How important is novelty to social innovations?

In October 2009 the Lien Centre for Social Innovation at the University of Singapore announced the winners of its $1 million (Singapore dollars) social innovation competition. The winning entries included rats able to sniff out landmines, a social enterprise that recycles unwanted clothes for the rural poor in India, an online platform to fund scholarships for Cambodian and Vietnamese children and interlocking bricks to reduce the cost of assembling basic housing (‘A world of winning ideas to lift up Asia’, 2009). But are these ideas particularly new and does it matter if they’re not?

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