‘Social Innovation in Practice’ – interview with Ute Seela

November 12, 2014

“Social innovation should be more than a new label”

Hivos has published a collection of stories about what social innovation looks like in practice. We asked our Knowledge Officer, Ute Seela,to tell us a little bit about the book (download from right sidebar) and what it offers readers interested in the topic .

Hivos: Ute, you have taken the initiative for this publication. What does social innovation look like in practice?

Ute: The book contains stories of activists and change-makers who are trying to be more effective in their work by using new methods. They presented their approaches during the Hivos ‘Open for Change’ event last year. They don’t actually refer to the term ‘social innovation’ per se, but describe how they use theatre, for example, to increase girls’ and parents’ willingness to oppose early marriage in India. Or how an app on your smart phone could give citizens direct influence over their politicians’ agendas – if that app was allowed to run for elections just as politicians are. 

Hivos: Is that social innovation? Will the reader be able to define social innovation better after reading these stories?

Ute: ‘Social innovation in practice’ is more a collection of different methods than a systematic definition of the building blocks that go into social innovation. I also think it’s more interesting to unravel the challenges that social change activists and development organisations are facing than define an alternative label for our work. With a good understanding of these challenges – including our own weak spots – it will be easier to find methods that can help tackle them.

Hivos: Could you name one or two of these challenges?

Ute: Mobilising citizens as change agents is one. Many civil society organisations base their theories of change on citizen engagement, yet activists find it difficult to get citizens to claim their rights. What makes people take action to change things? Delivering information more effectively with the help of mobile technology and ‘meeting them where they are’ – for instance through play and humour – are recent approaches that reach more people than old-style activism. Still, context plays a huge role, as well as bread and butter issues that affect normal peoples’ daily lives.

Another challenge is that to solve complex social problems, collaboration with all those who have a stake in the current situation is a must. Activists don’t naturally have the convening power nor the facilitation skills to bring government, business, public service, opinion leaders and citizens to the table. Social innovation provides methods that work in organisational management or user-centered design and help reshape our idea of collaboration.  

Hivos: What is your biggest takeaway from the book, maybe a story you consider most inspiring?

Ute: This is just a small selection of the many stories and examples that are out there. What strikes me most is that these stories come from both the South and the North. We can clearly no longer look at social change as solely a development issue.