Take my college student curtains, for example. When I lived on campus at Duke, I found it hard to sleep at night because of how bright the lights were outside, but I could not install curtains because it would damage the wall. Instead, I made curtains by putting an extendable shower rod on some command hooks, which was not only cheaper than normal curtains, but also easier and faster to install and remove. Assuming that no one else has tried to make such an interesting curtain before, I could have invented a college-student-friendly curtain. However, because I made these curtains with the sole purpose of improving my own sleep, these curtains would not be considered social innovation. Even if I sold my design to other Duke students who struggled with sleeping well, my curtains would not count as social innovation because of my own motivations to make a profit. Social innovation would be if I created my curtains with the intention of helping low-income individuals obtain quick, inexpensive, and reusable curtains to improve their sleep and overall health. Thus to me, social innovation means improvements in processes and products that create lasting change in our society for purposes outside of one’s self-interest.
In this way, social innovation encourages us to grow together as we strive for a better future, especially during this time of rising individualism and fierce competition. I believe TechTown is an amazing example of such social innovation. Not only do they provide amazing resources and expert advice to local business owners for free, but they are also dedicated to improving equity and building a strong community of entrepreneurs. TechTown alumni have repeatedly expressed in our interviews that TechTown’s programs are one-of-a-kind and are gold mines for connections and information. Because of this, I am very excited to be working with TechTown to help improve their incredible services, and through this experience I hope to learn more about social innovation and its potential to change my world.