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 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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Another Competition: European Social Innovation

Another competition to promote social innovation as well as build interest/language to encourage social innovation across Europe.

The blurb:

There is no shortage of social innovations in Europe. And yet despite this, the field of social innovation has yet to mature enough to be up to the multitude of presenting social challenges. In order to move from the current state of good yet fragmented ideas, to a place where social innovations are making a more consistent and more efficient impact on all areas of need, successful social innovations must be more visible in Europe.

Euclid Network, in partnership with The European Commission and Social Innovation eXchange (SIX), will identify 10 large-scale successful examples of socially innovative initiatives, with the aim of raising the profile of social innovation across Europe and creating an impact beyond the established social innovation community.

There are two videos promoting it…not overly slick but the message is clear…apply by September 8th 2010 – use the following guide.