Sandy Idigibe is a major UK campaigner, speaker and influencer. She has become one of the most valued opinions in social science in her generation, inspiring waves of youth to make a change. As part of a generation engaging around good causes and campaigning on youth issues, Sandy understands that it is not enough to simply have good intention, but to actively campaign and create conversations about equality issues effecting young people. Sandy has been invited to speak at major events such as at the House of Lords in the UK and is a force to be reckoned with.
Recently, I was able to interview Sandy where we discussed the main dimensions of social innovations.
What would you define as social innovations?
Sandy: Social innovation is the dimension that brings new answers to social needs that are little or poorly met. The social change consists of developing fresh responses to new or poorly met social needs under current market and social policy conditions, by involving the participation and cooperation of the actors concerned. These innovations concern products or services, as well as the mode of organization, distribution. They go through a process in several steps: emergence, experimentation, dissemination, and evaluation.
In other words, we can define social innovations as new social, organizational or institutional arrangements or new products or services with an explicit social purpose resulting from an action initiated by an individual or a group of individuals to respond to an aspiration, to provide for a need, provide a solution to a problem or take advantage of an opportunity to act in order to modify social relationships, transform an action framework or propose new cultural orientations. These social innovations are milestones in a process in which alternatives are explored for a social transformation driven by citizens and to their benefit.
An idea is not yet an innovation. We can talk about innovation when there is an effect in and for society. If we want to support the emergence of social innovations, we must focus on the actors and what they do and make people’s commitment visible. In any case, social innovations are based on a strong and committed civil society.
What categories of social innovation are there?
Sandy: There are three categories of social innovation actors:
- The entrepreneurs: We are talking about entrepreneurial social innovation. In some European countries, the social and solidarity economy sector has a long history of social innovation. The voluntary sector has historically been the leading laboratory for social innovation.
Through its proximity and in-depth knowledge of populations and territories, it is able to detect existing social needs that are poorly met as well as new ones and to provide responses through an approach of experimentation and modelling of created solutions. The new generations of social entrepreneurs are also developing social innovations in order to provide solutions to major societal challenges. Finally, conventional companies can also develop this type of project.
- The citizens :We are talking about citizen innovation, carried by one or more volunteer citizens who commit to act and respond, on their scale, to the major social challenges.
- Public powers: It is a question here of social innovation in public policies, carried by public actors, in particular, Regional Councils which seek to re-examine the way in which their public policies are designed and implemented, by launching experiments with a multidisciplinary view (citizens, service designers, and urban planners).
How have social innovations evolved in recent years?
Sandy: In recent years, marked by a sustainable global crisis, the concept of social innovation has been used more and more to meet social and environmental challenges while promoting growth. In 2009, the President of the European Commission said: “The financial and economic crisis has increased the importance of creativity and innovation in general, and social innovation in particular, as a factor of sustainable growth, creating jobs and boosting competitiveness.”
More recently, in March 2011, Europe launched Social Innovation Europe (SIE), an initiative that aims to foster social entrepreneurship, develop networks and exchange of practices around social innovation. We can, therefore, see the increasingly important place occupied by the concept of social innovation.
Like any innovation, social innovation requires investing in R & D, being surrounded by experts and of course taking risks. But its main characteristic is to involve in the invention, the experimentation, the diffusion and the evaluation of the offer all the actors – in the first place, the users- concerned. Multiform, it uses as many human sciences and social as digital technologies. In this, it is not uncommon for social innovation and technological innovation to go hand in hand.
This co-construction of social innovation, the public authorities are paying close attention to it. More and more communities see it as an effective means of continuing to ensure quality public action, which is accessible to all, everywhere in their territory, in a context of growing social needs and severe budgetary constraints.
What are the layers of development in social innovation?
Sandy: The development of social innovation goes through three essential levers. The first lever is to design a long-term public policy that integrates social innovation into the “national innovation strategy” while recognizing its ability to respond to major social and environmental challenges. The second lever makes territories the first support tool for social innovation.
There are many resources: communities, research structures and institutions of higher education, businesses, citizens. The challenge is to unite actors and resources to maximize this capacity for innovation to serve local social needs. The last lever, to network and allow innovators of all types, social and digital, those of the public sector and private companies, those of urban and rural, researchers as well as practitioners in the field, to converge.
To achieve this, it is necessary to facilitate the exchange of the most innovative practices within the framework of multidisciplinary and multidisciplinary networks and places.
How can a society fund social innovation?
Sandy: The fact that “social innovation” has become a fashionable term representing an opportunity, for example, to mobilize funding. But it can also become a problem. Different definitions and explanations often focus on the choice of terms, while more attention should be paid to the current processes and their effects.
Innovation aids have, for the most part, been conceived in a technological and industrial approach to innovation, but the growing consideration of the social impact of economic activity now opens up the field of these aids to a more “human and social sciences” approach.
Companies or future creators are increasingly called upon to structure their projects in order to access funding. In this context, knowing how to present and defend your socially innovative project is essential so it is understandable to the various stakeholders. Funding for social innovation differs in the duration of its return on investment, which involves patient capital and targets long-term social and economic impacts.
What are the categories of funding for social innovation?
Sandy: There are several categories of funding for social innovation:
- Public funding: Grants, advances repayable at 0% and tax credits are some of the tools that can be used.
- Mixed funding: We can consider that sponsorship, which gives the right to tax deductions for the donor, constitutes mixed funding.
- Private financing: Corporate sponsorship is increasingly geared towards social innovation: banks also finance social entrepreneurship in the form of guaranteed loans.
- The development of funds dedicated to innovation, start-ups and impact investing: So-called “social impact” funds have developed and integrate the social impact into their Due Diligence criteria (robustness of the project and the potential for return on investment).
- Citizen financing: The dazzling development of crowdfunding (see graph below).
What is the future of social innovation and the voluntary sector?
Sandy: Competition from new players in the social sector may initially seem to threaten the voluntary sector. But their expertise cannot be substituted and partnership and the pooling of resources today seem to constitute social innovation. The pooling of ideas, resources and skills at all levels of the development of social innovation allows diversifying the sources of financing and the economic model.