Social innovation is an emerging field that explores complex systems and seeks innovative solutions to problems like climate change, health care, endemic poverty, species extinction and global inequality. Challenges like these often defy disciplinary boundaries. Take climate change, for example. A climate scientist can analyze the planet’s carbon balance and determine what might be a safe level of CO2 emissions might be. To find a way to achieve that level, the scientist might turn to an economist who can estimate the price fossil fuels need to be to reduce carbon emissions to these levels. The economist might then turn to a political scientist can indicate what policies might be most effective in putting a price on carbon, and so on. Each of these disciplinary experts brings a piece of the solution, but not the whole. Social innovators work to bridge these disciplines in pursuit of actionable solutions.


Tackling global challenges can also be approached by integrating at the sectoral level, the domain of the private, public and civil sectors. Take climate change again. Climate change is a global challenge that ignores national boundaries. No single government can solve it alone. And while governments can negotiate global climate regulations, they cannot commercialize the new technologies -like solar panels and electric cars – that allow society to meet those regulations. It is businesses that do this. Solving challenges like climate change demands increased cross-sector collaboration that integrates the expertise and resources of governments, industries, communities and nonprofits.


Progress can be made by altering the system conditions that cause the social or environmental problems. But challenging the existing rules of the game needs to be done responsibly in order to ensure that interventions take the interests of all impacted by the changes, especially marginalized communities. This means that practitioners need to develop their ethical reasoning and recognize biases that might impact decisions. Innovators are also not outside observers, but are enmeshed in the systems they are working to improve. This requires the development of a higher level of self-awareness and practices of self-care to ensure their personal wellbeing as they work to improve the wellbeing of others.



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