Daniel Granada

Putting a Face to Social Innovation: Without adoption, there can be no innovation

Having a hard time defining social innovation? So did I, but as I recently learned social innovation is one of those things you simply “know when you see.”

I recently had the opportunity to participate in an exciting panel on the matter at the II BASE Forum International, a large-scale international event celebrated by the IDB in Medellín, Colombia in June.

Medellin – recently selected by the Wall Street Journal as the most innovative city in the world – was a fitting venue for the forum. The panels that focused on social innovation did not disappoint. Dane Smith from FSG; Francisco Noguera from Compartamos con Colombia and former editor at NextBillion; Julian Ugarte from SociaLab; Myrtille Danse from BoPInc; and Victor Grau from the MIT D-Lab, all shared their experiences on applying innovative tools to overcome social problems through the private sector with an attentive crowd, so numerous, people were sitting on the floor.

(From left to right: Moderator Cesar Buenadicha, Myrtille Danse from BoPInc, Dane Smith from FSG,Julian Ugarte from SociaLab, Victor Grau from the MIT D-Lab, and Francisco Noguera from Compartamos con Colombia)

So just what is social innovation? As Smith said, it starts with a vision. There is nothing more eye opening than the shock of the possible, he said. It can be a transformative innovation as revolutionary and game changing as a malaria detecting online game; or the application of a mundane technology, process or idea to solve a social issue, like the company bent on bringing fresh water to remote communities at a lower cost by using a helicopter and flexible tubing.

To that vision, I would add a couple of caveats that are closely interrelated: user adoption and sustainable implementation. As Ugarte from Social Lab told the audience, there is no social innovation without user adoption. That is one of the reasons why creating shared value has become so important in this space. Without user buy-in your great idea simply isn’t that great. And just as important, make it sustainable. This is where most visionaries fail, what separates successful social innovation from “that great idea nobody ever heard about.” Put at least as much work into the business model as you did your innovative idea: it will pay off in the long run.

All that said, I’ll submit my own definition of social innovation: Social innovation = the sustainable implementation of an innovative solution to a social problem.

Daniel Granada has been an International Development Consultant at the Opportunities for the Majority since summer 2009.

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