Social innovation challenges societal and environmental issues in support of social progress. It’s about finding solutions for social challenges, such as refugees & immigration, marginalization, health, corruption and environmental issues. These social changes can come from (a collaboration between) universities, governments, businesses and the non-profit world. But what’s the worst thing about social innovation? It’s often invisible and only a few other people in your locality have heard about it. That’s why we had to put social innovation in the spotlight! Show what innovators from all over the world are doing to make our world a little bit better.
Against corruption and illegal operations
In this music clip you will hear about the Indian initiative I Paid a Bribe, which hopes to tackle corruption by letting citizens anonymously report on actual corrupt acts. The reports will later be used to argue for improvement of governance systems and procedures. In Kenya the Uchaguzi initiative was formed by Ushahidi and Hivos to monitor the constitutional referendum and safeguard fair, peaceful and credible elections. Similar to I Paid a Bribe, voters are asked to report anything suspicious during the election process to enhance transparency around the elections and encourage citizen participation in democracy. Another more example of active citizenship is Mobile Justice CA which asks bystanders to report on police injustice in their area.
We also have two clips that record the fight of indigenous people against large oil, mining and logging companies which are destroying their living grounds in the Pastaza province in Ecuador and the Amazon basin. They are combatting the multinationals with new technologies, such as drones, trying to capture illegal activities on camera.
Empowering (marginalized) people
We’ve seen quite a few of powerful of examples of empowerment, such as the Open Cinema movement, who gives homeless people the chance to attend film clubs and make their own films to express their creativity. Below you’ll find some more examples of empowerment divided into different categories.
Empowerment for the needy
In Nigeria poor soccer clubs can now opt for Pavegen kinetic football grounds that generate energy for the lights at night by just playing on it. Another initiative we specifically like is the Plastic Bank, which turns plastic waste into currency. Basically, it enables the exchange of plastic for money, items or services to help people living in poverty build better futures, while at same time stopping the flow of plastic into the oceans. This same principle is applied by doctor Gamal Albinsaid who lets his poorest patients pay for his services with a bag of garbage in Indonesia.
Lensational is a great charity by Bonnie Chu which teaches (illiterate) women how to express themselves via photography. It’s aimed at women in the developing world and empowers them both emotionally and financially to improve their quality of life. Solar Turtle, a South African social enterprise in renewable energy, trains women to become entrepreneurs of their own micro-franchise, making them economically independent while investing in future generations. In Bangladesh the Grassroots Women’s Platform (Polli Shomai) has worked on improving the position of women. Bangladeshi women are given the opportunity to raise their voices, get better access to local services and take action against inequality.
Empowerment for people who are blind or deaf
There’s also a vast number of social enterprise that are about empowering people who are blind or deaf. Two of these rely on the help of the crowd; BeMyEyes is an app which connects a blind person with someone who can see via a live video connection for some extra help navigating or simply recognizing date stamps on food products. The Chabla app works similar, but is more specific: it connects deaf people to interpreters who speak the sign language of that country. The last invention doesn’t rely on other people, but on artificial intelligence. Microsoft has recently introduced the Seeing AI app which helps blind people navigate the world by turning everything into sounds. The app can recognize your friends and their emotions, read text out loud and identify bank notes. If you want to see comparable innovations, it’s worth checking out our Health section.
Building active citizenship and communities
It’s good to see many initiatives popping up in which ordinary people are given the choice over local public projects and budgets. Watch the example of participatory budgeting in Chicago’s 49th Ward, which follows community members pitch ideas, team up and craft proposals for infrastructure projects. Or the amazing Detroit Soup in which people come together for a meal and discuss and vote for creative community projects which are funded through the entry fees people have paid. And don’t forget about Play the City, which allows different stakeholders to come together to discuss urban planning in a playful manner.
This last one is an initiative by Hivos which strengthens and links creative networks and methods for social change in Indonesia. In the CreativeNET video you can see how social innovation impacts small communities in Yogyakarta and Bandung.
Open access to education
The Internet has opened many doors for education and spreading knowledge. People can read up on the latest information in Wikipedia for free (even if you don’t have money to pay for mobile data, check out Wikipedia Zero), can share their knowledge about any kind of topic, like sustainable development (Architecture in Development) and work together on open source projects, such as this Global Village Construction Set for farmers. And do watch this video about DoNotPay Bot, an AI system which empowers everybody without a legal background to appeal parking tickets.
But what of regions with no or little internet access? That’s when companies like Kolibri come in. They provide a high-quality e-tech solution for low-resource communities. Their tablet can download content in an area with Internet and later spread that content to other devices via an offline local network. We’d also suggest you’d watch the WISE Award videos which shine a light on great education projects. Take Education for Growth and Value Creation for example which supports the socio-economic status of rural Lebanese women through vocation training in tourism.
Improving access to basic needs
Luckily, we have a long list of innovations which help people get better access to food, water, electricity, sanitation and shelter. Did you know people can get water from an ATM in Kenya? Pay per use with your smartphone to get running water in your home with City Taps? Harvest water from the air with Warka Towers in Ethiopia or with CloudFisher nets? Solar polar can help to purify rain water with SOURCE by Zero Mass Water or by the Watly machine which also provides Internet connectivity to a whole community?
When looking at safety and shelter, you come across the Lumkani fire detection system for the whole slum community and The Mobile Factory which recycles rubble left after natural disasters into strong LEGO-like blocks with which homes can be rebuild in Haiti. A similar process is underway in Gaza where Majd Al-Masharawy founded Green Cake and makes block out of ashes. And while the Moladi construction technology helps to build one house a day with local material and labor, Better Shelter builds temporary and safe refugee shelters to create a home away from home.
For food, we’re looking at the innovative ACE1 cookstove, which has many benefits like smoke-free cooking (a silent killer!), reduced costs for fuel and its solar panel stores enough power to charge mobile devices and LED lighting. In Indonesia and around the world Hivos is helping people to start cooking with biogas. Here’s a short item that explains the impact of the traditional cooking fuels to biogas on families. Or why not start solar cooking and prepare food with only the power of the sun?
Last but not least, check out the Emergency Sanitation Operation System which offers better hygiene to people in disaster zones. The smart toilet runs on solar power and recycles urine into irrigation water. It also provides UNESCO and other institutions with data on what people’s needs are in that area.
If you simply can’t get enough of social innovation, we recommend you to watch the following videos as well:
- Venster literally provides a window to the outside world nursing home residents;
- The 1% Club platform connects people from developing countries with people from all over the world who can help them to build a local enterprise or project with knowledge and resources;
- Riders for Health is an organization in Kenya that teaches doctors and their team how to fix motor cycles to prevent downtime, which helps them to continue offering health services;
- The Shoe That Grows is adjustable in size and helps children living in developing countries enjoy their shoes longer.