Defining Social Innovation

Social innovation is an emerging field that has been embraced around the world as a legitimate public policy. The growth of this field has been driven by the identification of social challenges as a complex system that requires innovative solution to address them.

Defining social innovation has been a difficult task for both scholars and practitioners since there has been little consensus over the concept of social innovation. One problem is that the concept of social innovation can be interchangeable with other ideas such as social entrepreneurship, social enterprise and social impact (Yeung, 2007). Another problem is that both the scholars and the practitioners provide a definition that is align to a specific field and potential audience, ignoring a generic definition.

According to Goldenberg (2004), social innovation is the development and implementation of new or enhanced activities, initiatives, services, processes or products to address social and economic problems experienced by individuals and communities. From another point MaRS (2007) defines it as a new set of creative solution to unmet social needs to goes from environmental degradation and homelessness to global poverty. Frances Westley provides a broader definition by saying that social innovation is a complex process of introducing products, process or programs that profoundly change the basic routines, resources and authority flows or beliefs of the social system in which they arise (Westley, 2009). Westley also adds that for a social innovation to be successful it has to be durable and of broad impact (Westley, 2009).

From the previous definitions we can identify that the purpose of social innovation is to transform social problems that are deeply rooted by providing new ideas, solutions, guidelines and/or policies for the benefit of the community at large (Etmanski, 2008). With this we follow Phills et al. (2008) more generic definition that social innovation is a novel solution to a social problem that is more effective, efficient, sustainable and/or just than existing solutions and for which the value created accrues primarily to society as a whole. This social innovation can be presented much like other type of innovation as a product, a production process or a technology. It can also be a principle, a piece of legislation, a social movement, an intervention or a combination of them (Phills et al., 2008).

The main difference between social innovation and other types of innovation is that social innovation takes place in daily life, social relationships and behaviors. Other types of innovation are trapped by any standard measures of economic activity making them to be located within the market economy. Another main difference is that social innovation aims to create social value for the wider community rather than for personal profit (Hazelkorn, 2009).

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