What Distinguishes Social Innovation to Merely Innovation?

By: UNIID SEA - 2014-06-26

After inviting both Markus Dietrich and Pun-arj Chairatana to be the guest speakers, Dr. Doy Romero had his first lecture in our Social Innovations class. He talked about the intricacies of creating new solutions for the aims of development along with his own experiences, including that of his recent visit to Brazil for the Rio+20 conference. He gave a brief overview of the course and the relevance of Social Innovation in the Philippine context. There were three notable lessons that I got from this session of the class.

First, Dr. Doy emphaized that the most important thing, in putting the theories in this course to action, is in bringing the students to the area, so that they can be immersed first before they could even think or brainstorm on solutions that they can provide for a certain community. This echoes what Markus already mentioned about the importance of innovating with as opposed to innovating for the people in the Base of the Pyramid.

Also, we have to empathize with the problems of the poor. For example, Dr. Doy said in this class that we have to understand that the poor in urban Metro Manila have been living in places where it’s close to where the breadwinner of their families usually work. Thus, it’s entirely inconsiderate to just relocate these families, even if the relocation centers provide better living conditions than their current dwellings, without taking into account where they earn their money from. I can remember something my friend, who’s an environmental science student, said to me regarding their observation that there is likely to have a group of informal settlers within a radius of a certain chain of shopping malls located here in the Philippines. We must be purposive in understanding the situation of the poor as it is important to distinguish reliable and important information (such as that above) to those that are not (example: fads in the community), and archive the reliable ones so that any one who can step up, help, and willing to contribute, can easily understand the situation and the insights gained from those who already are familiar with community.

Lastly, the course is meant to teach how to capitalize on our technological know-how to address contemporary development challenges. There‘s a difference, as Dr. Doy said, with how the greeks needed to restrict the number of people with deliberative powers in facilitating direct democracy, as opposed to how our information technologies can be used to facilitate democratic processes on a bigger scope or to a wider range of people (teledemocracy). However, innovation is not necessarily creating a new product or service. It could already be an existing thing that is put into a new environment. We have to open our eyes, see the numerous possibilities of utilizing our existing knowledge, and have the willingness to shift angles of perception in order to see the different sides of a certain situation. As Dr. Doy said, we should not be too quick in necessarily having to create something new. Old materials might be unnecessarily accumulated in a junk shop when they could be repurposed as an innovation in itself. We already have enough resources to cater to the needs of everyone in the world in the first place. The problem is how to distribute these resources to the right people, at the right time, and with the right frame of understanding.


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UNIID-SEA works with universities and research councils in Southeast Asia to promote action research and facilitate the development of programs that support innovation for inclusive development (IID). Contact Info: Ateneo School of Government Pacifico Ortiz Hall, Fr. Arrupe Road, Social Development Complex, Ateneo De Manila University, Loyola Heights, Quezon City, Philippines 1108 Tel: +63 2 426 6001 locals 4646, 4639 Telefax: +63 2 929 7035 Email: info@uniid-sea.net Website: www.uniid-sea.net

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