Social Innovation

According to Stanford Centre for Social Innovation, social innovation is defined as

“.. a novel solution to a problem that is more effective, efficient, sustainable, or just… [where] the value created accrues primarily to society as a whole rather than private individuals.”

They go further-on to explain that

“Social Innovation focuses attention on the ideas and solutions that create social value—as well as the processes through which they are generated”.

Social innovation encompasses the idea of new solutions and processes to solve social challenges put into action through the cooperation of public, private and philanthropic sectors.

But how does all of that fit into the concepts of Social Entrepreneurship, Social Business and Social Enterprise?  Have a look at our take on it in this new SlideShare presentation:



Within the broader field of social innovation we can talk about organizations practicing social entrepreneurship; they are often highly impactful due to their disrupting the norm and creating a new ‘status quo’.

Social entrepreneurship is to social enterprise, as an innovative company is to a regular business. Let’s give this some context. We can see that companies like Facebook and Google, when they were startups, had the potential to be highly disruptive. Neither of these companies made money when they were starting out. In fact, it took years before either of them earned their first cent. Yet today they are credited not only with being highly disruptive, but with changing the way we search and communicate online. Not coincidentally, they are now worth billions.

A small convenience store that opened the same day as Google or Facebook might have been making money from day 1, but it will always be a small business. It will never cause disruptive change because it is just not innovative enough. (For a more detailed explanation of this concept, check out James McBennett’s Fisherman, Explorers, and Trading Ships.)

Now, let’s switch gears and look at social enterprise the way we look at regular business. We can look at social entrepreneurship as a particular subset of social enterprise as a whole. Given this context, we can define a social entrepreneur as someone who is trying to create wide scale systems change through a social value proposition that releases a vulnerable group from suffering and hardship.

Social entrepreneurship can come in the form of a for-profit or non-profit organization. What matters is whether the organization is formed around the premise of creating social impact, and that it has the potential to create wide-scale systems change.

Two examples of socially entrepreneurial organizations are Teach for America and TOHL. Teach for America is a non-profit organization that places more teachers in underprivileged schools to create a lasting and disruptive effect on the school system. On the for-profit side we have TOHL, founded by Echoing Green fellow Ben Cohen, that has been piloting their innovative pipeline solution that can be installed cost-effectively, quickly and simply over the most unforgiving terrain by helicopter. (Read our interview with Ben here.)

As noted through the examples of Google and Facebook, being highly disruptive and changing the norms of the way society operates can lead to great success. For these companies, success takes on the form of financial reward; but, being highly entrepreneurial and innovative can also bring-about major positive change in the social sector. When the status quo is disrupted in a way that brings populations out of great suffering, massive social impact is realized.

It is not important whether a social enterprise is for profit or non-profit, so long as impact is at the core of its values, mission, and purpose.

If you have a different way of looking at these definitions, please leave a comment. We would love to discuss them with you.