Ana Dols is a researcher in the Department of Diagnostic Research Methods in Education of the Universidad Complutense, Madrid. She works as Employment and Local Development Agent at the City of Rivas-Vaciamadrid, where she is co-creating Rivas Lab project.
The innovation agenda is now focused on social innovation. Sectors like health, social services and education have a tendency to grow whereas others are decreasing.”In the long term, an innovation in social services or education will be as important as an innovation in the pharmaceutical or aerospace industry”, Diogo Vasconcelos has said.
There was a time in which economic and social issues were seen as separate ones, but now companies must take the lead in bringing business and society back together. Even Miguel Forbes, grandson of Forbes, wishes to launch this message “this is no longer just about making money or doing business, and never has been from my point of view […] it is about creating value for others, solutions to improve the world. This is in what you have to focus on your business”.
Whether he is really concerned about it or not, I agree with Forbes. As social needs are evolving because of structural trends like demography and ageing, it is necessary to adapt social policies and find economic solution to the huge forthcoming challenges. Here is where social innovation has the leading role.
Compared to mainstream innovations, social innovations are critically driven by an extra motive: a social mission; the fact that the value they create is necessarily shared value, which involves, according to Michael Porter, creating economic value in a way that creates value for society as well by meeting its needs and challenges.
The Harvard University professor explains why business leaders must focus on shared value-creating products and services that benefit not only the company but also society and how all this will drive “the next wave of innovation and productivity growth in the global economy”.
Moreover Porter points out that creating shared value will somehow also reshape capitalism and its relationship to society and how, which is more audacious in a context of severe budgetary constraints and a global institutional crisis, creating shared value is our best opportunity, I might say, the last shot to legitimize business again.
People have always tried to find new solutions for pressing social needs, but now social innovation emerges as an umbrella concept for inventing and incubating solutions to all of our present and future challenges in a way which is badly needed in these times.
Social innovation can take place in public, private and third sector organizations, although I think that the most fruitful outcomes would probably take place in collaborations across sectors.
All over the world, we are seeing the rise of a great number of labs, hubs, incubators and accelerators planned as catalysts and growers of social innovation. Some of these structures are embedded in the public sector or academia, while others are rooted in local communities. I am particularly interested in the role that the public sector might take towards becoming an enabler of social innovation. There is both a great need and potential for social innovation in the public sector.
However it is hard for public sector organizations to innovate and Andrea Coleman from the Office of Innovation at the New York Department of Education highlights the difficulties of building spaces for innovation within bureaucratic systems. The challenge lies then in creating spaces for experimentation in the public sector: from random innovation to a conscious and systematic approach to public sector renewal; from managing human resources to building innovation capacity at all levels of government; from administrating public organizations to leading innovation across and even beyond the public sector.
And from my experience, the real challenge is shifting from running tasks and projects to organizing processes of co-creation, creating new solutions with people, not for them.
This is the spirit of the newborn Rivas Lab, a living lab in the Municipality of Rivas- Vaciamadrid (Madrid, Spain) led by the Municipality itself and where I have the honor of co-facilitating.
As practical example, I will describe two co-creation initiatives where I bring together different ways in which people can contribute to craft their jobs, find a job, to reinvent themselves, either to undertake an entrepreneurial project or to improve their business models.
In these initiatives I deal with the development of a service innovation, with a new and improved way of promoting employability for job seekers and entrepreneurs.
Just started, in both initiatives people from different fields meet creating a network in which they are forced out of their areas of know-how, being my role to create the setting for collaboration.
One of the networks is only addressed to women Entrepreneurs. The co-workers meet with the purpose of reviewing their own business models, promoting new co-initiatives as well as to share resources and know-how to enable them to succeed. We pretend that traditional pieces of knowledge as crafting, which have usually been led by women, generate social value thanks to true creativity and cooperation.
The other network is oriented to recycling unemployed people talents applying business tools and techniques such as personal branding or the personal business model canvas, my goal is to develop self motivation, creativity, and perceived self-efficacy.
Both of the co-creation initiatives are enhancing my Doctoral Thesis at the Education Faculty of the Complutense University, which intends to ascertain what influence does social innovation processes at local level have on the employability of population.
In the following months the effectiveness of these initiatives will be evaluated. And this will only be the first step to answer the following questions. How can local authorities capitalize on the collective learning processes that social innovation creates?. How can the local embedment be ensured for social innovations?. How can better collaboration be promoted within the many different civic and economic agents, mainstream businesses and government authorities to apply social innovation?.
Furthermore, how can the value of a social innovation added value be evaluated? How can social innovations be up-scaled?.
These are the challenges we will face in the future. Because the way ahead for progress does not consist in reducing the role of policies but in ensuring that they are effective and efficient.