In June 2015, SIX Asia hosted its 4th annual gathering in China, alongside with Intel Social Innovation Week, which is hosted by Cinnovate Centre, an Intel (China) - incubated non-profit organization championing China's social innovation movement. SIX’s Louise Pulford sits down to chat with CY, who was responsible for the event, who shares some of his insights on smart cities, social innovation in Asia, and .the role of corporates in social innovation.
LP: Could you tell me a little bit about the purpose of social innovation week, why you focused on ‘Smart cities’ and some of the activities that have happened here?
CY: One of our key objective is to bring together change-makers and explore how we can blaze a new path to unleashing societal innovations.
We want to highlight how citizens can be a key driver of social innovation or innovation in general, by showcasing the leading examples. They should be a key driver, a catalyst for innovation and for social progress in general - working across businesses, government, and academia from the bottom up vs the other way around.
We’re seeing a growing maker movement and we want to steer the maker movement towards social innovation for broader impact.
We believe that future smart cities has to be inspired by bottom up social innovations, as at the end of the day the purpose of the smart city is to make people happier and more fulfilled. It’s not about how smart the technology is, but about how effectively technology is deployed to serve the people, a means to an end.
So we saw an opportunity to redefine four future cities, or smart cities 2.0 more inclusive, sustainable, prosperous, and happier cities.
LP: What was one of the things that you heard over the last few days that really surprised you?
CY: As people, we tend to have many assumptions. Smart city is a good example where many underlying assumption have to be questioned. We need to learn how to experiment, rapid-prototype, learn and evolve. That’s why are now exploring how to establish a network of community based social innovation labs to inform smart city development.
We should also tap into the learnings from around the world as we share many of the same challenges – we need build a global learning network through the SIX to cross-pollinate and co-create.
Another thing, that struck me, was many references to the analogy of biological ecosystem: neurons, the brain, and the nerve system. One of the things that we should look into is how we can learn from biological ecosystem to inform our city ecology, organic, evolving, harmonious co-existence, as a living organism, versus top down only.
LP: Sometimes people are nervous about companies doing social innovation - Why do you think Intel is well positioned to run this event and be the convener?
Like many organizations, we have had a very strong focus on philanthropy and volunteering for the community. The 2008 Sichuan earthquake has made us realize that something more systemic has be addressed. We realized that China needs a more a vibrant social sector to help alleviate social and environment challenges.
We launched a challenge with the government to identify leading innovators, promote their practices and celebrate their success early 2010. The initiative has been so successful that we have been able to build a network of hundreds of NGOs, change makers, businesses, and government policymakers through many of our activities including the social innovation week. Over time, it has evolved into a network of think and do tanks to share best practices and shape the collective future.
With rapid economic development, social infrastructure has been well behind. To jump start the social development, we need to leverage innovative approaches and solutions, unleashing the potentials of societal innovation.
So for us, it has been a journey discovery and learning along the way.
LP: In focusing your work around a smarter city, how were you able to get different stakeholders on board, like social sector organisations and businesses?
CY: The key is to align all the stakeholders around a shared vision.
For the government, smart cities and urbanization will be a key driver of economic development not only from the infrastructure build-out, but also social infrastructure, public services, education, health care, and employment etc..
We see smart cities as an opportunity to tap into the power of social innovation to make our cities more inclusive and sustainable. An opportunity to thrust social organizations into the limelight and jump start their development, bringing them into the mainstream of economic and social development.
For business, many have realized that the old model no longer works and a need approach is urgently required to make the offerings more human centered, more effective versus efficiency alone.
So, smart city is just a platform. If we can re-orient the future path of smart city, we will be doing mankind a great service, for many generations to come. That’s the fun part.