Social Innovation: what it is, why is matters, how it can be accelerated

This report examines how social innovation happens in NGOs, the public sector, movements, networks and markets. Following on from ‘Social Silicon Valleys: a manifesto for social innovation’, ‘Social Innovation’ presents a deeper, extended analysis of the history, the theory and the process, paving a way for social innovation to play an increasingly significant role in society.

Social innovations – new ideas that work to meet pressing unmet needs - are all around us. Examples include distance learning, patient-led healthcare, fair trade, Wikipedia and restorative justice. Many social innovations (from the Open University to laws against age discrimination) were successfully promoted by the Young Foundation in its previous incarnations.

Huge energies - and resources - are devoted to innovation in science and technology. But far less attention has been paid to social innovation, despite pressing needs in fields as diverse as chronic disease and climate change.

This report examines the growing importance of social innovation and how we can improve societies’ capacities to solve their problems.

It looks at the history of great social innovators – from Robert Owen to Wangari Maathai - and at what can be learned from research in related fields, including science and technology, design, social enterprise and public policy.

It makes the case for much more systematic initiatives to tap the ubiquitous intelligence that exists in every society and shows the practical ways in which successful social innovation can be accelerated.

This third edition represents a work in progress and we are grateful to the team at Saïd Business School in Oxford for earlier inputs and for enabling us to share it with the participants in their world forum on social entrepreneurship.

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