Social innovation entails designing services for citizens based on their needs and concerns
While the era of development aid is winding down, Nepal has a great potential to harness power of social innovation to boost a different and more effective ways to free vulnerable citizens from poverty. This it can do through social innovation.
Social innovation is a new framework that borrows from traditional ways of development and mixes it with the new trends, and is focused on markets to fight poverty.
Social innovation means designing services for citizens on the basis of their needs and concerns. If you work in a non-profit, you know how difficult it is to navigate different public offices for all the required authorizations.
The fact that you need to navigate different “sectoral” offices makes you realize how divided and uncoordinated our public services truly are.
In this situation, how wonderful would it be to have “One Stop Shop” that, at district level, can deal with all social issues! This is a set-up that will recognize the complexities of any development work.
If you work for children, you automatically know you need to work with parents, with schools and with local health infrastructures. How more effective would it be to have one stop shop where local public officers are available not only to “stamp” your request papers but are also keen to offer their insights and suggestions!
Another example of social innovation would new cross-sector collaborations and partnerships to reduce unemployment among vulnerable groups of the society.
In Canada two non-profits working in disability sector—the Canadian Association for Community Living and the Canadian Autism Spectrum Disorders Alliance—recently announced a partnership with a private umbrella organization representing tourism sector, Tourism HR Canada, to work out new ways to provide jobs to persons living with disabilities in the hospitality industry. Social innovation might include anything out of the box that positively impacts the society.
In a country like Nepal where millions of youths are unemployed and their potential is still untapped, new ideas to generate wealth and enhance human development at grassroots levels are sorely needed. In other words, Nepal could turn into a beacon of innovative social practices that serve as a bridge between traditional not-for-profit organizations, corporate houses and the state.
Opportunities are being created in Nepal to harness a new way of working in social sector. New incubators, places where new ideas are cultivated and nourished through mentoring and funding, are being continuously set up. Idea Studio, the partnership between Child Reach (NGO), UNICEF and Kathmandu University School of Management, is an example.
These “factories” of social innovation are investing on a specific area like social entrepreneurship. This is an approach that uses market solution to offer products or services that change the lives of the poor.
Social entrepreneurs are individuals moved by strong ideals but they propose solutions that are economically sustainable. We have a number of budding social entrepreneurs in Nepal. Applying a business approach in health and education sectors—especially low cost early childhood education centers—is slowly making a difference.
If non-profit organizations, development partners, corporate houses and budding entrepreneurs come together, we can devise conditions for enhanced social impact locally. Globally, The Philanthropic Initiative (TPI) is trying to bring innovation in how charity money is delivered, often adopting business inspired models.
It is the high time to link for-profit and non-profit entities with common mission of lifting people out of poverty.
Sadly, very few people in Nepal seem to realize the potential to build socially responsible private companies. It is a pity that there have been no proposals in Nepal to register new private schools as public interest companies rather than more traditional “trusts.” “Social Purpose Organization” is a new concept that includes traditional and new businesslike approaches. We should try it in Nepal.
Social innovation is not easy. It calls for effort and commitment but also an investment of capital with a high risk of failures. Nepal’s efforts in incubating social enterprises are still at primordial stage. But it still has time to learn from nations where social enterprises have a more established tradition.
The upcoming International Conference on Social Entrepreneurship on June 30th and July 1st, to be hosted by King’s College (which itself is an example of cross-cutting partnerships), could prove to be a game changer in forging a new consensus.
By bringing together more than 30 social entrepreneurs and renowned experts from around the world, the conference will kick off the much-needed discussion on approaches for synergies and collaborations for improvement in the lives of millions of our citizens still struggling for daily living.
The author is the Co-Founder of ENGAGE, an NGO that works with youths living with disabilities