thread of the future, given your examples and the changing landscape of philanthropic giving, is that of the advancement and use of technology. What role does technology play as we move forward, not only in the development of social innovation, but also in allowing those very innovations to be taken to scale?

Judith Rodin: I think technology has become the enabler here, and the reason I’m so excited about mobile is that it’s accessible technology even to the poorest of the poor. We didn’t understand that would happen and the penetration of mobile technology throughout the developing world I think has everyone sort of breathless. And so people are scrambling to innovate on the back of that very quickly because I think people thought it would be broadband that would create that kind of technological platform. So, I do think that a lot of it is through technology, but not all of it, in that I think the reorganization of structures, the boundaries coming down is also going to be critical. The hard boundaries between government and the private sector and NGOs are eroding and there’s much more real time collaboration and innovation and acceleration and you get leverage that way, and I do think that that’s an organizational innovation. I think everybody is looking for leverage. And that’s the way to more rapidly produce change.

Rahim Kanani: As high-risk investments, when Rockefeller funds a pilot project of social innovation, is the government a keen spectator, waiting to take the project to scale if it proves successful?

Judith Rodin: I think it varies. Sometimes we stand in for government when they want to do something innovative. What comes to mind is New York City wanted to experiment with poverty reduction using conditional cash transfer. Conditional cash transfers had been tried in 19 countries in the developing world starting in Mexico and the Harvard School of Public Health actually did the analytics for the government of Mexico when that program first started.

It had never been tried in the developed world. And the Bloomberg administration wanted to think about new ideas and innovations for poverty reduction. It was very hard for them to imagine that government could pay for a pilot that paid poor people to do things for themselves or their children like getting the child to school or getting the child vaccinated. They said, “You know, the liberals don’t like it because they think it will take money out of other social programs that people should get anyway. And the conservatives don’t like it because they don’t think you should pay people to do what they should be doing anyway for their children. So you can’t use taxpayer money to experiment with this.”

So we brought a group of foundations together and we committed $15 million a year for a three-year experiment for New York City, and that covered the incentives. Here was something where we were side-by-side with the government program. The government ran the program. We supported collecting metrics and MDRC did the measures. It freed government to experiment and innovate. It also freed them to look at the data more dispassionately because they didn’t have to prove to the public that their idea was working. In fact, there were things that worked and things that didn’t work. We learned a lot. Much more than if it had actually come through government funding.

Another thing we did in New York: the City wanted to acquire enough new land for 30,000 units of affordable housing, and the banks, the big commercial banks, didn’t want to lend the money to developers for the acquisition or for the pre-construction costs. They’ll only go in if you already have a project developed and ongoing and lend you the money.

So again a collective of foundations put in the first tier of the riskiest capital. And we said we’ll take the first $50 million of losses. That enabled the commercial banks to be willing to put in $350 million as a second tier. So New York City got about almost half a billion dollars for developers to assemble and prepare land to build new units of affordable housing. So it’s both leverage and a different way of working with government.

It’s also a different way of working with the commercial banking sector, where we’re kind of all in it together but we’re each doing the piece of it that we do well. It’s no longer we do our piece first, and then somebody else takes it to scale.

Rahim Kanani: Speaking of government engagement, how would you characterize the White House’s new Social Innovation Fund and the work they are doing?

Judith Rodin: We applaud the fact that the government is really thinking about social innovation as being an important space and we work with that office, and as I said, with other places in government where there’s a lot of social innovation going on. For example, many foundations are working with Department of Education both on the Race to the Top and on the I3 fund, which is specifically innovation tripled.

We don’t do education funding per se, so we didn’t contribute to the fund for the education projects. We contributed to the development of the technology for the platform because we think the platform can be generalized. In fact, we’ve just made another grant so that the platform can serve as a marketplace for other potential investors. So the government picked its winners, but if you could open the platform so that some foundation that didn’t come in at the early stage sees another that they like or some private individual wants to be philanthropic, they have the opportunity to provide funding.

We are helping to create these more open architecture platforms that allow innovation to get taken up by people we don’t know and entities we didn’t know in advance, again trying to crowd- source opportunity for investment in some of these more innovative ideas that government has?

Another one that we’re funding — and this is actually the British government not the U.S. government — is a group called Social Finance in Great Britain. And they have just issued their first social impact bond. The notion behind this is to pick a social intervention that has a demonstrated solution for a problem that the government spends a lot of money on. If the NGO can demonstrate that it can reduce the cost to the government by X percent, would the government sell half of that savings opportunity to private sector investors who would be willing to take the risk along with the government?

The first one was a demonstrated reduction in the short-term juvenile reoffending rate, which is a huge problem in Great Britain. They have almost a 60 percent reoffending rate within the first year. And they know how much that costs them.

So our grantee, Social Finance, developed a social impact bond which will pay out to a retail investor up to 13 percent, depending on the degree to which the NGO reduces the reoffending rate. It’s a great deal, and the British government will pay it. The deal for them is that they still save half the money they’re currently spending, but it’s a way of getting the private sector to join them. So we think this is a tremendous social innovation that government really can take advantage of.

Rahim Kanani: And your hope is this kind of innovative model is adopted here in the U.S.?

Judith Rodin: We have had them here in New York talking to New York City and we decided to fund two entities in the U.S. to look at how we could do this in the U.S. now. Could the federal government or local governments have an appetite for doing this and for what kind of problems? And the ones they picked in Great Britain are pretty broad.

We would love to import this to the U.S. and we’re working very hard with the British grantee to help us try to do that. We want to help spread innovation. The great thing about being a global foundation is that we work around the world. We see a lot of amazing things going on, and we want to be able to spread in every direction. I was really proud to be in Mexico with Mayor Bloomberg, when he stood up there and said that all of the great ideas don’t flow from the developed world to the developing world.

We want to help import great ideas from around the developing world. At Rockefeller, we like to be the glue that helps that happen in a variety of directions.

Rahim Kanani: How has academia kept up with social innovation as an emerging discipline?

Judith Rodin: I do think universities are strongly engaged. There is the Social Innovation Review at Stanford and a couple others. There are already journals that are developing systematic literatures, whether it’s through case studies or through empirical larger scale studies, and there are many social innovation courses. I remember when I was at UPenn, there was some discussion very early on about social innovation. I think people’s eyes kind of glazed over at that, thinking we’re here to be in a business school, but Wharton now has some amazing social innovation courses and research too. And it is different than entrepreneurship. I think entrepreneurship caught on earlier and I think people now understand that entrepreneurship is part of social innovation, but social innovation is a much wider space. So I’m excited about where this could go.

I’m hoping that in my next life I’ll have a chance to write about some of this myself because I’ve now done so much thinking about it, and as I said I’m an academic and a scholar at heart. So I’d like to systematize what I’ve learned, and hopefully I will and teach again.

Rahim Kanani: Is there a coordinated effort amongst foundations to advance the social innovation sector?

Judith Rodin: No, there’s nothing so systematic yet. I think that is one of the things that we really do need to do, just as we saw the need to do that in the impact investing space. I think we do recognize but haven’t yet moved towards trying to create some broader umbrella organizational structures. But there’s a lot of conversation and tremendous interest.

A lot of the initial ideas on how innovation works came out of the private sector, when you think about the early innovators and the case studies written on them. And, one of our ambitions was that we helped adapt some of those processes to the social sector in our earlier phases of funding. I really do think that some of the innovations that are now starting in the social space will come back and be tested and readapted and reformulated for the private sector, and I think there’s a lot of opportunity for that.

The Harvard Business Review does a great job of really trying to create some convergence in innovation. The piece that they had on hybrid value chains was a really great example of how you write about and help others to think about that convergence, and we’re very attentive to ideas in that space.

Rahim Kanani: For those of us interested in getting involved in the social innovation space, whether we already have ideas and action plans or are in the midst of developing them, what advice would you give hopefuls in the context of really getting it right?

Judith Rodin: I think studying it when you can in an academic environment is great and there’s a lot to learn. But I think we have found that there’s a lot of learning that can come outside of the traditional academic classroom as well.

In watching the amazing innovation happening among very poorly educated people in parts of the developing world I, as a former university president, keep needing to reformulate in my own mental space about how much formal learning is necessary to do this. So I don’t think there’s a particular track. I think there are multiple ways to get at it, but I do think that real flexibility and nimbleness and open-mindedness is critical, and sometimes we worry about the state of education narrowing that kind of innovation thinking. And that for me is a greater concern than what the right level university curriculum is because I think it’s more a way of thinking than it is what specific paths you should follow to do it. In fact I think if you try to structure it too much you probably shut down innovation.

Rahim Kanani: This has been incredibly insightful and I so very much thank you for your time.

Judith Rodin: This was a pleasure, so thank you very much. I love thinking about these issues and discussing them.

Original article from: http://www.rahimkanani.com/2011/02/03/an-interview-on-social-innovation-...