Social Innovation (TM): Good business?

It is not difficult to find examples of businesses that are embracing the language of social innovation.  It’s a no-brainer.  Who wouldn’t want to be associated with novel solutions that have social benefits. It’s simply good business.  In many ways it is an outworking of the “triple bottom-line” movement where a company not only recognizes its “social responsibilities” but then goes the extra mile.  This is no longer about ameloriating the negative effects of doing business; it’s about using the firm’s resources to tackle a social problem.  What could be better than companies with vast experiences of innovation and management using this energy to generate novel solutions to change the world?

Well, it depends.  Continue reading


Social Innovation & Special Effects

What perhaps distinguishes social innovation from any other type of innovation is its concern with effects.  In other words, what difference does it make, and proponents of social innovation are upfront in what they expect to see.

For Phills et al. (2008) –  a novel solution to the social problem qualifies as a social innovation only if it is “more effective, efficient, sustainable, or just than existing solutions and for which the value created accrues primarily to society as a whole rather than private individuals (Phills et al., 2008, p. 36). This effect – known as “social value” – involves creating benefits or reducing societal costs in ways that “go beyond the private gains and general benefits of market activity” (Phills et al., 2008, p. 39).

The challenge is then to work out what qualifies.  Continue reading