Social Innovation and Social Entrepreneurship are hot terms at the moment. Why the need though to qualify “innovation” and “entrepreneurship” with “social?”
A Change of Eras
We are not just in an era of change, but a change of eras. The industrial age has run its course. We are currently facing the challenges created by the solutions to 250 year-old problems. In order to create more abundance and higher living standards for people, natural and human capital was exploited to generate financial capital. We succeeded to a large extent in that goal, with poverty dropping across the planet, even though the distribution of the wealth that was generated has been hugely unequal.
The model of non-stop economic growth fuelled by a debt-based financial system has ravaged our natural capital and degraded our human capital, people. It is now time for the vast amounts of financial capital that we have built up at the expense of planet and people, to be used to restore nature’s wealth and people’s dignity.
Innovation and Entrepreneurship needs to be focused on that goal, and distinguished from the industrial approach. Using the term “social’ makes it clear that we are choosing to put our resources into restorative rather than exploitative business and societal activities.
A Systemic Shift
Changes of era do not happen in a linear fashion. They are non-linear, emergent processes by their nature. That means that we cannot easily predict the exact form of the coming era, and have to approach innovation fundamentally yet lightly. Given that we cannot predict and control a way forward into an emerging future, our innovations, while disrupting the foundations of the old era in their very design and intention, need to take the smallest steps possible moving forward in order to gather just enough data to inform the next step. This is a process of prototyping and rapid iteration, while staying true to the fundamental principles and disruptive vision of our innovation or enterprise. The use of the term Social should indicate this kind of practice.
These kind of emergent innovation processes require us to lean into deep collective inquiry and collaboration. No one person is likely to hold the key to the new solutions. However when we unleash our curiosity in a collective context, ideas emerge that no-one person could have come up with on their own. This requires an openness of mind, a willingness not to be the hero and own the solution yourself, and a trust that life will show us a pathway forward when we get our egos out of the way and engage in playful exploration and co-creation. In this sense, “social” points us towards the need for these (ad)ventures to be collaborative, social processes as compared to individualistic ego-trips.
Social Innovation and Entrepreneurship enables us to define our activities and identify ourselves with a collaborative quest for solutions that are fit for the future, as humanity embarks on a search for new meaning, values and practices that restore our relationship to ourselves, each other and this planet we are part of.