This year´s Social Innovation Summit, known as the biggest summit for social innovation in the Nordic countries, has brought together social entrepreneurs, corporatists, change makers, innovators, investors, politicians and policy makers. Professionals from different sectors have tackled briefly or in more depth some of the major challenges both the Swedish and the global societies face nowadays. The general goals of the summit were not only to create new solutions to social challenges, but also to acknowledge key future issues and contribute with new knowledge on social innovation.
The Danish organisation Cycling without Age and the lecture offered by Charles Leadbeater, from the UK, on the future of social innovation have undoubtedly represented some of the highlights of this year´s summit.
Cycling without Age-Copenhagen
The Danish organisation Cycling without Age creates value for intergenerational networking and breaks isolation for elderly people who live in care homes. The project started five years ago in a neighbourhood in Copenhagen, where volunteers met elderly people who were isolated from the society and took them on bike rides around the city and in nature. The brilliant idea has had a highly positive impact on everyone who was engaged in the project, as it did not only break the isolation, that many elderly people experienced in care homes, but it also developed a network for connecting people of different ages and different communities.
The principle of the organisation lies on being generous to the ones next to us. Regardless of age, everyone can contribute to the development of the communities we live in. In this way, people from care homes had the chance to be part of society again. The project has already expanded in 35 countries such as Sweden, Australia or Switzerland and it has proven that positive things can occur through collaboration when tackling social challenges. The prediction on longevity and good quality of life lies in close relationships and social integration.
Cycling without Age celebrates diversity, freedom and mobility, it supports mental health and contributes to reinvigorating family relationships.
Charles Leadbeater on the Future of Social Innovation
Charles Leadbeater, a British author and the former advisor to Tony Blair, presented his ideas and predictions on the future of social innovation. In his perspective, social challenges imply solving problems, filling in gaps in the society and providing new solutions that are scalable in order to change entire systems. The implementation of new solutions in today´s societies are required, as the status quo is not efficient anymore and creates inequalities and instabilities. As a result, we experience a disruption of societies, people fleeing democracies and a breakdown of communities. People do not believe anymore in the narrative of democracy which leads to the rise of nationalism and populism.
In Leadbeater´s opinion, a breakthrough to a new narrative of shared progress, that can generate possibilities which did not exist in societies before, represents a solution to solving social challenges. The author proposes a few breakthroughs that have the power to shape the future of social innovation.
Thinking is the first one and it is relevant in all its forms, i.e. critical, creative, transgressive or utopian thinking. This represents the first step to acknowledging various problems and solutions on social challenges. Technology is the second pillar that stands for solving social issues. Whether it is a tool or a method, technology makes possible a step change in outcomes. The third breakthrough regards breaking the traditional way of thinking and acting. Thinking outside the box is crucial for any endeavour that aims at solving social challenges. Culture is the fourth pillar, as it has the power to shape the demands of the society. The culture of a society will decide whether that society is ready to absorb the breakthrough idea. The idea or the product should spread through “pull” and not “push” factors.
The result represents the fifth element contributing to social innovation, in that a new movement is necessary for innovation to build a momentum, to push it through. The result is all about movements that change markets, and, as a consequence, change should create scalable impact. In this way, a society can experience generative, creative and transformational innovation. However, the final reflective question when considering social challenges and social innovation is; what makes us all human in a world of technology?
Challenges & Pitfalls
Social Innovation has become a hot-topic for many professionals in different sectors of the society. The field of social innovation is very broad and it cannot be thrown into one single box. Tackling social issues and social challenges involves often the use of mixed disciplines, it requires intertwined methods and tools of implementation, and it implies collaboration on various levels of the society. Covering all possible areas and topics in the field of social innovation is, without a shadow of a doubt, impossible to achieve in only two days. However, the first day of this years´ Social Summit with its main focus on Creating Value, has faced some challenges when providing in-depth solutions for current social challenges.
The SEB representative, Klas Eklund, has presented the main social issues that today´s societies are confronting. Climate change, global aging populations, over-populated cities, economic migration, but also forced migration of refugees, global stagnation of working productivity, global income distribution, robotics and digitalization were tackled very briefly and to some extent superficially. The information was either too metaphorical or too basic, and no concrete possible solutions or answers have been challenged or debated. For instance, no input has been given about the future roles banks shall or will play when confronting with future global social issues.
To which extent banks can support and contribute to social innovation and the development of societies? How can banks and corporations contribute to eradicating, or, at least, diminishing the global social challenges in order to create value?
Enumerating the main social challenges does not represent new information, and if one provides a problem without a solution to that problem, the information presented becomes obsolete. It is crucial to create questions for the issues of the future, as they can lead eventually to new ways of thinking.
Another pitfall of the first day of the summit regards the role that both the Swedish and international universities should play within the complex and complicated processes of social innovation and social challenges. Very little to no informational insight has been provided with regard to this topic.
How can universities contribute more to the expansion of social innovation? Why is it important that universities support social innovation among younger generations? How can universities be more engaged and resourceful for promoting critical thinking and encouraging social innovation actions?
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