“Social innovation is both a destination – the resolution of complex social and environmental challenges – and a process – devising new approaches that engage all stakeholders, leveraging their competencies and creativity to design novel solutions.”
- Tim Brodhead, 2011
By Al Etmanski (writing for Tamarack – An Institute for Community Engagement)
Social innovation: What is it? Why is it currently garnering such interest? And what’s needed to enable it to flourish? These are among the many questions explored by the BC Social Innovation Council (originally known as the BC Advisory Council on Social Entrepreneurship). The Council’s final report, Action Plan Recommendations to Maximize Social Innovation in British Columbia (PDF), culminates a comprehensive province-wide process with a set of recommendations and suggested framework to enable social innovation to flourish in British Columbia. The Council and its work also inspire others in the growing field of social innovation.
What is Social Innovation?
The Council’s discussion paper, Together: Respecting Our Future (PDF), defined social innovations as “ideas, products, services, processes, statutes, resources, protocols, and technologies that solve a social problem while generating new social relationships, partnerships, collaborations, connections and financing.” It also acknowledges that, around the world, social innovation has emerged as a “frame of reference for action to address existing and emerging social, financial and environmental challenges.”
In an earlier discussion paper, Taking Care (PDF), the Council stated that social innovation is beyond the scope of a single idea, organization or program, and means being intentional about:
- Cultivating and supporting new approaches that work;
- Aligning existing expertise and experience in new ways;
- Using the expertise and resources of all sectors (business, community and government);
- Adopting an entrepreneurial, business oriented approach to achieving social impact; and
- Linking innovations with structural, institutional and systemic change.
Social Innovation: Why Now?
Interest in social innovation has grown, in part, from the awareness that our society’s traditional approaches to addressing complex social issues, are neither sustainable nor responsible. Traditional social safety nets are reaching their limit, and yet the programs they support are not getting the results we want and need. At the same time, changes in the economy are challenging us to find new ways to pay for, deliver and transform the public services. It is clear that transformation is needed; but how that transformation should look is far from clear: there are no simple solutions.
The Council’s social innovation process included dialogue sessions with diverse stakeholders focused on what could be put in place to enhance and increase citizens’ capacity to take care of each other in the future. The key question for this work was: How can we use social innovation (and its corresponding tools of social enterprise, social media, open source, smart collaborative networks, and social finance) to enable a resilient British Columbia in 2020?
Supporting Social Innovation to Flourish
The Council’s unique composition of tri-sector co-chairs, elected official and public service blend, political leadership and a spirit of non-partisanship had never before been tried in BC. In a recent blog, I as one of the Council’s three co-chairs (from the business, government and community sectors) used an Emily Carr quote to describe the Council’s structure: “perfectly ordered disorder, designed with helter skelter magnificence.”
From the outset the Council was committed to modelling the spirit and value of working collaboratively by bridging faulty assumptions, traditional boundaries, misunderstandings and past grievances. This has given us a common appreciation for our challenges. And I believe that this approach is one of the reasons the Council’s recommendations already have momentum behind them – with alliances, resources and commitments coalescing around most of the recommendations.
The job to shepherd the Council’s recommendation to implementation has been handed to a newly created successor, Partners for Social Impact. This group will welcome additional individuals, groups, institutions and companies to this work and will no longer be advisory to government. Instead the BC government is committed to join other members as an equal contributing partner. British Columbia now has the opportunity to make something magnificent of the Council’s perfectly ordered disorder.