In keeping with our interest and belief that Europe offers a great window and learning laboratory on how to tackle our social/economic and environmental challenges, I commend a refreshing European Union report: Reinventing Europe Thru Innovation. Download Reinvent Europe Thru Innovation panel_report_en-1.
Readers of this blog will know of my interest in nurturing a culture of continuous innovation. Through my work with Social Innovation Generation and the inspiration of my colleagues there, I have become a great believer in Einstein's observation about responding to the dangers of nuclear power: The thinking that it took to get us into this mess is not the thinking that will get us out of it. All invention and innovation starts with new thinking. Thinking is indeed an important action not something to be treated as incidental. If poverty, environmental degradation aren't reduced by current efforts; if the health of our families and our communities are under assault we need a big re-think.
To get more and better practical social inventions and social innovations that can be implemented and scaled up, we should pay attention to the inner working of the innovators' mind.
The European Union Report uses John Kao's definition of innovation: “the ability of individuals, companies and entire nations to continuously create their desired future.” Innovation Nation (2007).
Some highlights of the report include:
Moving Europe from a knowledge society to an innovation society. Rather than investing in more knowledge for knowledge's sake, they recommend investing in new institutions and processes that will scale and spread current innovations AND drive future innovation. They recognize the need for more collaboration, cooperation and partnership among business, government and community. However they realize this won't happen without changing the way we collaborate and work together. Existing structures are not conducive to genuine collaboration and creativity - new ones must be established. This is music to the ears of those who have watched very good people move into government either as public servants or elected politicians and seen them thwarted by existing habits, budgetary procedures, protocols and short term thinking. This is not surprising since we are using institutional structures invented centuries ago in response to challenges then, not now. The European Union report envisions new government budgetary systems; and 'design labs' that bring multiple sectors and disciplines together to develop, test and scale up solutions in environments protected from risk averse government institutions.
Linking social innovation to traditional innovation. They recommend European action around compelling social challenges as the core agenda of governments. This is a radical departure from most governments who view a healthy economy as its central task and social expenditure as a drain on their finances. This report suggests making social challenges a central focus because it is a tool for prosperity, social cohesion, civic engagement and economic transformation. For example, responding innovatively to the increase in the number of elderly in our society will result in new technologies, business opportunities, new sources of government revenue as well as addressing an important social challenge.
Establish venture and social innovation funds and invest them ambitiously and strategically. The non-profit sector no longer relies exclusively on Government grants to finance their social missions. We are interested in using debt and equity capital but are restricted and frustrated by out of date legislation governing non profits and charities in Canada. The EU report offers a series of recommendations to leverage financial assets in more intelligent ways. Perhaps this report will provide the legitimacy we need when making our case to governments in Canada?
This report was prepared by a business panel so those who dismiss social innovation as just another demand or ruse by the voluntary sector for more money can't dismiss this report as easily.
We have a personal connection to Diogo Vasconcelos the Chair of Reinventing Europe Thru Innovaton. Diogo is a Distinguished Fellow, who leads Cisco Systems Internet Business Solutions Group. He has been working closely with PLAN Co-Founder, Vickie Cammack to bring her social innovation Tyze (www.tyze.com) to Europe. Cisco, a global company is staking a part of its business model on responding to social challenges based on the assumption it will also be good for business.
The report supports an online debate (http://blogs.ec.europa.eu/innovationunlimited/) and has its own homepage (http://ec.europa.eu/enterprise/policies/innovation/)
As the first step in this process a European wide contest in Social Innovation has just been launched. It will showcase ten social innovation initiatives with the greatest potential impact on society and greatest potential for scaling up.
I am indebted to my colleague and Social Innovation Generation's (SiG) Executive Director, Tim Draimin for scanning the world to bring reports like this to my attention. You can follow his blog at: http://www.socialfinance.ca/about/bloggers/22/