Revealing inside stories of social innovation

It all started as a casual conversation about a new book idea over coffee last March. Despite being self-published with no marketing budget, my first book, “The Rise of the Reluctant Innovator“, had gone down particularly well and I had been encouraged by how well it had been received, particularly in academia. It turns out there aren’t many books like it – ones that give the true, authentic voice of the social innovator and their life, work, achievements and struggles in their own words. I was happy with the book, but the feedback – great as it was – told me I could do better.

The end result, exactly one year later, is “Social Entrepreneurship and Innovation: International Case Studies and Practice‘. It’s been a long, challenging (and rewarding) exercise, and more work than I ever imagined, but the end result is everything I wanted it to be. And this time I have one of the largest publishers of academic books in the world behind it to make sure it goes as far and wide as possible, which is good. These stories need to be heard.

Case-Studies-Social-Innovation-Cover

The book kicks off with my introduction, which touches on the concept of social entrepreneurship, the value of empathy, my own story and work with kiwanja.net and FrontlineSMS, the reason I decided we needed this kind of book, and some advice and tips for people wanting to help make the world a better place. Thirteen case studies follow, covering a wide diversity of people and projects from around the world, written by the innovators themselves.

Chapter 1
‘Wonders of the Solar System: Reducing Maternal Mortality in Developing Regions’
Laura Stachel of We Care Solar

Chapter 2
‘Closing Latin America’s Digital Divide’
Rodrigo Baggio of Centre for Digital Inclusion (CDI)

Chapter 3
‘Patent Wars: Fighting Big Pharma to Enable Access to Drugs for All’
Priti Radhakrishnan of I-MAK

Chapter 4
‘Data Science, Technology and Design for Social Justice’
Jessica Anderson and Joumana al Jabri of Visualizing Impact

Chapter 5
‘Bringing the Silicon Valley Revolution in Technology and Business to Global Health’
Joel Selanikio of Magpi

Chapter 6
‘Food Waste Meets Food Poverty: Closing the Loop’
Kelvin Cheung and Michael Norton of Foodcycle

Chapter 7
‘Innovation in Africa’s Silicon Savannah’
Erik Hersman of Ushahidi

Chapter 8
‘Touch-Based Treatment for Autism’
Louisa Silva of Qigong Sensory Training Institute (QSTI)

Chapter 9
‘Reconnecting the Disconnected: A Story of Technology, Refugees and Finding Lost Family’
David and Christopher Mikkelsen of Refugees United

Chapter 10
‘Let a Billion Readers Bloom’
Brij Kothari of Planet Read

Chapter 11
‘Keep Calm and Dream in Tunisia: Supporting Sustainable Development in Tunisia and North Africa Through Empowering Youth, Women and Farmers’
Sarah Toumi of Dream in Tunisia

Chapter 12
‘The Reluctant Geneticist’
Sharon Terry of Genetic Alliance

Chapter 13
‘Power to the People: Re-engineering Democracy’
Tarik Nesh Nash of GovRight

Continuing the theme of story telling, I’m also excited to announce that we have two Forewords in the book – one from musician and humanitarian, Peter Gabriel, and the other from Bill Drayton (CEO and Founder of Ashoka).

gabriel-drayton

These complimentary Forewords come from two people who have made significant but different contributions to the field of social innovation. Peter Gabriel gives the ‘outsider’ humanitarian perspective, while Bill Drayton – often cited as the ‘Grandfather of social entrepreneurship’ – gives the ‘insider’ line. I am hugely grateful to them both for their support, time, friendship and encouragement.

Publication is set for early March 2016. You can read more, and place orders on the publishers website or on Amazon, or drop me a line in the comments below, or email me. If you’d like to reach out to any of the chapter authors I’d also be happy to make introductions. 

You might not change the world. But you can make it a better place.

One of the perks of my job is that I get to meet some of the most talented innovators and entrepreneurs from all over the world. I even get to mentor and support some of them. But they’re the exception, not the rule. Not everyone who sets out to make the world a better place is going to come up with a new, groundbreaking, innovative idea that achieves their goal. Not everyone is going to end up running their own social venture. Not everyone is going to win prizes for their efforts, and not everyone is going to have huge, global impact.

And that’s fine.

One of the most frequent questions I get asked, particularly at student events, is what young people can do to help make the world a better place. Many realise that the chances of becoming the next Muhammad Yunus are slim, and instead they look for something more achievable and realistic they can do.

During my time as a mentor with Unreasonable at Sea, I had the honour to sit on a panel with Archbishop Desmond Tutu in front of several hundred students hungry to find out how they could help make the world a better place. It was a wide-ranging conversation which you can see in full below. (The Archbishop later wrote the Foreword to my first book, which you can read about here).

The advice that I always give can be broken down into four complimentary actions. These only work if done together.

1. Take an interest. Read widely. Watch documentaries. Make an effort to meet like-minded people. Take time to understand the world, to understand the context of the problems we face as a people and a planet.

2. Empathise. Take time to understand what life is like for those less fortunate than yourself. Try to spend time with them. Travel to the places they live if possible. Be open to learning. Empathy is key. Empathy + knowledge is invaluable.

3. Pick something big. Get behind a major global campaign that addresses a major global challenge. Don’t let the enormity of the task put you off, or the fact that you may never know the impact you, individually, may have.

4. Pick something small. Get behind a local organisation addressing a local problem that you’re passionate about. Volunteer your time. Get involved. See, experience and feel the impact you’re having, and draw comfort that you’re making a difference.

Most of the innovators I get to meet didn’t come up with their ideas or solutions overnight. Many were already taking an interest, and spending time with the people they ended up helping. The most important lesson you can learn from this? If you immerse yourself, anything is possible.

Want a holistic view of the world of social innovation? Try these four books.

We’re seeing a steady stream of great books hitting the shelves at the moment, each focusing on a different aspect of the technology/social innovation debate. While some offer hardcore theory and research, others offer softer inspiration and advice. One day we’ll have a book which captures and weaves together all four – that would be the ideal book – but for now we’ll have to read them all as separate volumes.

So, what are they? Well, if you’re interested in the whole spectrum of social change, with a slant towards the use of technology and innovation, these four books should make your summer reading list.

summer-reading


For background, theory and context:
AID ON THE EDGE OF CHAOS

Ben Ramalingam

It is widely recognised that the foreign aid system – which today involves every country in the world – is in need of drastic change. But there are conflicting opinions as to what is needed. Some call for dramatic increases in resources, to meet long-overdue commitments, and to scale up what is already being done around the world. Others point to the flaws in aid, and bang the drum for cutting it altogether – and argue that the fate of poor and vulnerable people be best placed in the hands of markets and the private sector. Meanwhile, growing numbers are suggesting that what is most needed is the creative, innovative transformation of how aid works. In this ground-breaking book, Ben Ramalingam shows that the linear, mechanistic models and assumptions on which foreign aid is built would be more at home in early twentieth century factory floors than in the dynamic, complex world we face today.


For inspiration and inside stories of social innovation:
THE RISE OF THE RELUCTANT INNOVATOR
Ken Banks

Classes in social innovation, social entrepreneurship and design thinking have become increasingly popular in recent years. On the one hand, this might be seen as a good thing. After all, the world needs as many smart, engaged citizens as it can get, particularly when you consider the multitude of challenges we face as a planet. But does a career in social change really begin in the classroom, or out in the real world? How much social change is planned, and how much accidental? And which approach tends to lead to the most meaningful, lasting or impactful solutions?


For research, theory, context:
GEEK HERESY: RESCUING SOCIAL CHANGE FROM THE CULT OF TECHNOLOGY
Kentaro Toyama

In this incisive book, Toyama cures us of the manic rhetoric of digital utopians and reinvigorates us with a deeply people-centric view of social change. Contrasting the outlandish claims of tech zealots with stories of people like Patrick Awuah, a Microsoft millionaire who left his engineering job to open Ghana’s first liberal arts university, and Tara Sreenivasa, a graduate of a remarkable South Indian school that takes impoverished children into the high-tech offices of Goldman Sachs and Mercedes-Benz, Geek Heresy is a heartwarming reminder that it’s human wisdom, not machines, that move our world forward.


FOR Inspiration, advice:
DOING GOOD BETTER: EFFECTIVE ALTRUISM AND HOW YOU CAN MAKE A DIFFERENCE
William MacAskill

Almost all of us want to make a difference. So we volunteer, donate to charity, recycle or try to cut down our carbon emissions. But rarely do we know how much of a difference we’re really making. In a remarkable re-examination of the evidence, Doing Good Better reveals why buying sweatshop-produced goods benefits the poor; why cosmetic surgeons can do more good than charity workers; and why giving to a relief fund is generally not the best way to help after a natural disaster. By examining the charities you give to, the volunteering you do, the goods you buy and the career you pursue, this fascinating and often surprising guide shows how through simple actions you can improve thousands of lives – including your own.


Happy reading!