The Power of Social Innovation

Such is the title of a recent post on a Davos meeting of thirty-five or so social innovators from around the globe.

Social innovation is not a new concept, not by a long shot. What perhaps is unique about social innovation today is that it is natively emerging in developing countries, including some of the poorest.  This involves not only the creation of new solutions and technologies but also additional value-added mechanisms. As social innovators tend to target the billions of people sitting at the bottom of the pyramid, the potential for job creation and new livelihoods is vast. Also, multiplier, as well as network effects, can enhance opportunities for improved social well-being.

Social innovation can thus be critical to foster Inclusive Growth, one of UNDP’s core priorities.

In the ICT area, mobile phones provide perhaps the best platform to foster social innovation in developing countries where mobile 75 percent of the estimated 6 billion or so mobile subscribers come from. As a result, thousands of mobile apps have been designed by local entrepreneurs and non-profits to address socio-economic gaps – not limited to the so-called “digital divide” (see our mobiles primer here:

One of the challenges of these initiatives is the apparent lack of scalability. While certainly, platforms such as Ushahidi and M-Pesa are truly global successes, the same cannot be said of the many other apps that address issues related to health, education, information access and participation. There is a need to connect the dots at the local level and integrate social innovation efforts into development policies and agendas while fostering new partnerships between the public sector, local entrepreneurs, and stakeholders.

Being that is it may, innovation itself is now becoming once again a hot topic. For example, WBI has launched an innovation for development initiative while UNICEF has been promoting the area for many years now. A plethora of other organizations is joining the fray too.

This is indeed fantastic news as long as: a) support is given to ongoing social innovation efforts in the field, and b)  the creation of the local conditions that can directly link social innovation with development policies and goals can also be achieved.

Cheers, Raúl


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