This course provided an introduction to the emerging field of social innovation. Through readings, vigorous classroom discussion, experiential learning, and individual and team assignments, the course provides students with concepts and frameworks for understanding and practicing effective social innovation. The course begins by assessing problems with current mental and organizational models for addressing social needs and the resulting desire for, and urgency of, innovative approaches. The course develops a theory of innovation and describes examples of persons and organizations demonstrating innovative approaches. The course also looks at how to innovate effectively and the attributes and skills that cultivate such innovation, emphasizing the importance of systems thinking, cross sector collaboration, and creative engagement. It also explores some of the limitations of social innovation and consider critical arguments that the field must address in order to gain further credibility as a promising field of academic inquiry and field of practice.The course combines lectures and guest speakers with interactive exercises and team projects designed to consider issues related in innovation in areas of public concern such as such as education, healthcare, children, economic development, and the environment. The course also will seek to provide students with a framework and tools for imagining their own engagement in social innovation.
Social innovation is a “new” and more effective, efficient, sustainable, or just solution to a social problem. The primary goal of social innovation is to create social value. The use of the term “new” here does not mean completely new, but rather new in the user, market, or application. Social innovation can, but does not always, take an entrepreneurial approach. In fact, social innovation often comes from outside the entrepreneurial sector; innovative solutions can come from nonprofit, private, and government sectors. While social innovation can be creating a new product from scratch – what most people think of as “innovation” – it can also come in many other forms. Social innovation does not have to be a major invention; it does not even have to be completely new. Many social innovations are built on old ideas, such as repurposing an existing technology, or applying an established methodology to a new sector.
I chose to take Social Innovation as my gateway course because I believed that this course would help me learn how to become a more effective change-maker. I recognized that no matter what issue area I chose to address, this course would provide a crucial foundation for understanding how to develop sustainable solutions. I was also drawn to this course because of its focus on bridging the gap between ideas and actions.
This class really taught me that every individual has the capacity to be a change maker in our world. Although there is not a silver bullet solution for the complex problems that face our world today, we learned that change is feasible, given the proper strategic approach and effective utilization of resources.There are many driven individuals who achieve great things, altering not only lives, but villages, through their dedication to social innovation. Even in our first Social Innovation class, we heard from Savitha Sridharan, the founder and CEO of Orora Global, who works to bring poor communities with access to reliable, renewable energy.
One class reading that has been the meaningful to me in helping to advance my understanding of social innovation is Do Good Well: Your Guide to Leadership, Action, and Social Innovation. While all of the readings contributed to understanding the concepts behind social innovation, this reading allowed me to relate and connect to social innovation in a way that makes it feel more accessible. The simplicity of the powerful ideas in this reading allowed me to really see what is at the core of social innovation, and helps me understand that making a difference is not as idealistic as I once thought. By providing a step-by-step structure, this reading makes tackling daunting social issues doable. This reading focuses on how to bridge the gap between good intentions and effective action, and in doing so it provides a deeper understanding of social innovation than just definitions and concepts. It offers up a pragmatic mindset, and demonstrates how social innovation can be a key vehicle for progress. The reading does not simply advocate for radically new, revolutionizing innovations. Instead, it contends that social progress can be made in the aggregate by each individual focusing on smaller, tangible goals.
One very valuable element of the course was learning about the application of human-centered design to develop innovative approaches to addressing critical social and environmental problems. This allowed me to practice utilizing a more creative approach to problem solving. The human-centered design process a huge potential to increase impact because instead of trying to find a “silver bullet” solution, it considers the culture, behaviors, and decisions of the people for which they are designing interventions.
As a part of this class, we were tasked with following a social innovator of our choice. The social innovator I chose to follow was Malala Yousafzai. I chose Malala because I found her story incredibly compelling. After Taliban took control of Swat Valley, where Malala lived, in 2007, Malala began to speak out against the Taliban and publicly campaign for girls to go to school. She survived an assassination attempt by the Taliban, and after her recovery, Malala co-founded the Malala Fund with her father, which is an organization dedicated to give all girls access to education. This organization addresses the issue that war and violence drastically reduce opportunities for girls to continue their education. The work of the Malala Fund has the potential to transform communities, countries, and the world by ensuring secondary education for girls. It sees education as an investment in economic growth, a healthier workforce, and lasting peace and the future of the planet. In fact, there is evidence that girls’ education strengthens the economy, creates jobs and stabilizes communities. One compelling statistic is that if all girls went to school for 12 years, low and middle income countries could add $92 billion per year to their economies. The Malala Fund supports supports the work of local education champions who understand the unique challenges in their communities and thus can best identify, innovate, and advocate for policy and programmatic solutions. Her innovative approach, a combination of advocacy and support of local education champions and innovators, can truly make a great change for girls. By following Malala Yousafzai for this course, I was able to gain more knowledge of her cause, girls’ education, an issue area that I am particularly passionate about.
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