Posted in Social Innovation

July 20, 2009

The Birds, the Bees and the Trees

So much is in the ether about “social innovation.” There is a new office in the White House dedicated to the idea as well as a prestigious journal, Stanford Social Innovation Review and multiple books.  The following are only two such examples: Geoff Mulgan’s The Process of Social Innovation 2007 and David Bornstein’s How to Change the World: Social Entrepreneurs and the Power of New Ideas,Updated Edition.

One of the best things that I have read recently is Social Innovation: What It Is; Why It Matters; and How It Can Be Accelerated. In this article the authors define social innovation as “new ideas that work, to meet pressing unmet needs and improve peoples lives”. They introduce us to the stages of innovation from the generation of ideas through prototyping and piloting to scaling up and learning. And they introduce us to the idea of the “bees and trees” i.e. that social change depends on small organizations, individuals and groups who have new ideas and are more mobile, quick and able to cross-pollinate connecting to the trees, which are big organizations like foundations, government and corporations which have the resilience, roots and scale to make things happen.

They posit that it is these alliances that will ensure that new and creative ideas will be translated into new products and services. At IISC we have spent a lifetime steeped in this struggle. We are bees learning constantly, experimenting continually and daunted by the time, effort and cost of turning many of these ideas into real and replicable products and services. While it remains a struggle, it is also our core commitment to “change how change happens” and so it is our dilemma to solve.

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