What is Social Innovation? The concept takes on shape with every conversation. Earlier this year I was challenged by a philanthropist to distinguish social innovation education from social entrepreneurial education. Her concern was the latter’s emphasis on “money making” at the expense (no pun intended) of more salient issues – “non violence, gender equality, disarmament, human rights,” etc. I described Social Innovation to her as a framework for guiding authentic, inclusive and transdisciplinary engagement aimed at responding more effectively to the critical challenges we face and resulting in systemic change.
The qualifier “social” in both Innovation or entrepreneurism, implies an outcome that is beneficial to society as a whole, and is typically aimed at addressing a particular yet widespread challenge. In my experience, Social Innovation theory and practice tends to place more emphasis on process, while (social) “entrepreneurial” approaches are more individualistic and tend to be framed by a business or enterprise model. Clearly, Social Innovation is a nascent field, which is what makes Goddard’s new degree program so exciting.
Perhaps the fact that Social Innovation seems not only to be gaining traction across many disciplines, but is outpacing Social Entrepreneurism as an academic concentration, is commentary on the fact that a system that is individualistic at its core is not sustainable. Goddard’s new MA in Social Innovation and Sustainability (MASIS), by design, aims to prepare “activists” to facilitate collective action that is mindful of balancing ecological, economic and social concerns and that is concerned with issues of equity and inclusion.
In designing the MASIS degree we sought input from individuals and organizations committed to building the capacity of communities and organizations to pursue innovative approaches to creating more viable ways of living and being in community. Because these conversations offered insights into the challenges of launching and sustaining meaningful change, we thought, Why not create a space to share and engage with new ideas and useful information from the field?
Stay tuned for our first featured Social Innovator, Leah Bry, in a future column.