6 Steps to Social Innovation

An increasingly impatient social sector sees innovation as the holy grail of progress. This impatience stems in part from the perception that decades of traditional global development efforts are lost years, with billions of dollars spent and too little to show for them. The scale of poverty-related challenges and the growing levels of global inequality drive a sense of urgency and a frustration with old development recipes. These challenges have legitimized a collective quest for new solutions and innovations.

A recent project with the Rockefeller Foundation explored what enables organizational capacity for continuous innovation in established social sector organizations that operate at an efficient scale delivering products and services. Researchers undertook a literature review of the mainstream organizational and management literature on this topic, and were amazed by both the magnitude of this research stream and the insights we gained. First, they found that both long-term evidence from studies of social sector organizations and recent empirical evidence challenge the mantra that more innovation is better. Second, they found that many of the assumptions about innovations in the social sector may be misleading. And third, they discovered that pushing innovation can stifle progress just as much as it can enable it.

This article explores the burgeoning field of social innovation and identifies six steps to achieve effective solutions in this innovation arena.

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