Social Innovation: beyond better

Inside and outside their walls, cities, towns and communities witness a rise of socially driven initiatives going beyond business priorities, placing local people concerns at the heart of their missions. With disruptive creativity tools they share with their startup peers, those public-private partnerships are able to build their own dynamics and rules to generate a local creative ecosystem. This approach also means that it applies outside cities, with the help of communities who are now given the ability to influence their direct environment positively. Because they are generated and aimed at local communities, social innovation startups and entrepreneurs seek to address core roots of social issues, delivering value way beyond words.


Cities of creativity

We have no other choice but to consider our value, our roles and our missions, as part of a globally changing eco-system which we need to read, understand and impact in faster way. To do this, leaders need to analyze situations with multi-dimensional reading tools and generate related answers.

The challenge now for governments, international institutions and informal organizations is to address the many changes taking place in the geopolitical landscape. They need to understand them fast, and they need to begin formulating an effective response.

Read more: “What do we mean by ‘Governance’?“, Anna Bruce-Lockhart, World Economic Forum

One of the suggested tools to improve innovation results on the social side is gamification. By developing activities that can invite and re-use best talents around, from students to local companies and government, innovation is able to break barriers to knowledge and foster new answers to complex challenges.

Key reasons of this growing attention towards serious gaming are the main barriers preventing wide acceptance of social innovations such as participatory budgeting, civic consultations or various technologies used in sustainable urban development. Those two main barriers are:

  • Lack of civic engagement, due to bad experiences from the past or general low level of civic activity;
  • Beliefs and attitudes which inhibit the acceptance of social or technological innovations crucial to the development of a sustainable urban community;

Read more: “Serious game in sustainable urban development – Part 1“, Marcin Laczynski and Katarzina Kotarska, EAI

As a result, new forms of creativity are invading the public-private partnership sector to enable best talents to create local solutions for local needs. This first example in France shows how “students, together with government agencies, associations and businesses have joined their ideas around specific themes to prototype applications that would streamline trainings, professional changes, and project funding. This hackathon is therefore reaching two goals at once: it initiatives a collaborative initiative to generate ideas and includes at the core thinking of business model those who would be directly targeted by such services.”

Les étudiants, accompagnés d’experts des agences gouvernementales, d’associations et d’entreprises se sont donc regroupés autour de ces thématiques pour produire des prototypes d’applications qui facilitent la formation, la transition professionnelle, et le financement de projets. Ce hackathon fait donc d’une pierre deux coups : il lance une dynamique participative de génération d’idées et inclut directement dans la réflexion ceux à qui est destiné ce service.

Read more: “Pourquoi il est nécessaire de repenser le contrat de travail“, Silicon

Citizens, local authorities and businesses indeed evolve in commonly shared spaces that have their own dynamics and rules. Political analysts remind how “understanding this link to urban space in social movements requires to go back at the roots of western cities developments by two historical forces facing one another: democracy and capitalism. The former necessitates a universal and sustainable ownership of public space, while it is threatened by the former’s tendency to maximize flows in the name of its continuous quest for mobility.”

Comprendre ce rapport à l’espace urbain dans les mouvements sociaux nécessite de revenir sur le façonnement de la ville occidentale par deux forces historiques en tension : la démocratie et le capitalisme. La première nécessite une appropriation universelle et durable de l’espace public ; or celle-ci est menacée par la tendance du second à maximiser les flux au nom de sa quête continue de mobilité.

Read more:Le Mouvement des Immobiles“, Max Rousseau, Le Monde Diplomatique


The infrastructure, the talents, the local needs, investments and regulation are a number of factors favoring the rise of a startup ecosystem driving change.

Startups rarely succeed in a vacuum. Cities that foster mutual respect and collaboration among existing corporations, universities and other civic institutions create the ideal conditions for a thriving startup sector. Being able to openly share ideas and navigate regulations are key, as are a high concentration of talent and capital, according to the report.

Read more: “New Report Labels Boston a Better Hub for Startups than San Francisco“, Lydia Bellanger, Entrepreneur

Innovation lands

Outside cities, startups also participate to support small-scale farmers in reaching a local market which they wouldn’t access without new startup ideas. The point is to create new relationships beyond creating new transactions.

“We are answering the question of how we might support small-scale farmers and food producers by capitalizing on an increasingly food-curious and food-conscious population, and in turn how we might make small-scale scale farming more economically viable,” says Grace Lesser, co-founder of Farmcation. “Ultimately, we seek to make our cultural relationship with food less transactional and more relational.”

Read more: “This new startup wants to be the Airb’n’b for local farm tourism“, Adele Peter, Fast Co-Exist

The ability to use all local talents is also deeply linked to the ability of talents to express themselves locally. As an example, the rise of women-owned businesses and its impact on local growth shows the necessity for cities to enable more women to develop their own local activities.

new report from the Center for an Urban Future details the rates of growth for women-owned businesses between 2007 and 2012 in these cities, and the numbers are impressive. Nationally, the average rate of growth for women-owned businesses hit 27 percent, but 24 out of the 25 largest cities surpassed that number. Cities averaged a growth rate of 43 percent; Memphis topped the list with a 116 percent increase in female-owned firms.

Read more: “What the boom in women-owned businesses means for cities“, Eilli Anzilotti, CityLab

Social value beyond words

Innovation experts remind the strengths offered by local talents to create and assess solutions they come up with by exploring them in their daily lives in cities or anywhere else.

Grassroots solutions tend to emerge when leaders on the ground draw from and share indigenous, contextual, and collective expertise. They come from making deeper connections to the natural world, and from working directly with families as they cope with the unequal burdens and chaos created by climate change. These efforts not only assess the very real, daily implications of climate change on people’s lives, but also enable local action to protect rights to water, soil, air, seeds, food, forests, livestock, and land around the world.

Read more: “Beyond climate change platitudes“, Joanna Levitt Cea, SSIR

Beyond employing most adequate talents, social innovation should also seek to address core roots of identified issues. This is considered by innovation experts as a necessary condition to build long term and sustainable solutions.

We must understand the factors that cause fragility, violence and conflict in order to develop solutions that will meaningfully reduce instability at its roots, rather than merely addressing the symptoms.

Read more: “When companies invest in fragile communities, everyone stands to gain“, Peter Maurer, World Economic Forum


In all cases, a key step taken by social innovation is to go beyond words. The concept also goes beyond sectorial and organizational barriers, enabling appropriate talents and mindset to grow initiatives. Those have the potential to solve systemic issues with local ideas.

In our view, social entrepreneurs seek something beyond better. They want to change an unhappy but well-established equilibrium, and transform it into a more just or more equitable stable state. Such social entrepreneurship can be practiced within any organizational structure, including for-profit businesses, NGOs and not-for-profits, social enterprises, and even government.

Read more: “Social Entrepreneurship by the Billions“, Roger Martin, Sally R. Osberg, Jennifer Riel, Strategy & Business


And you, what’s beyond your local betters?  has released a management report combining experts and analysts thought leadership to turn diversity into a success story. Find out more here

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