Social Innovators as Super-Heroes

I was recently sent a link to an article by Dorothy Stoneman and J.B. Schramm entitled Superman Isn’t Waiting in the Wings, But Social Innovators Are – it’s definitely worth a read. I tried to add a comment but the blog must have a quality filter that sorted out the wheat from the chaff :) For what it’s worth here is my take on their ideas.

“Fascinating article about the inspiring impact of YouthBuild and College Summit. Not sure, however, if I completely buy the idea that governments simply need to unleash the “superpower” of individuals/organizations, particularly those in nonprofits. First, I’m not convinced that social innovators generally, and nonprofits in particular, are waiting ready for when governments engage. The diversity of nonprofit missions/capabilities/size alone mean that their “superpowers” are not only limited but often contested. Education is full of nonprofits with very different philosophies/goals which become an issue when talking about scaling up.

Second, I am also not convinced that many nonprofits have latent superpowers if considered in terms of a novel solution with national implications. There is no evidence in the nonprofit literature to suggest that nonprofits are inherently innovative and their strength is often in solving a very local and particular set of problems.

Where I agree with you is that in all sectors too much is expected and made of certain individuals. The collective aspect of social innovation can be lost amongst overly heroic stories of social entrepreneurship. It might be helpful to explore “superpowers” of social innovation in terms of participation and organizing structures.

You highlight the importance of creating generative connections between individuals and organizations. Yet this type of participation requires organizing structures that ensure the focus is kept on the social problem/solution in ways that transcend organizational differences. (Government support can clearly have “kryptonite” effects – and you highlight a number of the challenges – but equally nonprofits can bring their own challenges to the table).

Perhaps if “superpowers” are to be found it is in those individuals/organizations that can play crucial bridging roles while at the same time diminishing their need for credit. Perhaps we need more Clark Kents?!”


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