Challenging Conventional Wisdom in Social Innovation

Saturday, April 30, 2016

By Ken Banks

There are no shortage of books on social entrepreneurship and innovation, but are they the books young people need? Do we have the right balance between theory and practice, or mechanics and motivation? Whose voice is dominant? What’s wrong with many of the current books on offer that drove me to publish two of my own?

Well, a quick glance through the literature and you’ll quickly realise that most authors choose to place social entrepreneurs under an expert spotlight – sometimes, but not always, even interviewing them – before attempting to unpick and dissect their work. That’s despite the author – in most cases – never having innovated themselves. Analysis is offered on what they consider worked, and failed, and the various theories applied give their commentary a sense of academic credibility. Surprisingly, most often missing are the voices of the innovators themselves, with the occasional quote considered reasonable exposure to the person doing the actual work. While expert analysis can be helpful, so too can the voice and story of the social entrepreneur, in their own words. My most recent book represents an attempt to address that balance.

The thirteen case studies included in Social Entrepreneurship and Innovation: International Case Studies and Practice, cover a wide range of problem areas with a wide geographical spread. The founders of each social innovation share their own stories – their background, how and where they grew up, and how they believe it helped qualify them to do their later work. They share the facts – and own analysis – of the problem they encountered, and why their solution works and why it matters. You’ll get to read about their response to finding the problem – or the problem finding them – and how they went about developing a solution and then an organisation to support it. You’ll hear their thoughts on key decisions they had to make – funding, sustainability and organizational structure – and how they determine the impact of what they do. They share the highs, and the lows, of life as a social entrepreneur – what worked for them, and what failed. Theirs is no glossy account of instant success and fame, rather the often untold messy and frustrating side of social entrepreneurship. They end with reflections on lessons learnt throughout their journey, and questions you might want to consider asking yourself as you unpick their work, and offer your own expert analysis.

Source: National Geographic (link opens in a new window)