Rewarding Social Innovation: Institutionalizing Competitions

Test Driving the Future

Competitions to encourage innovation have spread around the world and they play a significant role in facilitating and promoting social innovation. For example, the Dell Social Innovation Competition has been running since 2007 and has produced over 4,500 ideas and Ashoka’s Changemakers claims 5,000 “high-impact” solutions since 2004 from over 145 countries. Corporations, foundations and governments are often the sponsors of competitions, with targets and prizes, on a diverse range of issues from climate change to gender equity. The stakes are often very high: The European Commission is banking on its Social Innovation Competition this year to generate solutions to its unemployment crisis – to find work for over 25 million unemployed citizens[1].

So much seems to be resting on these types of competitions, but what do we really know about them? Why are they growing in popularity? How are they most effectively organized? How might they change in the future?

Researchers from Cass Business School in London and the Newcastle Business School, Joseph Lampel, Pushkar Jha and Ajay Bhalla, sought to answer these questions*.

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Social Innovation Inc: Seeking to transform the way businesses approach social change

How businesses should engage with social issues has long been a subject of debate. At one end of the spectrum are those who think businesses have a duty to engage in social issues.  At the other end are those who think that businesses should just worry about making money.  Jason Saul in his new book “Social Innovation Inc: 5 Strategies for driving business growth through social change” argues that both are possible.  But it will require transforming the way most businesses think about social change.

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Social Innovation and Connector Organizations: Facilitating Clusters in Montreal

A few days ago I was ruminating about how one social innovation might interact with another and considered the idea of clusters.  The next day I saw an article had been published on clusters and social innovation in the International Journal of Technology Management by Juan-Luis Klein, Diane Gabrielle Tremblay and Denis Bussieres.

This research explores an area of Montreal adjusting to change in the garment industry.  Montreal had for many years been a centre for the garment industry in North America but in recent years has struggled to compete with products produced more cheaply in emerging economies.

The researchers identified the importance of “community economic development corporations” (CEDCs) that encouraged the development of a new working model.  These organizations facilitated the move from a focus on production to one focused on design. Providing ideas, resources and networks CEDCs were able to encourage a new cadre of fashion designers. CEDCs could enable the sharing of resources and knowledge.  The effect was to produce a cluster of independently operating businesses in an area of the city that gained benefits from close proximity.

It raised a couple of questions for me.  First, about the importance of “connector” organizations, the forms that they can take and for how long.

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