Social Innovation: what’s under this umbrella? A Brazilian perspective


Social innovation, as both a field and conversation point, is burgeoning within Latin America. Yet, at the same time, there are discrepancies between what is meant by social innovation, and little shared understanding of its definition.

The social innovation dialogue in Latin America, and especially in Brazil, hinges around two narratives. One centres on social finance and impact investing. The result is that any business models that include an environmental or social focus, are deemed as social innovation. This is reductive for the field not only because it is much broader and multi-sectoral, but also as these businesses may not be an accurate representation of socially innovative work.

The second, and older, narrative depicts social innovation as exclusively the work of third sector organisations, NGOs and charities.

By defining the field through these two channels, the diversity of innovative practices currently taking place in the region are often overlooked. This rhetoric also undermines the fact that social innovation is truly multi-sector.

In the attached report, Fábio Deboni, of the Sabin Institute, Brazil, highlights the importance of widening how we look at social innovation to incorporate more than just social finance, impact investing and the work of NGOs and charities. He argues that by defining the field in such narrow terms, limits efficacy. In so doing, there can be a greater appreciation for its ability to cross sectors and regions.